Sunday, November 30, 2008
Lib Dem Blogs In Time Travel Horror
I’ve just missed the ’60s, and I might bump into Jon Pertwee. The horror! There are at least three Liberal revivals to get excited about and then fizzle away dishearteningly without us getting in again, the music’s going downhill, I’ve got half a decade to wait for Tom Baker, racist jokes are ‘funny’ and as for being openly gay… It’s even a couple of years before I can go find myself as a baby and see if chucking my tiny chin can cause everything to explode.
Leave Life On Mars, thank you very much. I’d rather have life in 2008.
Switching on the colour television and seeing Andrew Marr, I’m momentarily reassured. But then I notice he’s talking to Ken Clarke, who appears to be wearing… Tom Good’s nettle suit from 1977. Oh no! It’s spreading!
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Ian Blair Is Blinkered To the Last; Tories Deplore Mrs Thatcher
Ian Blair – A Man Without Self-Awareness
So, farewell, then, Ian Blair. And good riddance. Of course he was good at some bits of his job. So what? He spoke in favour of partisan Labour Government laws such as ID cards and draconian terror legislation, and ordered his officers to do the same. He was the Labour Government’s shameless attack dog, both in public relations and in partial enforcement of the law. And that’s not even bringing in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, for which he not only failed to take responsibility but lied, covered up and ignored court verdicts. If a senior police officer had a brilliant track record, but decided to reward himself by nicking a bit on the side, he’d be just another crook. Ian Blair’s had an erratic track record, and by making the Metropolitan Police an arm of the Labour Party, he did far more to undermine confidence in the police force and to undermine the Rule of Law itself than a minor bit of venality. He’s a disgrace to his uniform.
Just look at the laughable hypocrisy of his self-pitying whine yesterday. It’s not fair, he cried. The law has to be changed, mummy, to stop a hatchet man for one party being forced out just because someone from another party gets elected and for some weird reason doesn’t trust the other party’s hatchet man. Politicians shouldn’t have the power to hire and fire police chiefs, he whinged, except of course for the Home Secretary who’s my mate and represents a seat in the Midlands, who therefore should have far more control over London’s policing than anyone the people of London elected.
And, with brilliant timing, Mr Blair was wailing aloud that the nasty Tories were picking on him and it shouldn’t be allowed, on exactly the same day that the police force he orders about on behalf of the Labour Party arrested a Tory politician on dodgy grounds in what looks to all the world like a five-minutes-to-midnight bit of revenge. We already knew the man had no shame. Now it’s evidence that he doesn’t have the self-awareness of a well-socialised five-year-old either.
I don’t like Boris Johnson. I don’t think he’s up to the job. I’m appalled by all the pettily vindictive cuts he’s been making to any programme that concerns poor people in London. But he was elected by London’s voters, and in a democratic set-up where the Mayor is London’s prime politician, with the biggest personal mandate in Britain, it’s plainly absurd that a national politician should have the power of oversight on London’s police that a local police authority has in the rest of the country. Like Mayorwatch, again no great fan of the current Mayor, I can separate out dislike of the incumbent from knowing what’s right in a democracy – that unelected public servants can’t be the lapdogs of one political party, and that where there are decisions to be taken by politicians, the decisions should be taken by politicians elected for the area concerned. No-one in London can chuck out Jacqui Smith.
Damian – A Bad Omen?
We’ve been enjoying The Devil’s Whore on Channel 4 (blimey, doesn’t Harry Lloyd look shaggable in that wig? Ahem), and what smashing timing that, a mere few days after a dramatisation of the 1642 Commons Speaker famously refusing to help the King arrest Members of Parliament he was after for political reasons, the 2008 Speaker apparently points to a Member of Parliament and says, ‘There he is! It was him! He’s guilty as sin and no mistake!’ I guess we know which side of the British Civil Wars Speaker Martin would have tacked to, then. No, MPs can’t be above the law; no-one should (even though the draconian laws under which Damian Green was arrested shouldn’t be the law anyway). But to hold the Government to account, Members of Parliament need to be able to use any information they get their hands on to ask questions without fear of arrest, and to represent their constituents, their correspondence should be confidential.
And, come on, not only did Labour ruthlessly exploit leaks a decade ago to destroy the previous Tory Government, but they leak all over the place today (‘Whoops, I appear to have accidentally left my pre-Budget report in the in-trays of every political journalist in the country. I can’t think how that happened, Inspector’). If there’s nothing political about the arrest of Damian Green, then how exactly is it that most of the Parliamentary Labour Party from the Prime Minister down hasn’t long since been locked up?
