Dear Chris Chibnall: Doctor Who End of Series Cloister Bellendry

Dear Chris,

You did it. You got to the end of your first series of Doctor Who with (consolidated) ratings at a ten-year high and pull quotes from the very best critic mimicking algorithms tattooed on your length. Yes, it must feel good to know you have the backing of objective and famously interrogative outlets like Radio One’s Newsbeat and Baron Viktor Von Doomcock’s YouTube channel. Oh and there’s Twitter, where the great and not so good rallied to your broad and curiously regional attempt at reinvention. Suddenly this felt like a show for everyone, with only the genre literate and discerning fans excluded. I don’t know about you, but I was getting a little tired of these lifelong natives of the Whoniverse, with their tiresome craving for recognition, banging on about sophisticated storytelling. Bring on the tourists!

The universe always surprises us, the Doctor opined in the closing moments of “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”, but not in a series spearheaded by you. In your version of Doctor Who there’s cliché and redundancy and the non-descript. Jodie Whittaker’s casting, celebrated by some for being ground breaking, as though she was a puppet operated by Warwick Davis, not the Doctor reimagined as a holiday rep, personifies the problem with Project Chibnall.

Whittaker’s Doctor, conceived and cast by you, signals her intellectual credentials but talks like an idiot. She’s immature and trying – an eccentric as imagined by a profound conformist. There’s dissonance here and it plays on the viewer’s mind. Scientists call it Chibnall drag. The Doc, as Bradley Walsh insists on calling her, is a creature of depth and wisdom, but we only know this because she tells us so. And all the while we sit and we say, Miriam Margolyes was available – the Doctor in all but name.

I don’t know how to write up your series, Chris, because I was so bored watching it that my mind often wandered to other things. Things like why does the Doctor travel with the kind of people you’d meet on an HR sponsored difficult conversations course, and why is the TARDIS console room adorned with impractical and garish slabs of pink crystal?

I suppose the only way to break down this shit is to talk about the good and the bad, sometimes with passing reference to the second half of the series.

The Good

  • The titles. No Doctor’s face but the opening sequence was a handsome, cinematic take on the vortex opening of old. Better yet, it didn’t look like something knocked up by a fan. Nothing to do with you of course.
  • The production values. Again, nought to do with you, Chris, but the show had additional gloss and scale in 2018, thanks to what looked like an increase in budget. Allow yourself half a whoop.
  • The score: no more overzealous and ear bleeding musical cues from Murray Gold. Instead, the quirky, sometimes uncanny, electronic stylings of Segun Akinola, who brought of touch of the BBC radiophonic workshop to proceedings.
  • The episode with the frog. “It Takes You Away” was the one instalment this year that had genuine intrigue. At the heart of the story was a conceptually dense mystery, something creepy and compelling. Writer Ed Hime (probably hired because you misheard his name as “Time”) managed to introduce a genuine temptation for one of the characters – something that got them away from asking questions or wandering off to find things on the Doctor’s behalf. Okay, the frog was silly, and should have been the form of something the Doctor cared about and longed for from the distant past, like Peri’s breasts, but this was the kind of standalone Who that works – interesting setup, kooky ideas (killer moths) and memorable madness.
  • The Doctor’s womanhood – the punchline for a couple of jokes but thankfully, otherwise, moot. Given the hype around the change, in-story referencing might have made the first run of episodes unbearable. Instead, we learned the problem with the Doctor wasn’t her vulva but her characterisation as a smiley, child-like cartoon character with a propensity to ruin the mystery of her origin by referring to her extended family in the most mundane terms – “I had five grans”, etc. Marc Platt, one-time Who scribe and author of Lungbarrow, must have watched that scene the way Ian Curtis watched his final wildlife documentary.

Cloister Bellendry

  • The Doctor’s womanhood. For a series with such a high didactic load and a new emphasis on educating the kids, it seemed odd that the Doctor’s sex didn’t complicate more plots. Sure, she was (comically) denied her authority in The Witchfinders by a 17th century king, but more often than not the universe didn’t bat an eyelid at the young woman taking control, threatening enemies and giving the orders. We’re assured the Whoniverse is by and large a woke realm, in tune with its audience, which is great, but the Doctor having to struggle with assumptions and laws in opposition to her identity might have added a hitherto unexplored political dimension of the show.
  • The companions – this TARDIS, in a self-conscious echo of the first series in 1963, had more of a family feel, something infinitely preferable to your predecessor’s propensity to elevate the humble tag-alongs to the status of universal puzzle pieces or canon-shaping golden threads. That said, Steven at least was ambitious about making the Doctor’s friends more integral to the stories in which they featured. Your bunch, nice but ineffectual Graham, nice but mildly curious Yaz, nice but dull Ryan, only seem, like your plots, to have one gear. Stories that might have jabbed a poker into their simple souls and stoked a little complexity – Yaz’s trip to the partition era Punjab to meet her grandmother, Ryan on Rosa Parks’ bus fighting a racist alien, Graham confronted by his wife’s murderer, barely made a mark on these life sized cardboard cut outs. They ended the series as they began it, as background.
  • The plots: Chris, I’m not saying your series was made bland by formula, but here’s a breakdown of all ten episodes.
    • Doctor and friends arrive blind, immediately intuit something’s amiss
    • They arrogantly impose themselves on the situation – insisting they get involved, fortunately encountering little resistance, few questions, just confused people happy to accept Doctor’s authority despite having no proof she’s anything other than an interested bystander
    • Doctor thinks aloud delivering chunks of exposition that relieve the writer of any burden to plot the story in an intriguing way or set up mysteries for the audience to solve
    • Doctor asks unqualified companions to split up and gather information without providing sufficient context (they do, asking open questions in the absence of any concrete information about what they’re supposed to find out and why)
    • TARDIS crew finally encounter monster of the week
    • Doctor provides more baseless speculation that ultimately proves to be correct
    • Supporting cast of the week, harbouring either secrets or malevolent intent, are picked off/exposed
    • Doctor pieces together everything based on information only she has, so a disengaged audience doesn’t need to think/remains passive
    • Monster is actively defeated using technobabble, grandstanding, an act of destruction/situation resolves itself with TARDIS crew as passive onlookers
    • Doctor and crew say their goodbyes and offer a platitude for the road
    • End credits roll with preview of next episode containing similar beats.

Now you can and will argue this is the template that’s been in use for 55 years, but seldom has it felt as conspicuous and undeveloped as it has in 2018. Chris, this series has been routine and one note.

So what’s the prognosis for your series, Chris? Well, if it continues like this, I foresee two things happening. 1) The audience that actually cares about the show and doesn’t have it on as background or filler for their morning commute while they half-watch and half-gaze out of the window, will be chronically under-stimulated and will fall away. Right now, they’re excusing the lack of storytelling nous and vivid characterization as early days syndrome. But we both know you’re not going to get any better or smarter. This is your peak. Soon this open secret will be undeniable, even to the greatest series apologist. 2) The casual audience you’ve courted at the expense of the show’s intelligence and wit, will also fall off, as their fandom is soft and vulnerable to other predatory distractions. Some tuned in for the novelty of a Time Lady, some to affirm their liberal credentials, others just for a stake in the pop cultural conversation. But sooner or later, and I predict sooner, you will actually have to give them a reason to watch rooted in the old fashioned fundamentals – dramatic integrity, psychological depth, mystery, and good humour. If not, and with no more gimmicks to sell, your Doctor Who will wither faster than John Barrowman’s member in Noel Edmond’s mouth.

Regards,

Ed

P.S: What I’m saying is, ignore everything you’ve read about how well you’ve done and start again. The Bill was a popular police drama but it’s nobody’s no.1 on the list of greats, knowhattamean?

P.P.S: Thanks for the let off at Christmas. I have enough on my plate without seeing your attempt at a festive themed special.

P.P.S: I’ve bought Bradley Walsh a Christmas present – a second mode of delivery. Can you forward his address to me?

Everybody do the Chibnall drag:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

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:

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Just like she planned: The Great Theresa May Brexit Conspiracy Theory

One must begin with a confession. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. The charlatans who peddle them are indulging in a logical fallacy. They attempt to impose a retrospective scheme on events that were in truth chaotic, unforeseeable, unplanned and unmanageable. Conspiracy theories filter out all the variables that shape history, namely error, stupidity, misunderstanding, hubris, impulse and emotion. Conspiracy theories are events understood backwards, with each action and consequence neatly plotted like a novel – their proponents conditioned by too much fiction, apparently unaware that it and reality functions differently.

Indeed, the degenerates that peddle this guff, like the, er, redoubtable George Galloway, who’s currently asking the public for £50,000 on Kickstarter so he can reengineer the suicide of Doctor David Kelley as a murder perpetrated by his old nemesis Tony Blair, whom he’s never forgiven for throwing him out of the Labour Party, see premeditation and planning everywhere (what is it about Scotsmen crowdfunding for dubious causes?).

Not for nothing does this position these egomaniacs as self-anointed mythbusters with an analytical intelligence that cuts through lies like an acidic white wine corroding a creamy sauce. We all love to entertain the silly idea that we’re more thoughtful and self-aware that the docile man and woman in the street, and if you’re so wired, it’s also a great way for idiots to affirm your middling intellectual credentials, giving you the attention you desperately crave.

So, all that said, indulge me while I try to sell you an alternative reading of our current deal or no deal Brexit chaos that recasts Theresa May as our unlikely saviour; a woman committed to saving the country from itself by breaking all the rules of political engagement; a plan that will ultimately end her career but leave the country relatively unmolested. That’s right, in years to come we may, pun intended, look back on this seemingly shambolic premier, and her demented time in office, and say, “Theresa you did it – you kept the wolves from the door, then later had the electorate shoot them. You fiendishly Churchilled that shit, and this despite an affinity with the common man and talent for media presentation commensurate with the 1910s, rather than the 2010s”.

In order to understand how this scenario may have come to pass, we need to remember who Theresa May was before the unlikely implosion of the Cameron Government, just a year after Dave’s decisive election victory – the Tories’ first since 1992.

May was Home Secretary, the longest running ever, who, in the fight against terrorism and international crime, was uniquely placed to understand how supra-national cooperation, particularly within the EU, was vital to our security, but also, on a technocratic level, just how closely integrated we were with the Brussels-led block.