Of course it’s tempting to indulge in a bit of Schadenfreude over Mr Green being banged up, just as it’s tempting to use Ian Blair’s forced resignation as a stick to hit Boris Johnson with. Similarly, it’s tempting to back Mr Green just because you hate the Labour Government, or to agree with Mr Johnson just because you’re disgusted with Mr Blair. You know that point in a Ray Harryhausen movie when two great big monsters start savaging each other, and though both are ‘evil monsters’, you find yourself rooting for one over the other on the basis of which looks cooler? It’s a little like that, though with the disadvantage that neither Mr Blair nor Mr Green are lookers in any sense, least of all the exciting Ray Harryhausen sense (though you could make a case that both are monsters, and certainly that both want to stop motion).
Well, as I said above, when it comes to the Rule of Law, Liberals don’t pick favourites. OK, so Jennie can find several silver linings in this:
“I might be being a heartless bitch here, but the Tory Immigration Spokesman has had a little taste of the chokey he wants to subject immigrants to, and a bloody great hole has been blasted in the government's assurances that anti-terror stuff will only be used against terrorists - unless anyone is seriously suggesting that Mr Green is a terrorist? No, thought not - so what is there about this situation that is not win?”…And, I admit it, I’m offended by the circumstances of this arrest in part because this time I can’t point and laugh at a Tory in prison, like the good old days of venal, lying crooks such as Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer. But there are more reasons to be upset by this arrest than just the spoiling our fun at how crooked the Tories are.
Damian Green is an odious Tory who’s been leaking in order to stir up anti-immigrant bigotry to boost Conservative Party votes on the back of racism and make it more likely that more innocent people coming into this country will be locked up for longer and in shocking conditions. It’s loathsome hypocrisy that he now complains that it should happen to him. But I’m rather proud that from the moment the news broke, a huge number of Liberal Democrats at every level have risen up in outrage. MPs and bloggers have all swallowed their distaste for Mr Green to say, no, this is wrong, and it doesn’t matter how repellent the man is or how vile his reasons for leaking – the law is being abused.
Expanding on his comments of yesterday, Nick Clegg has a very strong article in today’s Torygraph that sets out just why this arrest was wrong (hat-tip to Darrell Goodliffe):
“When did it become a crime to hold the Government to account?”
“We are made no safer by this arrest and the country will not be run any better.”
“The Metropolitan Police says that neither the search nor the arrest were conducted under the provisions of anti-terrorism legislation. Yet nine counter-terrorism officers were required to carry out the arrest of a middle-aged Conservative MP.
“The Government has dismissed concerns that counter-terrorism laws can be misused. But time and again we have seen examples of powers that were rushed through Parliament being misused against people for crimes such as heckling Labour ministers at conferences or freezing Icelandic bank accounts.
“Even if these laws were not invoked this time, the sight of anti-terrorist police enforcing laws unrelated to terrorism will only confuse the public further.”
They’ve Got Form, Yer Honner
So, this individual case is wrong. But, as I’m not basing my judgement over that on how much I like or dislike Damian Green, Ian Blair or any of the other unappetising figures involved – unlike rather a lot of Tories, who only bleat when it happens to one of ‘their own’, as you’re about to see – the answer isn’t just to champion Mr Green’s case, but to change a rotten law.
It’s shocking that there’s no public interest defence to the Official Secrets Act, the law under which Damian Green was arrested. So what would the parties do about it? Well, the Liberal Democrats would specifically introduce a public interest defence as part of our Freedom Law, so we can defend Mr Green with a clear conscience. Labour? Well, they’re the people responsible for current Freedom From Information laws, and are very happy locking up any sort of dissenter as a terrorist, so it makes it rather hypocritical that when the public interest defence was removed from the Official Secrets Act in 1989, when they weren’t in lovely, lovely power, they voted to retain it. 1989? Who could possibly have been in Government then?
Oh! It appears it was the Conservative Party. It was Margaret Thatcher’s Government that removed the public interest defence from the Official Secrets Act, allowing the likes of Damian Green to be banged up for two years and bankrupted with an unlimited fine even if there’s no evidence that his leakings caused actual harm. And, of course, not only did several of today’s leading Tories actually vote for that change, but the Conservative Party has never, ever said they disagree with it, until right now. Must be an oversight!
Uncannily, every Tory spokesperson who’s commented on this has said it’s all some vindictive conspiracy by the Labour Government and isn’t it oh so shocking that such a thing could be allowed… Without ever mentioning that it was they themselves that are responsible, and that not one Tory spokesperson in the last nineteen years has ever opposed Mrs Thatcher’s attack on whistleblowers. Not, that is, until a) they hope everyone’s forgotten their fingerprints are all over it and b) it’s been done to one of their own, dash it all, not one of those oiks, pinkos and liberals it was aimed at, just like if (perish the thought) a Tory was done for cocaine abuse rather than only poor people being locked up for drugs, as intended. It’s an outrage (very suddenly)!
It’s all making me feel about sixteen again, standing in the school playground with my copy of Spycatcher and reading out the dullest and least secret bits, just so that everyone listening was breaking the Official Secrets Act too by hearing the most utterly tedious rubbish and whingeing about the author’s pension. That was picking out the most boring bits of one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. And, come to think of it, that was while the public interest defence was still in place.
In other news (sigh), a crook who once gave money to the Lib Dems and lots of charities and got nothing in return has been found guilty of being a crook. Many people in other parties are calling for political parties to have far more intrusive and untrammelled Stasi-like powers as a result. It took months and months of police investigation to turn up anything dodgy in that case; all those people who think any political party, rather than just making all the checks it’s legal to, should have the power to do that to investigate their donors are, simply, stark staring mad. Read what I’ve written above if you can’t see why.
Sunday update: As Matt below and Paul Walter have pointed out, despite some reports, Damian Green wasn’t actually charged under the Official Secrets Act. So, on the technicalities, quite a bit of what I write above was bollocks. On the principles, though, I reckon I’ve still got a point. The Labour Government is very happy for the police to harass pretty much anyone (except their own) under pretty much any powers, and they’ve showered still more powers even when old ones would do.
So whether Mr Green was arrested using 18th Century legislation, 1989 legislation or new Labour legislation is an interesting question to lawyers, but I suspect they all have pretty much the same effect where most observers are concerned, and (perhaps more to the point) that the police could use most of them pretty interchangeably. What’s worrying isn’t the precise power used, but that there are so many of them that can be employed, and that increasingly they’re being employed against ‘criminals’ that a few years ago it would have been inconceivable to see a goon squad you’d expect to be aimed at terrorists sent out for.
And the questions for the Conservative Party remain: do you think there should be a public interest defence for leaks and whistleblowers, under whichever law? Or just a defence for Tory MPs? And, with all these powers sloshing around, which would you remove, and which would you restrict? Or would you only remove or restrict their application to Tory MPs?
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1976 Brilliant?
“I am the creator here, Doctor. This is my world.”Exploding with ideas for both story and storytelling, this starts as film noir political satire, then swerves into virtual reality and gritty surrealism. Superb cliffhangers, visuals, dialogue; the Master stripped to his essentials… It’s my favourite story, and Mary Whitehouse’s biggest complaint. An unbeatable recommendation!
“The Master’s consumed with hatred. It’s his one great weakness.”
“Weakness, Doctor? Hate is strength.”
“Not in your case. You’d delay an execution to pull the wings off a fly.”
There’s no DVD yet, though you may have seen clips from and discussion of it on Doctor Who Confidential 4.10, the one after Midnight. In the meantime you should look for second-hand copies of the novel or the VHS: if you can track down WH Smith’s The Time Lord Collection, that includes videos of not only this story, but also The War Games and The Three Doctors; on the other hand, the original VHS release has the most gorgeous cover painting in the range… And back on its original transmission, the Radio Times trailed the story with one of its most shiver-down-the-spine lines:
“Death strikes in the dark cloisters of the Time Lord Capitol. The Doctor, alone now, is a hunted fugitive in a city that was once his home…”
Labels: American Politics, Books, British Politics, Doctor Who, Film Noir, Ideas, Mary Whitehouse, Personal, Philip Madoc, Religion, Reviews, Style, The Master, Tom Baker, Why Is Doctor Who Brilliant?
Friday, November 28, 2008
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1975 Brilliant?
Genesis of the Daleks
“Yes… I would do it. That power would set me up above the gods! And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!”A superbly filmed and scored war story, peppered with enthralling speeches. Perhaps the Doctor’s sharpest moral dilemma is whether to destroy the Daleks at their birth, but this is essentially the story of Davros, a fascist with depth and intelligence, who engineers his own destruction.