May was ambitious, knew Cameron could lose the referendum, and in that event appearing ambivalent about EU membership would position her as a candidate to bridge the warring factions, should there be a leadership contest. She also knew a majority of her parliamentary colleagues in the Conservative Party didn’t believe in withdrawal (in contrast with the aging, rural based, George Eliot reading membership) so didn’t want to be stuck with the label of an ideologue who’d lead the post-Cameron party into a ghetto which would tie their hands in any future negotiation.

It was perhaps for this reason alone that May won out when set against the conniving Michael Gove, empty-headed Leave champion Andrea Leadsom, and zealots like Liam Fox. Boris Johnson had taken himself out of the contest, and might have won it if he hadn’t, except that shrewd colleagues like the aforementioned Hand in Gove, rightly suspected that he was capricious and ignorant, and couldn’t be relied on to manage the fiendish complexity of Brexit with anything like the intelligence, dexterity and moxie required. In fact, like May, Boris didn’t really believe in it. Theresa was a technocrat with an eye for a detail and a line in cold hard pragmatism, while Boris was a grandstanding dunce, educated beyond his intellect, whose cock and balls were more active than his mind.

When May won the leadership, she would have been conscious, because she was alive in the world and had a full set of functioning faculties, of two things:

  1. That Brexit, as sold to the coalition of imperial nostalgists, xenophobes, racists and, bringing up the rear as part of a very slim minority, democratic deficit hawks (also known as the sovereignty seekers) that made up Leave voters, was undeliverable and;
  2. The small but vocal Eurosceptics in her own party, as personified by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had a vested interest in decrying any compromise withdrawal agreement as a betrayal, because they sought a clean break to pursue their agenda of 51st statism – that is, severing our social democratic ties with Europe, with their pesky human rights agenda, employment and food protections, and tether us to the United States – the perfect social and economic model in their eyes, despite all historical evidence to the contrary. Not so much a hatred of vassalage, but a fantasy of inverse colonialism – allying ourselves with a former colony that’s subsequently overtaken us in terms of power and global prestige.

Yes, Theresa, we’re now daring to imagine, knew both these things, so sought to clandestinely rig our withdrawal so it would reflect realpolitik – i.e. the reality that the EU could not afford to let us go on terms preferential to our membership. The agreement would be markedly inferior to the status quo, and consequently, bolster the case for either a) remaining or b) re-joining the EU toot sweet.

In order to do this, it would be necessary to keep all the champions of Brexit within the tent – not so they could own the disaster to come, but be powerless to speak out against the process, constrained by cabinet collective responsibility, unable to obstruct the real negotiations that would be conducted by senior civil servants like Oliver Robins.

The temporary Department for Leaving the EU and the figurehead attached, first hapless action man David Davis, later injury time substitute Dominic Raab, would perform their ceremonial functions – meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier every once in a while, being allowed to think they were influencing the position in the opposing camp (and reporting back as much to the Eurosceptic rebels), while the real business was conducted between learn’d people in basement rooms, parallel to but unencumbered by, the bullshit rhetoric taking place above ground.

This, my fellow tin hatters, was, I suggest, May’s scheme from the get-go. Ah, I hear you cry, but what about Gina Miller, the 2017 General Election disaster – weren’t these unforeseeable circumstances that might frustrate any attempt to reach an unloved and unworkable compromise? In truth, both turned out to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, highly useful in achieving that goal.

May as Prime Minister, would have received legal advice that any attempt to use the power of the Crown to repeal the European Communities Act, complete with the rights for UK citizens guaranteed therein, would be challenged. What would be read by commentators as a shocking and sinister attempt to circumvent problems in the Commons by effectively negating parliamentary authority, was in fact an open and, let’s imagine, deliberate provocation. The courts, not any politician, would rule that Parliament had to both formally vote to leave the EU (which it might not – the short route to frustrating the referendum) and, in the unfortunate event that such a vote passed, because of the inept and vacillating official opposition, would have to endorse whatever deal was finally negotiated.

Well, the Commons reliably fucked up and voted for withdrawal, leaving the savvy and Machiavellian Theresa of our dreams with a serious fucking problem. She had a slim but workable majority, and as government policy was to leave the EU – a policy now backed by two thirds of MPs, that parliamentary arithmetic had to change. If it didn’t, May could still execute her plan – she’d bring back a slave nation deal, whip her MPs to vote for it, then wait as the implications sunk in, allowing a future government to argue that re-joining the EU was preferable, rather than being in perpetual transition and tied to the block without voting rights. Yes, that might work – she could honour the referendum result and enjoy the political dividend as a strong and victorious PM – but better still would be a hung Parliament that strangled the deal at birth and accelerated its demise, perhaps making a second referendum the only viable alternative to no deal.

Thus, pursuant to this carefully orchestrated scheme, for which we have no evidence, May called a snap General Election. The polls had her twenty points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn, but, as noted in this blog, the campaign that followed told the story of a distant and dejected figure whose heart didn’t seem to be in victory. Such a shambolic and self-destructive campaign, starting from such a high base, made no sense. Was Theresa really this lacking in even the most basic disciplines of campaigning? Were her advisors, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, as politically naïve and demographically unaware as their manifesto implied? Or was 2017 a campaign designed to do what many thought impossible; erode a seemingly insurmountable poll lead, evening up parliament for the hoped deadlock to come?

May, lest we forget, had already unnecessarily limited the time we had to negotiate our withdrawal agreement with the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, long before suitable preparations for the negotiations had taken place. Even if she’d won a three figure majority, she’d have had less than two years to get the job done, having triggered a legal mechanism that now guaranteed no parallel trade agreements or detailed discussions on our future relationship with the block could take place. A Prime Minister genuinely committed to a deal that was, at worst, neutral, at best emancipating, might have insisted those talks commence, if only via back channels, dangling the threat of holding off on triggering A50 indefinitely. The pitch could have been – start talking or face purgatory. But the risk that might make a success of Brexit was, I suggest with no authority whatsoever, too great.

So for the last 18 months Theresa has worked tirelessly to make sure our terms of exit leave us markedly worse off than we already are. In public, as she must to facilitate the illusion that this is a policy she believes in, lest she alienate the electorate and destroy her party, she’s doggedly stuck to the line that this is a good deal, that it honours the imaginary wish list of Leave Voters, whose wants and dreams may never be known, not even to themselves, and has a hope of getting through Parliament.

This, she must know, is unlikely. But even if Parliament were, once again, to spoil her plans by supporting her – something that can’t be ruled out when the opposition parties and her own MPs are as confused and fearful of voter retribution as this intake, she’s surely now done enough to square the circle of being seen to honour the referendum result, while making a second vote, or future overturning of said result by a government with an electoral mandate, very much more likely – perhaps even inevitable.

Theresa knows and we know that the price of this high wire act, deftly playing parliamentary colleagues against one another, and manipulating the electorate into a volte-face, will be her political life. She will ultimately return to the backbenches, then the ignominy of the lecture circuit, with her name mud amongst ideological Europhobes and angry Leave voters for a generation, all of whom will see her as the great betrayer – the woman who ruined Brexit. Remainers will cite her as evidence that the whole enterprise was doomed and will dismiss her as an incompetent and deluded Premier who put party interest ahead of national interest for no reward – a warning to the Eurosceptics of the future.

But we’ll know, won’t we kids? We’ll know this was just what she planned – the tragedy being that twenty years from now she’ll write an explosive, tell-all memoir that no one will believe – not even George Galloway.

Published in: on November 23, 2018 at 17:10  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: Doctor Who Mid-Series Wangaround

Dear Chris,

We’ve reached the mid-point in your inaugural Doctor Who series; a time to pause, reflect and deplore the many terrible decisions you’ve made while contemplating the most asked question in the universe: what was the big idea that got you the gig?

Don’t say there wasn’t one, because I distinctly remember reading about it – an interview you gave to the Cathode Ray Society, or the Antennae Group, or the Royal Society of selotaping over the ITV button on old televisions, or something. This piece, which I had tabbed but had to close to make room for more Porn Hub windows, quoted a BBC source who was incredibly excited, like the men and women with no critical faculty on Twitter, because you’d made a pitch for the ages. According to witnesses, you sauntered into the meeting, like a man anointed, and wrote the future in lightning – like a woke D.W. Griffiths. But what the fuck did you promise them?

We’re five episodes in now and the Doctor’s mimsy aside, there’s nothing new on display – not that the Professor’s meat curtains are drawn, you understand. Private Eye’s TV critic, ‘Remote Controller’, gave you credit for aiming the series at children and keeping it largely Earth bound. He was apparently unaware that since the magazine’s attitudes were last frozen, around forty years ago, it’s been discovered that healthy adults also enjoy science fiction, and that the best TV examples grow and sustain their fanbase by writing for a mature and discerning audience. Good stories, we now know, work well when you’re four, fourteen or forty, each group, progressively literate in storytelling conventions and nuances, getting something new from the experience.

Your Doctor Who, unfortunately, plays like an earnest CBBC drama, complete with insufferable child-friendly archetypes. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is so unremittingly buoyant and wide-eyed, it’s like travelling in space and time with a Slimming World consultant. Thus far, when she’s not dishing out certificates for weight loss, applauding the slimmer of the week, and promoting the latest range of fat-free microwave meals, the Thirteenth Doctor, unluckily for us, seems fixated on being the most earnest person in the room. In real life such people are exhausting and insufferable. Chris, it’s no different on TV.

If there’s a second dimension to this characterisation, it sure would be great to see it, and soon. The Doctor, it seems, has been flattened out. She’s become an attitude – a set of values. Where’s the enigmatic side of the character, the mystery? Where’s the wit? And who told you that “get a shift on” was a great catchphrase for a two thousand plus year-old refugee from one of the galaxy’s most enlightened and learn’d cultures? Did John Hurt die for this?