The most-repeated, most-released Doctor Who story of all, it’s not hard to track this one down, whether it’s second-hand copies of the several editions of the VHS, the book, the script book or the 60-minute audio version I played constantly on LP, then cassette, now CD (did anyone record the 90-minute edit they showed in the ’80s? I’d like to see that) – and, of course, the DVD, two discs filled with documentary goodies. It’s one of the best ones to buy, either on its own or in the Davros Collection.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1974 Brilliant?
Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion
“This body is merely a container, Hibbert. You should know that. You made me.”Terrance Dicks’ first novel incredibly makes the series’ most memorable action scenes more powerful still. It’s full of well-drawn characters (and well-drawn illustrations), superbly rethinks details for the page and adds deft touches of horror, but it’s the gripping extended invasion sequence that’s the highlight.
Though you’re best looking out for second-hand copies of this book, you can now buy a talking book of it on CD read by Caroline John, Liz Shaw herself. And, of course, in a reversal of my usual advice, you can buy the DVD of the original TV story, named Spearhead From Space rather than The Auton Invasion – it’s so splendid that it’s almost as good as the book!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1973 Brilliant?
Carnival of Monsters
“One has no wish to be devoured by alien monstrosities, Kalik – even in the cause of political progress.”An entertaining satire of television, with quite a bit of politics and characters including a dodgy Polari-speaking showman (I remember not understanding him; I can now) and grey-faced plotting Tories, the story keeps channel-hopping to 1926 British caricatures and huge, screaming dragons, the Drashigs. Bona!
One to buy on DVD, though it’s worth looking out for the excellent book and, for once, the VHS as well. The video has extended episodes with extra scenes cut in, which are presented separately on the DVD (it’s a shame the tape’s one of the few copy-protected ones, so I can’t back up our old copy of these edits). Terrance Dicks’ novelisation swaps scenes around too, and adds lots of little polishes; it’s clearer, if less vivid, and uses the word “liberal” to mean good and “authoritarian” bad, so it’s appealed to me from a very young age, along with the memorable tagline on the back:
“The Doctor and Jo land on a cargo ship crossing the Indian Ocean in the year 1926.
“Or so they think.”
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Alan Johnson Is Maddeningly Smug
Andrew Lansley Puts His Foot In It Again
You may have heard that Tory health spokesperson Mr Lansley’s made a ‘gaffe’, which is the term for when a politician opens their mind and their mouth at the same time. In a piece he wrote about the probable mental health effects of a deep recession, he made an aside to the effect that some people might become physically more healthy, as they can less afford to drink, smoke and eat rich food. On the one hand, you can understand what he means; think of all those programmes about how healthy people were during rationing. On the other hand, what about people who because they can’t afford to eat well just get any old cheap crap, or people who are so depressed that they drink or smoke more to cope? I know that, stuck at home, unwell and getting little exercise, I’ve been Mr Comfort-eating and have put on masses of weight this year. But if Mr Lansley was dimly not considering all the effects, at least his main focus was on real health problems that the Labour Government’s done fuck all about, and if he was offensive and didn’t put enough thought in… Well, he may be a lot less bright than Sir Keith Joseph, but at least he’s far less offensive.
The reaction, of course, has been predictable. Labour has screamed that this callous, vicious Tory is so out of touch he’s preaching that the recession can be good for you. The BBC news page has ignored that most of what he wrote was about mental health. And the Tory Party has made him apologise and take down his article. While I think Mr Lansley was a bit out of touch and didn’t think through his point, I feel a lot more sympathy with him than with some of his attackers, particularly when mental health is something Labour has spent so many years underfunding and ignoring, presumably because mental health patients don’t look so good in a sympathetic photo-opportunity. It’s something Nick Clegg in particular has been banging on about for ages – in speeches as Leader, in his Leadership campaign last year, repeatedly in Prime Minister’s Questions – and so hearing Mr Johnson’s crocodile tears on PM today just drove me up the wall.
Alan Johnson and Labour Hypocrisy
The BBC went quite some way towards atoning for their online story with an intelligent and searching interview from Eddie Mair on PM tonight. The Tories wouldn’t put anyone up (though someone dragged out Edwina Currie). And Alan Johnson was detestable. After years of being so desperate to sound and act exactly like Tories, Labour are now gagging to refight the 1980s with a cry of ‘We might be crap, but the Tories are eeevil and they just love unemployment’ – yes, I can see how they want to damage Mr Cameron’s ‘caring’ brand, but the ’80s went so well for them, didn’t they?