Long ago we talked about how your version of the Doctor was likely to be vanilla, and so it’s proved. I don’t mind hearing her boring companions mention Call the Midwife, because that’s their licence fee friendly cultural frame of reference, but when the Doctor invokes the Antiques Roadshow, Poirot and Hamilton, you’re repeating Nu-Who mistakes which are now so well documented, not least by me, that there’s really no excuse to keep making them. The Doctor is not a contemporary middlebrow bore from Planet Shit. What next, are we going to learn she’s read all the Harry Potters and likes Pot Noodles? Actually, forget I said that Chris – I’m terrified you’ll work it in.

So back to your innovative vision for the show. What was it again – to regress to Russell T Davis’s era of creative timidity? Ah yes, because that was when the modern show was at its most popular, wasn’t it? We loved David Tennant singing Ghostbusters and visiting the companion’s council flat and all those other things I’ve tried to block out. In fact, you want to regress further, don’t you? To a time when Doctor Who was imagined as an educational tool for an audience strictly imagined as pre-pubescent. We had “Rosa”, the show that taught kids about the American civil rights movement and racism, and I see next week we’ll be heading to India for a story about partition. Hang on, Chris – hold the space phone, I’ve worked it out. I know what your big idea was!

Identity politics. How could I have missed it? Life lessons for the audience using the characters as lightning rods. Fuck-a-doodle-do, Chris – no wonder the executives who know nothing about genre programming lapped it up. This is why the Doctor has three companions, not just because it recreates the Hartnell era dynamic in the TARDIS, but because, in the absence of an ability to conceptualise exciting stories, it creates space to explore social issues instead.

The more I think about it, the more I think they were conceived with spin-off stories in mind. Take Graham, for example – not just Bradley Walsh but a cancer survivor and, until the Doctor showed up and ruined it, a happy partner in a mixed race relationship. “Rosa” was a shot of racism to the face, but it surely can’t be long until Graham finds himself in ‘60s Sheffield, witnessing first-hand local racial tensions and the struggle of those who defied the bigots to beat segregation. Maybe, given his medical history and association (his dead partner was a nurse), he’ll meet the teenage Nye Bevan and accidentally give him the idea for the NHS, or travel into the future and find the cure for cancer, only to lose it when the vial is ingested by a malicious alien. I’m loathe to share these ideas with you, Chris – they’re probably better than anything you’ve come up with.

Yasmin’s cultural origins are shortly to be touched upon in “Demons of the Punjab” but she’s also a trainee police officer, so perhaps the Doctor will take her to see the Brixton Riots or the Miner’s Strike or get two for the price of one, by showing police oppressing suffragettes. Ryan’s already met his civil rights heroes of course, but his dyspraxia may yet bare storytelling fruit – a journey to a planet where the registered disabled are an undesirable caste, perhaps? Or better yet, could Ryan meet Josef Mengele and kick him in the balls? History’s fun, kids!

Making Who relevant in a thudderingly literal way was a pitch bound to appeal to executives who don’t watch the show, but Chris, it doesn’t have to be this way – you could, you know, use forms like allegory – exploring historical problems in new and imaginative scenarios. That’s science fiction’s greatest trump card – it’s ability to use high concepts to illuminate real world problems, reminding the audience that these things can’t be safely compartmentalised as historic, but are ever present. Oh, yes, I forgot you had a stab at contemporary relevance with “Arachnids in the UK” – something about fracking and Trump, I think? I forgot to add these issue-inspired stories require characters we care about.

In my letters to Steven I mentioned a few times that multi-part stories – the serials of old, always worked better on Doctor Who. From the very beginning it was understood that in a series where the period and location change with each story, time is required to establish each set up, introduce new characters and let the story unfold. It didn’t always work, of course, but it’s still the best way to let the show breathe. This was largely forgotten by Russell Dust when the series returned in 2005, but Steven, lest we deny him the single scintilla of credit he deserves, lumbered with the episodic format (for international sales purposes), attempted to find a workaround with more two-parters and multi-episode, non-linear stories. By returning to single episodes, you’ve once again hamstrung the series’ ability to offer meaty narratives featuring memorable supporting characters.

I could be wrong, though I’m not, but I don’t think it’s just the limited ambition of your writers’ room that’s led to each episode being thin and inconsequential. It’s a by-product of a format that doesn’t afford the, er, time and space, for substance and depth. Imagine instead you’d commissioned four two-hour TV movies. Then you could think big. Instead, you’re compelled, like Davis before you, to frequently return the TARDIS crew to the home of its human occupants to add an overarching sense of continuity – like the kids periodically returning to the house from the secret garden.

After two visits to Sheffield I’m sick of it. I hope when they next go back, in a couple of episodes’ time, it will have been sucked into a time maw – just a hole in the universe. Why not test Bradley Walsh et al. in far-flung, outlandish scenarios featuring stakes we can’t predict? In “Rosa” there was no question that they’d succeed – you weren’t going to have our team accidentally take Parks’ seat, forcing her to stand, and one suspects they’ll be passive witnesses to Indian partition too. Why not take us somewhere where the outcome isn’t fixed and the challenge is to our characters’ values? Why not make them active and have them live with the consequences?

Oh, Chris – this series is so crushingly weightless and boring.

I warned you a long time ago that no one wanted a Who that was just alright. If your only ambition to is create a reliable warhorse that can be watched passively, then forgotten the next day – the backdrop to viewers watching Netflix on their phones, then you’re in the wrong job. Of course the ratings are high – you’ve created broad wallpaper for a general audience. These viewers may be many for now, but they’re soft and disengaged. Unless you give them something to invest in and talk about soon, I fear these pop cultural tourists will shortly find another distraction, while the series’ natural constituency, currently watching out of blind loyalty when many better written and less patronising options are available, will eventually succumb to boredom and indifference, and fish out their VHS copy of “Ghostlight” instead.

Don’t take this the wrong way Chris, but you’re a dull writer currently assigned, inexplicably, to head up the most versatile and unconstrained science fiction franchise ever created. The converse would be Isaac Asimov writing EastEnders. Don’t get me wrong, Chris, I’d love to see Asimov’s take on the lives of those cockney miseries, it’s the flip I can’t stand. You’re currently the man who inherited a fortune and bought a villa in Spain.

I’ll be back at the end of the series to see if you packed all the intrigue and imagination into the second block of episodes.

Yours asleep,

Ed

P.S: I note a forthcoming episode is titled “Kerblam!” (your exclamation mark). How old is the target audience now, five? And can you think of any other sci-fi franchise that cut the age of said audience in half between seasons?

P.P.S: Many have compared the P’Ting in “The Tsuranga Conundrum” to Stitch from Lilo and Stitch. I found that comparison a bit generous.

P.P.P.S: After all this, Alan Cumming is still to come. Fuckin’ ‘ell.

A Touch of the Chibnalls:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

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 November 5, 2018 at 12:38  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Dear Chris,

Don’t worry, I won’t be making a habit of this. Steven (remember him?) hollowed me out and filled the cavity with cloudy, foul smelling piss, but as I wrote to you nearly three years ago now, begging you not to take the showrunner job on account of your broad and witless pedigree, and you ignored me, I felt compelled to give my verdict on the first episode of your new series. I’d have done everything differently you understand, except the new theme arrangement and cinematography – that was great, but you know this. I suppose I could leave it there, but where would be the sense? What’s that you say, it would be infinitely preferable to reading your nonsense review, Ed? Wow, Chris – cutting. I wish your writing was that sharp.

Right, so ahead of transmission, all the talk in Wholand was about Jodie Whittaker, a choice I lamented in my second letter to you, on the grounds that she lacked that mysterious, mercurial quality that I suggested was integral to all the best iterations of the character, as instantly suggested in the debuts of Tom Baker and Paul McCann – actors who found the right tone and sensibility from the off. This, of course, was and is a gender neutral observation – there’s nothing intrinsically male about the Doctor; well, apart from his grandstanding, arrogance and taste for women hundreds of years his junior. I worried that Whittaker would play it provincial and bland, like a bowl of rustic Yorkshire broth. She’d be Peter Davison, only less so. And on first sight, that appears to have come to pass. I hate being right, Chris, that’s why it’s such a chore when it keeps on happening.

First episodes are always tough of course, but we usually get a flavour of the Doctor’s personality, even if the poor sod spends most of that post-regeneration story lagged and memory blocked. At the end of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” – a title that riffed on a film with a far more interesting, androgynous alien visitor, by the way; a true outsider and mesmerising with it (God how we miss David Bowie); we’d spent an hour in the company of an impish child who, like the over earnest club rep she sometimes resembled, was prone to overstatement. The boilerplate plot, which I understand was just a routine way of bringing the new characters together – insipid though they were, could have used a little more palpable fear and uncertainty from the new Doctor. You might have been bolder still and identified a gap in her knowledge. But instead Whittaker glibly tossed off the whole thing with cheery abandon; a characterisation that will no doubt be endearing to many, but for me was a just a bit too close to the non-entities she’d picked up in situ.

I’m sorry Chris, I know I sound despondent, but I don’t know why a show with this rich a history and detailed a mythos is compelled to reset when there’s a change of the guard, and why said return to square one must always, in the Nu-Who era at least, be a dull UK city based adventure, featuring a group of earthy, blue collar characters who meet the Doctor while facing a second-rate alien threat. Didn’t you get this gig on the promise that you’d innovate? It looks to me that you were counting on the people you made that promise to not owning televisions.

What about taking those new cameras and pointing them at a set depicting a colony in deep space, a city like Starchaser’s Toga-Togo, full of creatures and AI and things that look like Jimmy Savile? Why not have companions that show a little of the universe’s variety, maybe even challenge the Doctor’s values? What’s that – it’d alienate the newbies? Well, fuck you Chris. The show’s 55 years old, if the cunts aren’t interested in it and its history by now, perhaps they should stick to YouTube clips.

Is this a show for the whole family or not, because if it is, it should also be aimed at the adults who grew up watching it. All you need to do is tell a compelling story. If it’s good, any kids who don’t know what’s what will be compelled to find out more. When I discovered Doctor Who properly, as a teenager, having enjoyed a smattering of the original run, I went back and watched the 26 seasons that then existed in order. If you become a fan of something, you tend to gobble it up. Oh, and children are a lot more canny than you believe, by the way – they understand high concepts, adult stories. You can talk up to them. You don’t have to reintroduce everything. Half of them will have seen Game of Thrones and Altered Carbon, and lots of other crap I haven’t seen. You’re a bit like my old History teacher, who fast forwarded through the brief sex in a VHS presentation of Highlander, apparently unaware that half the class had used local tramps to buy porno mags the previous weekend.

So you barely touched on the whole change of sex thing – I suppose that was to be expected. Steven had prepared the ground so thoroughly, what more was to be said? But as gender politics is white hot right now, this was a bit of a missed opportunity. Imagine the headlines if a primetime BBC show had featured a prolonged monologue on gender dysphoria, following the Doctor’s unexpected loss of penis and testicles. She’d acquired an inch with every regeneration after all, so this de facto castration might have hit her hard. Indeed, there was no scene when the Doctor and Bradley Walsh argued about whether the Time Lord could just appropriate female gender identity, just because her cells said she could, and whether said identity, acquired as it was, constituted a parody of femininity; womanhood as imagined by a man.

Walsh was quiet on the big issues – the Doctor having skipped those formative years as a female, with attendant problems like the assignation of cultural stereotypes and discrimination, the traumas and tribulations of adolescence, dealing with predatory male sexuality and toxic masculinity in early relationships, not having to deal with oppression as a sex class, not having to worry about beauty standards and archetypal expectations like getting married and having children. One imagines he’ll judge her for roaming the universe and not settling down in future episodes, but a discussion here and a direct challenge from the new Doctor, might really have shaken things up.

And that was it, I suppose. A glossy but empty new Doctor Who, that felt very familiar, but not in an exciting way. More like a programme you’d seen years ago and remembered being quite good but when you sat down and watched it again it had nothing for adult eyes; nothing that went over your head as a child. Perhaps you’ve got lots of great stuff coming down the pipe – psychological depth, moral conundrums, impossible choices, surprise deaths, new weird and wonderful guest characters, and memorable villains. Maybe you, unlike Steven, can tell a story. But I’ve seen Torchwood, and so justifiably fear the worst.

Yours, etc.

Ed

P.S: Please don’t include stuff like YouTube in future – it instantly dates episodes.

P.P.S: “Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman.” The Doctor has never been Scottish. She’d know that.

P.P.P.S: Right, so the Doctor’s got a northern accent, but why? It’s a pity she spoke before she fell, because otherwise you could have established a new precedent, that she copies whoever she hears first. And then we could have lamented that she didn’t fall into a Jamaican bar in North London circa 1974, and adopted the patois. Instead, she was a perfect fit for the area she fell into, a terrific piece of celestial luck.

P.P.P.P.S: The new companions – Yazz, Terry, Wilf – I forget their names, were very quick to believe the Doctor’s “I’m an alien” story. They didn’t even question why she sounded like she was from Huddersfield and talked about being a Scotsman. Wouldn’t the obvious conclusion have been that she was nuts and couldn’t you have mined some comedy from that? Her taking them hostage and forcing them to help – them being terrified, something of that nature?

P.P.P.P.P.S: “It’s a long time since I bought women’s clothes.” Oh yeah? When was the last time?

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Alan Cumming coming soon? Oh Chris, you’re too early in the job to hate your audience.

The Way It Was:

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:

The People’s Vote Dilemma

Hey, yeah you with the sad face, come up to my place and live it up. No, sorry, I mean would you like the chance to vote again on leaving Europe? Polling data suggests a little over half of us do, but of course the interpretation of said polling curiously differs depending on how big a zealot for leave or remain you are. You’ll have heard any attempt to overturn the 2016 result is undemocratic, almost exclusively from those who’d like to quickly bank that snapshot of public opinion because they fear, rightly, that an additional two and a half years of debate, scrutiny and emerging detail on what leaving will mean might have informed enough open minds to flip the result.

Are we not all better educated now on our interdependent relationship with the EU – the legacy of integrationist treaties never ratified by a people’s vote? Have we not felt the Victorian building shake as the post-war reinforcements have been dismantled? Has realpolitik and a glance into the abyss not finally cured us of our imperial hangover?

Well, in this prelude to an afterthought we’ll explore why the People’s Vote (the franchise will not extend to animals and inanimate objects) isn’t the panacea for our EU crisis and the corrective to a monumental folly, as billed. We’ll also discover why fans of true, North Korean-style independence will be whistling through a partner’s torn rectum in any event – an argument you won’t hear in any forthcoming referendum campaign. In short, and for those who can’t be bothered to read any further, both sides remain disingenuous hypocrites and neither outcome is particularly satisfactory for fans of truth and transparency. Sorry.

What price victory for men of the people like Lord Adonis, Alistair Campbell and Chuka Umunna, campaigning for a second crack at the voters? Putting aside the social sepsis that would result from a reversal of the leave vote – an ugly and deep sense of betrayal that would condition future elections with unknowable consequences – remaining in the EU, assuming said option appears on the ballot paper, wouldn’t solve any of our problems with the block. It might, if you’re one of the remain and reform brigade, make them worse.

Our experience of first trying then comprehensively failing to extricate ourselves from the EU, would suggest that no exit were possible or desirable. What power would we have to reform an institution that has empirically tested the theory that we’re dependent upon it for our labour force and goods? And what means would we have to effectively plan for an exit when the rules designed to frustrate successful secession planning, namely a fixed period of two years from a standing start, have proven to be so effective in sabotaging the legitimate efforts of a member state to prepare for a smooth and prosperous transition to life outside the block?

We could of course begin covert preparations for leaving, building on the eight weeks of work already done, should circumstances prove propitious and public opinion definitively move in that direction, but the EU is a project built on ever closer union, the slow march to federalism. Could we, after this near death experience, credibly continue to maintain an arm’s length relationship with our partners? Would this moment of clarity not be seized upon to suggest that our current opt-outs represent nothing more than a misguided attempt to prevent the inevitable, and it’s time to go all in, thereby locking out the Faragists for all time?

If we left and re-joined we’d have to accept the single currency, joining the Schengen Area, and the four freedoms, including that all important free movement of people, like any new applicant. If we remained, with the principle enshrined in EU dogma that the block’s core ambitions cannot be diluted or re-negotiated, its de facto constitution inviolable, it would be hard to resist new treaties (a future government, fearful of repeating this crisis, would surely abolish the referendum lock on constitutional change). How long will these opt outs hold? We could threaten Brexit of course, assuming parliament’s amenable to the idea at that time, but we’d look like Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles, taking ourselves hostage, threatening to blow our own brains out.

At home, a remain vote binds us to Europe while entrenching all the legitimate criticisms Eurosceptic voters had of it in the first place. It will become a truism that the EU is antithetical to dissent, that it is undemocratic. The European Commission, by refusing to accommodate the Conservatives’ half-baked demands, or kowtowing to their pompous sense of entitlement, informed by outdated British exceptionalism, will be seen to have effectively stamped on the confused nationalism of 17.4m pub bores.

The betrayal narrative will become a potent part of the national story – a reverse Dunkirk. Half the people will remain unconvinced of the value of the project, and with no immediate prospect of reform, no serious attempt will have been made to sell it to them. Europe, we’ll be told in the discombobulating days following a vote to remain, with half the country seething, is the only game in town. A humiliated UK government could no longer credibly pursue a policy of constructive disengagement with Brussels. If we’re in we’re all in, we’ll be told, our failed attempt at asserting our illusionary independence used as an illustration of the chaos that results from swimming against the tide.

But what price leaving, if champions of the average Joe, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson get their way? Well, for them a no deal Brexit complete with year zero chaos constitutes the first foot on the sunlit uplands. Why? Because the point of secession for the hardliners is not the oft-repeated drive toward sovereignty, for no such autonomy is possible in a globalised economy, rather a switch to alliances in line with their innate Atlanticism.

The prize, for the cabal of Tories now pushing for a clean break from European regulation and judicial oversight, is a sort of reverse colonialism – closer alignment with our hyperactive cousins, the United States. Buoyed by free market think tanks like the Institute of Economic Affairs, that venerate US-style capitalism the way the Westboro Baptist Church misreads the Bible, and rooted in a form of identification born of close cultural ties and envy at America’s (credit based) prosperity and power – an echo of our own once mighty Empire, Rees-Mogg’s acolytes look to a future where the UK’s free to be a vassal state of the American union. The new alliance comes complete with deregulated food, media conglomeration, free-market health care, higher defence spending, and many other ideas pinched from across the pond that, through discredited and antithetical to the social-democratic outlook of most Britons, appeal to the Atlanticists’ sense of political kindship.

Theirs is a very different formulation from, say, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, who in stark contrast with the Tory Hoorays, crave liberation from Europe’s social democratic model because it’s a perceived barrier to the socialist and protectionist regime that Corbyn dreams of birthing. In other words, as long as we’re tied to the capitalist cabal in Brussels the Labour left is shackled. The poor bastards who joined the Labour Party to support Corbyn, hoping he’d put a stop to the Tories’ divisive upending of British political life, have either misunderstood their leader’s intent or never knew it. Corbyn’s hope is to complete Brexit negotiations following a General Election, rather than throwing the question of remaining back to the Great British Public (something he’s determined to avoid at all costs). This is based on his sincere desire to bank the 2016 result like the aforementioned right-wingers, albeit for polar opposite reasons.

This runs to the heart of what the People’s Vote question is really about. It’s not an issue of whether we become an independent country or not, whether we double down on 2016 or backpedal, rather which set of vested interests will prevail, each side courting a different set of sovereignty-pooling alliances. The SNP, for example, are desperate to remain political Europeans because the issue for them is not independence at all, rather the lancing of the colonial complex that informs nationalist thinking; a hatred of English dominance. They yearn to replace this with a new alliance that, in the long term, annihilates English cultural influence and political power, replacing it with a more egalitarian continental union of equals. Sure, the EU represents no such thing, but the fantasy, for ethic nationalists cloaking their bigotry with progressive rhetoric, is potent, just as the fantasy of fifty-first statism makes members of the European Research Group tumescent.

Independence is a false god; a cover for breaking existing alliances that, however beneficial, are ideologically unpalatable to those advocating their opposite. This, ultimately, is why the People’s Vote will solve nothing. If Britain re-votes to leave, we’ll become either an economic colony of the US under copycat Conservatives, or a socialist backwater under a relieved and unchecked Corbyn government. If we vote to remain, hardline opposition to Europe will become entrenched, and whoever governs will have the mother of all nightmares – trying to keep the wolf of ever closer union from the door, while trying to build significant majority support for an institution that has disenfranchised half the country.

One wonders if David Cameron regrets his Michael Corleone, “who says you can’t kill a cop?” moment.

Published in: on September 25, 2018 at 10:00  Leave a Comment  
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The Return of Picard: A Warning from Star Trek History

You can’t really be a Star Trek fan if you didn’t feel a fleeting moment of elation, something like orgasm, at the news delivered by Patrick Stewart in Las Vegas on Saturday August 4th, that he would be returning to the role of Jean-Luc Picard after an 18-year absence. However, your fan credentials are also contingent on feeling a profound and deep sense of trepidation. For many people this isn’t just an actor returning to a role, it’s the return of a lost father figure. As I was grown in a lab, my daily routine consisting of accelerated growth shakes and TNG episodes in the TV room, I had no strong male role models to respect and learn from. That’s where Captain Picard came in. Strength, he taught me, wasn’t about imbecilic acts of masculine aggression (more on which later) and posturing, rather liberal enlightenment values, intellectual curiosity, rationalism. I didn’t practice any of this you understand, but I innately understood it to be the most desirable constitution one could possess.

Picard embodied these values. He was more than just the personification of Star Trek’s optimistic future, but also a cultural touchstone for the prevailing consensus of the age; the sum-total of Western values up to that point. He was the arc of history stretching just a little further into the future. Today, Picard seems like a character from the distant past rather than the twenty forth century. We can no longer count on any kind of consensus about the principles he represents, nor the type of diplomacy he offers, nor his ethical treatment of others. As reactionary forces sweep the world, the politics of self-interest and alienation (re)asserting themselves, the return of Picard promises to be a tonic, not to mention an outlier in a TV landscape populated by dark, morally ambiguous characters – byproducts of the troubled zeitgeist.

Trekkies are optimists, they know people can be inspired to do better, be better – so Stewart bounding onto a Vegas stage, his arms outstretched like a hope preacher (though the religious comparison is inappropriate, for Gene Roddenberry envisioned us growing out of such things) was a promise to broken people; folk who’ve been starved of reassuring content for decades and still are, thanks to Star Trek: Discovery.

What you make of Stewart’s announcement in Las Vegas will depend on whether you believe the man’s had time to reflect on the character’s legacy and the body of work he headlined between 1987 and 1994, reaching the right conclusions. Trekkies with long memories will know that not even Stewart himself could be counted on to understand the central appeal of his character back when. One could argue that Stewart was unlucky, not having the same amount of time that his predecessor William Shatner did, to reflect on his character’s contribution to popular culture, and in so doing build a degree of reverence for what said character was thought to represent. Stewart went straight from filming his TV series to making his movies, and what’s clear with hindsight is that nobody, including Stewart, thought The Next Generation’s cerebral approach to storytelling would play on the big screen.

On TV, Stewart was content to play Picard as Roddenberry conceived him, statesmanlike and diplomatic. This held for Star Trek: Generations, despite the depressing spectre of a third act fist fight (and the unforgivable destruction of Picard’s family for the sake of that laziest of plot points – the hero and villain having something in common/being flip sides of the same space coin). But it’s clear that in the movies that followed between 1996 and 2002, Stewart, now enjoying a degree of creative autonomy and power as an executive producer with story input, sought to change a character that bored him, into something that better suited his big screen ambitions. Thoughtful, peace-loving Picard was out; impulsive, combative, insubordinate action man Picard was in. Stewart, it should be noted, will be a producer on the new series.

This imposter smashed model ship cabinets, phasered crewmen, disobeyed orders, sent his ship on a Kamikaze suicide run into the enemy’s prow, and spouted action movie clichés. In short, to appeal to a general audience, who cared not a jot about the character and didn’t buy tickets, and to meet the demands of Stewart’s ego, one of the greatest characters in TV fiction was comprehensively, but perhaps not irreversibly, ruined.

Trekkies are romantics; they like to remember the television series and not those terrible, schlocky movies. They’ve long forgiven Patrick Stewart for this act of cultural vandalism, the desecration of Gene Roddenberry’s greatest creation. Stewart wasn’t alone of course, Brent Spiner, the actor who played the android Data on the show, was also guilty of adding testosterone to his characterization and lowering its IQ in a bid to break free of the twin shackles of intellect and curiosity that cut through to so many millions. This myopia extended to another members of the cast. Marina Sirtis, who played Troi, cites her character getting drunk in Star Trek: First Contact as her favourite all-time Deanna moment. Actors not taking their characters or indeed their responsibility to the audience seriously, matters. It inevitably manifests itself in the material.

When Trekkies think of Picard and Data they don’t think of those big screen aberrations, with their nonsensical plotting and casual disdain for what came before, rather what came before. This is why the return of Picard is a huge risk both for Patrick Stewart and fans alike. If Stewart gets Picard wrong this time, it will be on the far less forgiving stage of television. Stewart’s giving himself an opportunity to atone for those terrible movies, restoring a little prestige and dignity to the character he once embodied. It’s a second chance. There won’t be a third.

So the big question is, can we trust Stewart to deliver Captain Picard as we remember, that is, in essence, not necessarily in rank or deed? Stewart was careful to say in Las Vegas that this might not be the Picard of old. Hopefully, here he was alluding to the fact that any series set twenty years after The Next Generation will inevitably have a different setting, dynamic, a new set of supporting characters, and therefore will take the character in a fresh and hopefully interesting direction. Trekkies must pray that what Stewart doesn’t mean is that he intends to play the character differently, that is to say, with some of the idiocy we witnessed on the big screen. After all, fans who’ve done their homework will know that it was Stewart that wanted Picard to have a greater action hero role in those movies. Anyone who’s read Michael Piller’s account of the making of Star Trek: Insurrection, will have noted Stewart’s insistence that the character move beyond the diplomacy that characterised his time aboard the Enterprise D, as if that fundamental character trait was old hat.

In other words, back then Stewart was bored of being the thoughtful and intelligent Captain Picard, and favoured something closer to a caricature – a man who liked off road driving and machine gunning the enemy. Stewart tells us he’s watched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation in order to prepare for his reprise. We must hope that he has rediscovered the character’s central appeal, his purpose, and is minded to play him accordingly. The Captain Picard we know and love respected authority, revered the federation constitution, and believed in Starfleet values and their ability to bring moderation and justice to the galaxy. Playing Captain Picard any other way, in an era when that kind of thoughtful and temperate attitude to social and political affairs is under threat as never before, would not only be irresponsible, but an absolute betrayal of Gene Roddenberry’s legacy.

If a new series is to succeed, and to be an honourable sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation, it must be written by people who respect it, and have the ability to write with the kind of natural intelligence it brought to audiences. A portent of doom is the show being produced by Star Trek: Discovery’s Alex Kurtzman, the man also responsible for the idiotic Kirk reboot movies. Kurtzman may be a fan of Star Trek, but he has shown none of the thoughtfulness of those that worked on the franchise in the 80s and 90s. Therefore, the hope must be that the search is now on for scribes whose creative load up is to this monumental task.

Time enough has passed for The Next Generation’s place in popular culture to become cemented and the appeal of its very best episodes to be understood. Consequently, anyone signing up to write this TV sequel can have no excuses. After the debacle that was Star Trek: Nemesis, Captain Picard’s story deserves to be ended in a way that dignifies both the character and the television series he led. Whether the creative team working on the project are capable of delivering on that almighty expectation only time will tell. What’s certain, is that if those responsible get it wrong, the damage to the franchise overall will be considerable, and perhaps this time, irreversible.

Buyer’s Remorse: The Truth about Shared Ownership

All I’ve ever wanted is peace and security. I’m the grave side of forty, I live in London, I’m single and I struggle to overcome the appalling financial penalty that incurs. Home ownership remains an aspiration for lone members of my beaten generation. We live in the long shadow of the right-to-buy and nimbyism. The supply of homes and demand for the same are strangers and never the twain shall meet. My generation endures the Orwellian redefining of the word “affordable” – the construction industry’s thigh slapper at our expense.

Social inequality profiteers, now enjoying mortgage-free living, are bankrolled by the poor. We’re their income streams, their lifestyle guarantors. Renting out part of your home or buying-to-let is the easiest buck an idle asset-rich homeowner ever made. Social injustice hasn’t been this brazen, obnoxious and naturalised since the 19th century. And the children of those who’ve done well from this crime against the general population have the gall to cry foul when the Tory Party forgets itself and threatens their unearned inheritance, as it did, hilariously, during the 2017 Election campaign.

What follows is a story of a con vested on a would-be home owner; a man denied a stable home for the best part of twenty years. You’re warned that it contains descriptions of reckless stupidity that some readers may find distressing.

I was desperate to own a stake in my home city. The alternative, moving away, deracinating myself, felt monstrously unjust. So in desperation, I opted for a very modern compromise; a scam talked up by those desperate you drop any demands for cheap homes and accept the housing market as it is – a position that protects those aforementioned asset-rich home owners. The wheeze in question, Shared Ownership, is a half-way, or rather, half-owned house. In my desperation, I got drunk on the promise, telling myself it would liberate me from the tyranny of absurd market rents and, with bitter retrospective irony, unscrupulous buy-to-let landlords.

And so it was I made a Faustian pact with a Housing Association ostensibly constituted to help me. Before it was merged out of existence in May 2017 (many of them club together and rebrand, it’s a neat way of washing away a stained reputation), the old HA boasted core values: “caring, honesty, innovation and customer service”. Surely they, as the custodians of one of London’s new communities, would be a reputable pimp, committed to the wellbeing of their tenants? Yes, I’d still be one of those, despite the life savings I’d be sinking into new bricks and mortar.

I’d be an odd tenant for sure, saddled with all the responsibilities of home ownership and none of the perks, but a tenant nonetheless. This is what they skip over in the marketing materials. You may think you’re buying into home ownership and will get the attendant privileges, but to the HA you’re just a pretentious dependent, and you get housed accordingly – not set apart from the least socially conscientious families, but imprisoned within the same boundaries. This, you discover later, is how an association fulfils its social housing credentials and maintains its charitable status. You also learn that the thinking that populates these developments is socially illiterate and ruinous.

My flat was in one of London’s new village schemes. “Village” connotes community, urban space, tranquillity and harmony. It invokes a decluttered past, the bucolic, a rural idyll. But a car doesn’t become a horse if you hang a licence plate around its cock, and this village was nothing of the kind. In reality: a reboot of the council estate it replaced. It would import the estate’s tenants, families that came pre-loaded with an entitled attitude to their subsidised housing and environs, and unchecked aggression toward the new middle classes moving in opposite.

They’d had a lifetime’s practice in the delicate art of testing boundaries and ignoring authority. The readymade nucleus of this community didn’t give two fucks about complaints and threats of punitive action. They’d seen and heard it all before, and besides, this was their home. Why adapt for the newbies? Because they’d invested every penny they had in the hope of a peaceful home of their own you say? Careful, that sounds like coded snobbery and an apology for imposing community values on those who have none.

The promise of a building exclusively for shared owners, i.e. those with similar lifestyles and expectations, was an outright, sinister lie – a gag told by the off-plan marketing team, who knew very well buyers would be locked in with social housing families – loud, inconsiderate, hostile and destructive, facing them the way Jimmy Stewart watched Raymond Burr. This revelation, on the day I was handed my keys, became the defining fact of my residency.

The marketing literature had, of course, omitted this crucial detail. Come, it said, enjoy a beautiful communal garden, “perfect for summer evenings and weekends outside” in a building designed exclusively for shared owners, i.e. a group with a diverse tenancy profile. The building may have been designed for us but the HA that acquired it had no intention of populating it that way. Backing onto that garden were the social housing families and their intemperate offspring. I’d been groomed to expect them elsewhere, “in the social housing portions of the development”, to quote the disingenuous language used at point of sale. Now we were locked together, with a single communal space between us, and there would be no escape from their noise, littering, vandalism, home invading kids (no really, they’d run into the ground floor flats of single young women, then mock them when asked to leave), and the grinding indifference of the parent-tenants who’d sit indoors, enjoying their subsidised housing, while their children tore up the space outside.

Said space, for the avoidance of doubt, was theoretically the responsibility of all tenants but only one kind, the humble leaseholder, paid for its upkeep and repair – that’s the service charge you hear so much about. To know the same while you watched the kids of social housing tenants vandalise the space, was one thing. To discover later that CCTV only covered the entrances to the garden, and this was the HA’s excuse to spread the cost for repairing the additional damage, knowing leaseholders would pay most (if not all of) the bill, was quite another. An oily middle manager would later explain that the liability of social housing tenants couldn’t be proven, nor the fact, known to the dogs in the street, that they were now the exclusive, unsupervised occupiers of the disputed territory. When I suggested the CCTV turned on the entrances, recording who went in and out, would prove exactly that, I was met with silence.

A divide had been created. It was between those who had a stake in the building, so were incentivised to maintain it and promote community cohesion, and those who had none, so were not. This was an unholy fusion, a cut and shut of lifestyles, but it wasn’t an admin error on the Housing Association’s part, it was policy. So why do it? Why populate a building in a way that guarantees social conflict? Why make the non-statutory parts of each tenancy – leasehold and social housing, different when it came to the crucial definition of what constituted nuisance noise in the same communal area? Thoughtlessness? Mercenary calculation? A mechanism to guarantee a certain amount of churn on the Shared Ownership side and the healthy movement of appreciating capital? Take your pick, but the result was Hell on Earth.

Getting the HA to accept any responsibility for this, or honour their role as landlord to provide the peace and quiet sold, proved mission impossible. Whatever they thought privately, and one imagines the social illiteracy and stupidity of the set up was apparent almost immediately, the HA’s line, from the get-go, was one of denial, obfuscation, the invocation of thought terminating cliché – “kids are kids”, and interminably long periods of silence; a position designed to run down the residency clock and minimise, if not expunge, any legal liability for the disaster vested on leaseholders.

A six-month complaints process, a brick wall, was the first attempt at crushing dissent. When that got us nowhere, with political answers to specific questions deemed “sufficient”, a long review of the management arrangements governing the building concluded nothing was to be done. The HA’s legal advisors decreed, using clips of audio recordings, divorced from their proper context – 40 plus hours of said noise a week, every week, for six consecutive months of each year, that the kids didn’t exceed statutory nuisance noise levels. A judge, we were told, would be unlikely to order enforcement action under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act; a claim, they gambled, we’d be unlikely to test due to the huge legal costs involved. When Winston Smith questioned Big Brother he was told he didn’t exist. It turns out our social problems didn’t exist either.

The HA chose to concentrate, in an act of wilful ignorance, on their alleged inability to enforce leasehold tenants’ notional right to peace and protection from anti-social activity, due to the difficultly in taking action against the people they’d housed opposite me. That they’d engineered a situation that made enforcement problematic both practically and politically (imagine the headlines – “HA Evicts Poor Families from New Homes!”, “HA tells Slum Clearance Families, ‘You’re Scum’ and Sends Them Packing”) didn’t seem to occur to those administering the mess. That it occurred to someone before the fact was obvious. Organisations that aren’t anticipating problems don’t lie to prospective buyers.

The regulatory regime was a safety net made of rice noodles. The government created bodies, carefully constituted to give HA’s the latitude they needed to mismanage the sector in the interests of construction and the market – the Homes and Communities Agency quango that regulates Housing Associations, and Housing Ombudsman – proved toothless and useless, applying neither close scrutiny or intelligence to their judgements. They concentrated on evidence of tick-boxing rather than outcomes and impact – a charter that allows an association to mark their own homework. Not only did they find my HA was “under no obligation” to reveal how a building was populated, a licence to lie, not to mention music to the ears of snake oil salesmen everywhere, they also concluded these fraudsters had acted properly simply by following their own ineffective and socially divisive internal processes. What were they? Relying on neighbour on neighbour reports to identify wrongdoing, and sanctioning individuals rather than taking steps to change the behaviour of a specific tenant group, which like all groups, conditions the actions of the greatest number of people.

The HA held the belated report (that had taken 15 months to produce due to understaffing) up as evidence that they’d done nothing wrong (literally, when they finally deigned to meet me after 2 years), but doing the minimum necessary to look busy and taking effective and transformative action is not the same thing. The HA had no greater friend than the regulatory regime that was supposed to hold it to account.

With no prospect of the situation improving and official collusion making mincemeat of my complaint, I duly played my part and sold up, which thanks to the HA’s go slow bureaucracy and indifferent solicitors, took nine resource sapping months. I was forced to abandon the principle that had informed my purchase, namely that I’d be buying in to a home not an investment. My tormentors, my negligent and cynical landlords, made a tidy profit and took an estate agent sized commission, despite doing no work. Their outlook, antithetical to the ethos of community building, their alleged reason to exist, won out. A certain amount of churn is healthy in the Shared Owned sector – it keeps the HAs flush while destroying any incentive they have to improve the lifestyle prospects of those controlling moving capital.

What of my fellow leaseholders, you ask? My New Village experience opened a timely window on post-Thatcherite society. I may believe in community, in solidarity, but the majority of my atomised shared owners had either forgotten this principle or never knew it. None, it seemed, had the appetite for a long fight, or any fight. The problem that blighted my life for 28 months only became salient for them when the Housing Association doubled down on their cynicism and attempted to bill leaseholders for repairs to vandalism caused by the kids of social housing tenants. By then I was on my way out and they were on their own.

These scabs, happy to let their neighbours suffer, if there was no impact on their daily existence, saw their flats as ISAs. They kept quiet, knowing they’d be moving on in a few short years with an inflated bank balance as reward for the HA successfully flogging this duff product to the next poor sod pursuing their property owning dream.

To be sure that deal was understood, the Housing Association had dealt with dissent ruthlessly. I spoke to a young neighbour, a primary school teacher, who told a story about inadvertently adding steam to our pressure cooker, having plucked up the courage to have a social gathering on her balcony, four months into her residency. The family opposite, affronted by half-hearted calls for them and their immediate neighbours to practice respect and silence, knuckles dragging, saw a chance for revenge and came out threatening violence. My fellow leaseholder complained, only to find her feral opponent had pre-empted her, getting in first.

In the awful mediation that followed, another inversion of a process that’s supposed to protect residents, spearheaded by the HA’s hapless and cold Anti-Social Behaviour team, she was reprimanded for having the audacity to act like she part-owned the place, taking outrageous liberties like inviting friends around, and was brought to tears by a landlord that (erroneously) threatened her with eviction if she ever showed up on their radar again. Curiously, she opted to further suffer in silence.

The parents of the children who tormented us, having been given a tacit greenlight to dismiss their neighbours’ misery, intuited their cherubs could be weaponised to kill complaints. One resident, who photographed a night-time congregation of kids, following the HA’s claim said gatherings didn’t happen, was branded a paedophile by the insta-mob that formed moments later. More threats. More intimidation.

When it was put to the HA that their attitude and management of this clusterfuck had both conditioned and exacerbated the situation, they adopted lines that would endure, no matter how discredited by experience and accrued evidence. They bore no responsibility for the scenario, they said, and their piecemeal responses were immaterial to it running on and on. It was, they argued disingenuously, a simple dispute between neighbours, one we had to own, as they certainly didn’t want it – not a consequence of their cynicism and stupidity.

Thanks to my former landlord, my old new village became, in no time at all, a place of suspicion and fear, conditioned by the tabloid imagination, and cynically rigged to disadvantage those who shout least while paying most. The organisation that branded a new sink estate a village, has now itself rebranded. But whatever it calls itself, or indeed the divisive community it mismanages, it’s created a place that’s post-fact, post-law, post-common sense, and available to move into now for those quick enough to snag a re-sale.

As for me, I remain in search of peace and security, the simple pleasures of home. I do not expect to find them while I’m young enough to enjoy them. I may never enjoy them. That’s the certain fate today’s Housing market and its profiteers have inflicted on me and so many others.

The Strange Death of Star Wars: A Solo Story

The Memorial Day weekend box office offered an uncharacteristic shock. In the age of corporate synergy, brand saturation, multiplex occupation (or racketeering), with each tentpole modelled on the imaginary desires of the pliable, bovine masses, and fed to them excluding all else, it is thought that a movie’s gross can be predicted to within a few million dollars. The analysts know what you’re going to see and how often before you do. Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story was, in industry parlance, tracking for a huge opening – success was a cast iron certainty, like the content.

But the men and women who think they can read the big print pamphlet that is the public were wrong by half. Solo played to more empty houses than a Lost Prophets reunion tour. The Golden Goose passed a stool. Hacks flippantly reached for series clichés – “there’s been an awakening”, “I have a bad feeling about this”, “this deal’s getting worse all the time”, but Disney won’t be laughing. These Star Wars movies were supposed to fill queues at multi-billion dollar theme park attractions, giant movie sets built to perpetuate the lie (firmly debunked by George Lucas) that the public have a stake in the films’ universe. Bob Iger, Uncle Walt’s heir, woke on Monday to discover he was John Hammond.

What happened to the infantilized idiots who soiled themselves, paroxysms of delight abound, at the sight of the Millennium Falcon in that Force Awakens trailer three years ago? Wasn’t the appeal of Han Solo central to that movie’s meteoric success? Lucasfilm were so confident they had the suss that Ron Howard, a directing droid, was ordered to generate the requisite material when the human directors rebelled. There’s no evidence they knew what the audience wanted either of course. Maybe they knew even less, but the sacking pointed to a kind of presumption about what the mob craved – full fat nostalgia. This is a failure to conceptualise. It’s relationship with originality is akin to O.J’s with women.

Online groupthink throws up an easy explanation for the marked and tangible indifference to Solo. Star Wars is over exposed, the releases too close together; fans voted with their feet after The Last Jedi aggressively deconstructed their fan fic approach to structuring expectations. But to say that’s why Alden Ehrenreich remains best known within his own household is to focus on a bleeding exit wound while ignoring the bullet.

With Solo, Disney have released four movies in a row that cannibalise the mythos rather than expanding it. We now know the tipping point to this approach. Excitement got sucked into the maw.

Star Wars was once an independently made and financed spectacle – the flawed machinations of a second rate auteur with a first rate idea. The prequels were sterile, lifeless movies; technocentic experiments that proved, charmingly, that the creator of this juggernaut, several removes from his original idea, and fat on the consolidating hard work of others, had no clue what made the old films work. Lucas, aggrieved at audience hostility to his hubris and vandalism, sold his company to Disney. Fan skepticism was surely tempered by the persuasive idea that the corporation, with no ego to bruise, and a business driven tail wags dog philosophy, would show more creative savvy.

With the light dimming after Solo’s quiet debut, the first Star Wars movie to have the distinction of being a pop cultural event by virtue of it being unseen, it appears George’s fundamental cluelessness has been inherited by the Lucasfilm/Disney bivariate. Their initial corporate analysis of what constituted sustainable trips to the well comprised of giving the gigantic (and if the prequel grosses were anything to by, critically illiterate) fan base both nostalgia and novelty, prequels and sequels. But in this first phase of Disney’s stewardship it hasn’t occurred to anyone to imbue either with anything new.

The Force Awakens and its sequel, The Last Jedi, were, respectively, a remake and inversion of the original trilogy. Anger levelled at Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII was misdirected at the treatment of legacy characters, as if, in stark contrast to real human beings, they’d advance to pensionable age frozen in aspic, married to the same ideas, aspirations and assumptions that characterised their twenties. That, said the practiced storytellers flooding cinemas, was a breach of trust; so too any plot twist which robbed their favourite galaxy of its clockwork character – a stifling universe in which everyone and everything was related and predetermined. A place that if occupied for real, would render all lives fixed and therefore tyrannised.

The film was baggy and awkward, it wasn’t much fun – but at least it had half a mind to bite down on the straightjacket straps and have a tug. Its failure to break free was due to the strength of those ties – conceptual, iconographic; same old same old. Solo was supposed to be a palate cleanser, a deep breath, a chance to let our hair down and have some childhood fun before the heavyweight Episode IX came along, but offering fans a literal hit of nostalgia on the back of disguised (but well imbibed) doses, was always a gamble. It’s a bit like serving up a plate of kebab meat and chips after three servings of high end 14 day hung, grass fed slow grown lamb braised in spices & liquor, served with truffle fries. One can be in denial about what you’re eating when chowing down on the gourmet version, but there’s no hiding from the fat oozing, oil saturated high street staple; feed that makes you feel bloated and tired.

Disney and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy are now alert to the devastating realisation that Star Wars fandom is an impossible object. The fans want surprises and high stakes, but only those surprises and high stakes they’ve already imagined; ideas sourced from the movies they know. But give them a rote rendering of what they know, in sop to their imagined reverence for original trilogy ephemera, and they’re not interested.

The 1977-83 trilogy was supposed to be a stock of characters and situations that one could riff off for the next twenty years, but this supposes the fans have been inert in the intervening decades, that they haven’t already canonised the backstories, talked out the miscellany, imagined the interlinking events. What they require from the galaxy’s owners are better stories than the shit they’ve made up themselves; new characters with fresh backdrops, bound by the rules and technology of this universe, a shared identity, who face new challenges, fresh complications.

Eating what little on screen Star Wars already exists is a formula for formula. Cynicism may yet produce well received inserts – there’s sufficient interest in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life between the first two trilogies to tempt Lucasfilm, for example, but in the long term that kind of anthology flick strips all the ambiguity and mystery from its parent pictures. Marvel’s success is based on moving forward not sideways. The movies may be inconsequential but they add texture. If Star Wars is going to pull off the same trick, its brain trust will need to imagine a Star Trek: The Next Generation – something of the same genus that has its own distinct character, characters and philosophy.

Published in: on May 28, 2018 at 11:15  Leave a Comment  
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Brexit reminds me of the worst breakup I ever had

As Brexit continues to confound the intellect and rouse the lowest of emotions, I’ve realised it’s a perfect metaphor for the worst breakup I ever had. I probably shouldn’t single out Donald Tusk’s fairly equivocal rejection of Theresa May’s bespoke divorce fantasy. Eleven years on, almost every hopeless compromise reminds me of those dark days: arriving late at Jimmy’s World of Food and having to make do with the dregs from lukewarm tureens; failing to get my favourite seat in the cinema, so ploughing on in an isle exposed, end-of-row position, vulnerable to latecomers and anti-piracy sweeps from gormless ushers; not being able to afford a house with character in a desirable location, so having to settle for a part-owned, clinical white shell made of plasterboard and brick veneer, facing onto a communal garden occupied by borstal rejects on Tartrazine benders. Still, of all life’s grim realities, our exit from the EU works best.

In this pseudo-comic conceit I, of course, am the EU and my former partner, we’ll call her Boudicca, is the United Kingdom of England and Wales. I wanted to stay together, imagining our mutual interest and long-term prosperity was best served by ever-closer union. But for Boudicca, our relationship, originally founded on a student basis, the psychosexual equivalent of the Common Market, had mutated to involve too many compromises, too much syphoning off of independence, and consequently it had become a shackle. We were just too different, she said, and besides, she wanted to do a free trade deal with the United States.

In dumping me, even the good parts; a referendum involving a single voter – her – in which she campaigned ferociously, lest she talk herself out of it; she’d unilaterally signalled her intent to diverge. There’d been eight years of emotional and temperamental alignment but that, whatever the platitudinous bullshit offered, could not continue. This meant, as the body forced to deal with the consequences, I’d have to try and salvage my happiness and dignity, the equivalent of keeping the EU together, while sending a very clear signal to myself that I could not be vulnerable to a capricious woman’s sociopathy in future, i.e. protecting what remained of me from further ruinous breakups.

Initial negotiations were difficult. Boudicca wanted to retain some of the benefits of our relationship – a casual and friendly association with some family members – “tell them I’m thinking of them”, a social media connection to an old friend living in the US, and permission to ring me on occasion when drunk, bored and sentimental. However, I was adamant; one couldn’t simply cherry pick the benefits of union.

Consigning me to life’s fly tip meant giving up the friendship we, (well, I), had enjoyed. Anyone I’d designated friend or relative, though definitions in both cases were stretched, was part of the same awful package and could not be courted separately. And when it came to plugging rare moments of loneliness, not nearly tinged enough with regret for my liking, some other poor bastard would have to chunter on the phone in my place. As Boudicca saw me as an interchangeable archetypal phalloid, who could and would be replaced in the fullness of time, rather than an irreplaceable person in my own right, this seemed reasonable.

Edxit meant Edxit.

Theresa May didn’t want Brexit, because the EU was a comfortable and understood entity, that though imperfect, made life (relatively) simple. But lumbered with the referendum and fearful of the ultra-Brexiteers who swarm beneath her bed like clothes moths in a warm, airless room, she’s had to openly confront everything she dislikes about the Union while patronising, sorry, flattering the grievously offended block to salvage the rest. From the EU’s point of view she’s Boudicca, and like me following Boudicca’s departure, the only way the EU can survive and rebuild its strength is by drawing a line underneath the whole tragic spectacle and moving on.

Like me, all those years ago, they don’t want to do it. Tusk, Verhofstadt and Barnier think we’re crazy but have little choice but to live with the decision to leave and rally the troops to protect their interests. Like me, during those terrible weeks, months and years, they hope their former partner will wise up and employ the nostalgia they clung to in all other areas in service to intimacy once shared. But deep down, as I was ultimately forced to admit, both to myself and others, divergence means profound differences emerging over time. That fork in the road doesn’t lead back to the old path, just a dark and foreboding lane, traipsed by pub bores and provincial xenophobes.

Tusk knows, though he hates it, that the dream is over and it must be polite conversation and the occasional e-mail from now on. For Theresa May, the reality of what Brexit really means is only now beginning to crown. She’s going to have to go out there and befriend less committed, more predatory partners, perhaps finally settling for some comfortable but unfulfilling coalition with the state equivalent of a feckless porcine fantasist, addled by misogyny and alcoholism, brandishing a shrivelled chode.

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.15 (End of Season Special)

Critic’s log, supplemental.

I know I mock Star Trek: Discovery but I feel privileged to have been watching TV at the moment a new idiom entered the language. Happy Days gave us “jump the shark”, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, “nuke the fridge”, Last Jedi “poppined the Leia”, and now, thanks to the Disco season finale, we have “showed the Enterprise”.

Oh no, they’ve showed the Enterprise. This series really has hit rock bottom.

Disco hacks, you never show the Enterprise. Not in a Star Trek prequel. Because THEN YOU’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING WITH IT.

But we’ll come back to that scene.

First, the ghastly wrapping up of this fifteen-episode fan fic serial, so crassly plotted it could have been written by you. “Will You Take My Hand?” had a lot to tie off and did its ugly business with machine-like efficiency, even pausing from time to time for a quiet character moment. Mick got to recount the murder (and implied rape) of her parents by the beast-like Klingons, Tyler regaled us with his childhood sailing obsession (yawn) and Voq’s penchant for gambling (which included taking a punt on being smashed to bits and re-sculpted as human), and Tilly got high with original series guest star Clint Howard, now playing an Orion gadabout, lounging in a Qo’noS ghetto stained with alien urine from species with multiple members. And all the while the existential threat to the Federation played out in low-key fashion, pivoting on Mirror Georgiou’s attempt to plant a hydro bomb in an active Klingon volcano. No, really.

This immediate threat to the Klingons, and the abstract one to Earth, were never felt because we knew, this being a prequel, that neither would come to anything. No, this was strictly an exercise in crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. The only intrigue came from whether the hacks behind this wrongheaded voyage had the nous to employ a little calligraphic finesse. In the end, dogged by their own miserable plot, and as anxious to wrap it up as we were to see it wrapped up, they could not.

Starfleet’s plan was to have Mirror Georgiou detonate the bomb, causing an ecological disaster (would this head of the snake strategy really work when the Empire, as constituted, was a hydra?). Mick essentially won the peace by convincing the Admiralty to install L’Rell as the Klingon’s unifying leader. The Discovery’s captive, so the easiest person in the universe to be stuck with the label of Federation stooge, would convince the twenty-four houses to back her by using the primed explosive as blackmail.

Yes, that’s right – L’Rell, rather than arguing the Empire has acted dishonourably and the Federation were not the true enemy, rather the divisions within their own society, convinced a race that only lives for war and conquest to abandon the fight, with Earth in sight of its warships, because she alone could give them a sense of shared identity, and if they thought differently, she’d explode the device nested under the planet’s surface and consign them all to suffocation.

Veteran Klingon watchers might have wondered if this principle free, culturally tin-eared solution was a good formula for long lasting peace. Wouldn’t the act of threatening genocide make L’Rell a seditious anarchist in the mind of most Klingons? Would she be sleeping with the clearly identifiable Starfleet-issue detonator and one eye open for the rest of her life, or did she hope that once her people got used to having their domestic extinction held over them, their despotic leader’s finger on the button, they’d knuckle down and show due deference? What would stop any one of millions of bloodthirsty vengeful warriors, denied the sweetest of victories by a Federation puppet, simply conspiring to kill her while she slept? If we meet her again in Season 2, will she be travelling around in a disruptor proof case, like the Klingon pope, the detonator manacled to her wrist, her eyes bloodshot from the stimulants required to keep her awake and alert 24 hours and 8 minutes a day?

Nothing became Discovery like the half-baked solution to its dull, inconsequential war. Like every story beat before it, the end of the conflict was a prisoner of the plot contortions planned out in those frenzied first months of production. If L’Rell was going to win over the Klingons the show’s focus would have to be on the Empire’s internal politics and manoeuvring her into position gradually. But no one, including the hacks in the writers’ room, wanted to watch that show, and having failed to give her the most obvious leverage, namely the Klingons starting to lose the war, because of their ideological in-fighting, as that would deny the Discovery crew their high stakes finish, they had to find a shortcut that would allow her to win over the warmongering tribes and restore the status quo in a single scene. It worked within the context of the lone episode but had no dramatic integrity overall. In this, it joined the Voq and Lorca reveals and Starfleet’s mystifying use of Mirror Georgiou. Discovery, more often than not, has looked like a show written in a game of Consequences.

What, we’re entitled to ask, was the point of this fucking war? The only Starfleet officer who thought it should be fought dirty was a Mirror Universe doppelgänger who didn’t give a shit about the outcome. Everyone else, even Admiral Cornwell, who only lost her nerve toward the end because she was desperate thanks to the machinations of said doppelgänger (who’d taken the victory solution out of play for 9 months) flouted their Starfleet credentials throughout, though in the most literal way possible. Discovery’s a show that wore its insecurities about its Star Trek credentials on its uniform sleeve, with pious speechifying making a return to the franchise for the first time since TNG season one. Ultimately, a war was fought and won to mature the sensibilities of one Michael Burnham – the fucking idiot who started the conflict in the first place.

Mick, who’d spent a lifetime brooding over the death of her parents, only had to start an interstellar conflict and broker a flippant and unstable peace to realise that Federation values of tolerance and understanding worked best. Yeah, it was a pity about the broken bodies of all those men, women and children littering the galaxy, the collateral damage of her monumental hubris, but she’d pulled such a blinder for the Federation – acquiring a Mirror Universe tyrant to enable an attack on Qo’noS, coaching the Empire to accept an armistice based on the threat of genocide, that it was only right and proper that she be restored to full rank and returned to active duty on her dream assignment.

Given the body count, might retirement not have been a better face saving option for all parties? They always need people to help out on the Earth’s subaquatic bases, don’t they? If I’d lost a son, daughter or wife to the conflict, I’m not sure I’d feel good knowing that Mick was back as a ranking officer, wearing the Federation’s highest medal of honour. And she got it by saving the enemy from mass extinction and military collapse, so I can thank her for the next 70 years of cold war too.

So, moral victory secured, the crew of the Discovery warped to collect their new, as-yet-uncast Captain, who will be quantum scanned before being given their command codes. But, as we discussed last week, there was no way on Earth, or any other planet, that this fan service machine was going to end without a cliffhanger. If we were unsure what form it would take, we needed only imagine the stupidest thing the writers could come up with – the biggest stunt they could pull, remembering they’d have months to work out how to turn it into a viable piece of storytelling. The biggest of course would have been a peak into the Original Series’ universe; confirmation that Discovery had been set elsewhere all along. But in the event, this bunch of literal minded miscreants went for the next best thing – an actual look at Christopher Pike’s Enterprise, breaking warp, in distress, and naturally redesigned as a final fuck you to the audience.

This series has avoided, like the plague, confirming its Prime Universe credentials. It created an opt-out in the form of multiverse travel, teased us with the prospect of the Defiant, late of “The Tholian Web”, then declined to show it. We reasoned the writers had decided on the safe route of creative ambiguity, because they couldn’t decide themselves, keeping cast-iron identifiers off screen so we could argue it out indefinitely, or at least until we got bored asking. Now we know that baring an astonishing reversal, Season 2 will settle it (once the creative team work out what the fuck to do).

A ship that’s supposed to contain Spock (unless, God help us, next year’s story is centred on finding the missing Vulcan) now faces the one carrying his Father and adopted sister. When we return to this series, logic demands we get a look at the Enterprise Bridge and her crew. I’d like to believe the hacks that run this shithouse know exactly what we’ll see when screens are activated, but I suspect, and I think you do too, they have no idea. So why do it? Why show the Enterprise? Because this somewhat desperate end to the series was the only thing a show this reliant on fan service could do to sustain interest in the months ahead.

For me showing the Enterprise, teasing Pike and his Cage-era crew, was an admission of failure on Discovery’s part. It had failed to captivate on its own merits, failed to tell a story that resonated or chimed with the times, failed to introduce likable characters with great potential, and failed to make the case for itself as a prequel to the Original Series.

A serialised season, hamstrung by decisions taken early, when the writers had little sense of the show’s identity or purpose, made the kind of course corrections and character development possible in an episodic format, impossible. The Next Generation had a tumultuous first year, but good self-contained stories steadied the ship and settled stomachs turned by some of the worst. But when your entire series is an ill-conceived story, a story that uglifies your characters, it’s hard to change direction.

Well, now the Enterprise is here, and we’re left hanging with the same anxiety we nursed going in – is this our Star Trek or an idiot’s reimagining? Now the showrunners have repeated the question they must answer it and the stakes, unlike those offered in the first season, are real. Get the answer wrong and with little else to recommend it, there may be no reason for real Trekkies to watch this show. And if some rage-quit the thing, incensed that their doubts about it have been obnoxiously reworked into a cliffhanger by writers desperate for their attention – well, I wouldn’t blame them. Would you?

Anomalous Readings

  • Having failed to just extract what they needed from her mind using a mind meld, Mirror Georgiou was given her freedom by the Federation. Given what Lorca did when loose in Discovery’s universe, that seemed like an unwarranted gamble.
  • Pet hate of the week: the way Mick holds her communicator. She handles it like Apprentice contestants hold their iPhones. Properly or not at all, fuck face.
  • Tellingly, the medal ceremony in Paris only really focused on Stamets, Tilly and Saru – the only three characters the season had any room for who weren’t dead. Even Culber got more screen time than the rest of the bridge crew, and he was represented by a medal in the palm of Stamet’s hand.
  • The Enterprise issued a distress call. Distressed because Pike had just met their Original Series universe selves? Well, why the fuck not? That’s the only way this fucking show can have it both ways.
  • Tilly looked sexy on Qo’noS. And who knew the planet was multicultural? One in the eye for Star Trek’s essentialism, though only if this is the Prime Universe, obviously.
  • So Tyler, though now essentially human, decided to remain with L’Rell? Good luck, man – you’re going to be fighting off a lot of assassins from now on.
  • Perhaps the most damning thing one can say about Discovery is that the most entertaining thing it’s produced in Year One are tweets from Jason Issacs.
  • The Discovery needs a captain. Does anyone have Denise Crosby’s number?
  • Maurice Hurley, the thorn in Gene Roddenberry’s crotch during the first season of TNG, was so pissed off with the production’s problems that he actually suggested scrapping the entire cast and starting afresh for Season 2. Seemed crazy then.