Mr Johnson did the job he’s employed for – not speaking for the interests of sick people, that would be absurd, but laying into the Tories. He said he was trying to be kind to Mr Lansley, as he was sure he was a decent human being… But he’s proof that the Tories are eeevil and they just love unemployment (I paraphrase, but not by much). In a hammily ‘more in sorrow than anger’ tone, he ignored the question about physical health, talking about the terrible consequences of an economic downturn on mental health, then also ignored the point that Mr Lansley had raised that before he did when it was rightly put to him by Eddie Mair.
My stomach was already turning through all this, but that point at which I really became furious was when, after Mr Mair pressed him on the fact that there are huge waiting lists to see any sort of counsellor and that more people with mental health problems are just shoved full of anti-depressants, Mr Johnson became loathsomely smug. He boasted that, far from there being any problem with mental health provision, Labour was recruiting an extra 3,000 mental health professionals (though of what kind, and at what charge to patients, and whether full- or part-time, he didn’t say). Well, that’s good news, and it’s only taken them eleven years to notice the problem. But, hang on… I noticed, and I’m glad that Mr Mair did too, that Mr Johnson was boasting that the Labour Government had already planned for and started hiring these people.
Eddie Mair asked Alan Johnson, flat out, how the system would possibly cope if they were only just hiring people to cope with the crisis in mental health provision that already exists, but the recession’s just about to create a surge of people with mental health problems. We’ll have enough people, said Mr Johnson, bored now, we’ve planned for it. In a tone of incredulity, Mr Mair asked, “So you factored in the effect of the recession before you knew there’d be one?” But Mr Johnson just brushed it aside in the most bored, complacent, utterly smug answer I’ve heard even from a Labour Minister in a long time, just repeating languidly “Yes, of course” that there would be enough people to cope. When he evidently doesn’t have a clue, and doesn’t give a toss, the unspeakable shit. He may as well just have held up a sign saying, ‘Look, bored now, I don’t really give a toss about this issue, can’t we get back to the main topic which is that Tories are eeevil and never mind the small print?’
This, on the same day that Health Minister – oh, look – Alan Johnson has decided that, rather than doctors issuing sick notes to say how ill someone is, because their professional training is to make diagnosis of health problems, they must from now on issue “Fit Notes” to say what people can work at. Because, obviously, making doctors benefits enforcers is in no way a conflict of interest that might get in the way of them helping people to get better, and GPs are in no way busy, and have nothing better to do than be amateur work counsellors writing out long lists of possibilities. Presumably it’ll let Labour cut the jobs of people who are actually skilled in working out what work people can do, though, so they’ll see this eye-boggling stupidity as an efficiency gain.
Work To Rule
This latest piece of authoritarian drivel from a Labour Government intent on turning every organ of the state into a petty, prying, suspicious boss that orders us into what it thinks is good for us is all of a piece with what’s been Gordon Brown’s big idea since he first became Chancellor, and which is now exploding more out of control than ever before. He sincerely believes in the morally improving nature of work. So, it follows, everyone not in work is immoral. Look at the stigmatisation of benefits and the beneficence of tax credits, twisting people through every possible hoop to spoon out a pittance to working people and not the sick or the unemployed or the otherwise undeserving poor (choosing your own life? Pah!).
It’s Labour’s rule that you must work, or you must be Frowned at. The Tories simply hate the poor; Labour hate the ‘undeserving’ poor. With such a choice, it’s difficult not to hate both of those parties, isn’t it?
I didn’t write about it at the time, but the last Labour Minister interview that really infuriated me was with James Purnell, on the Today Programme towards the end of last week; of course, that was with John Humphrys, so it had the added difficulty that the interviewer was offensively smug and stupid as well. This one was about the Labour Government cracking down on people so evil as to be on benefits, forcing them to find work or have their already poverty-line benefits cut by 40% (40% below the minimum for survival!) if they were ill, or parents, or other such unproductive malingerers. The Labour Government’s own advisers had just told them that, in a recession when unemployment is spiralling, enforcing their moral views on parents was a luxury that no-one could afford, would cause more poverty and made no sense, so why not put it off so that people desperate for jobs can compete in the crapulent job market – a close friend of mine, for example, had a business that went under earlier this year after a decade of trading, and despite hundreds of applications still hasn’t managed to find a job – while parents who want to look after their kids can actually do that, which is also something positive for society? No, said Mr Purnell, he was having none of it; people really wanted jobs, and the Labour Government would help them attain that wish they didn’t know they had on pain of death. But what about there being no jobs, because unemployment’s spiralling? No, said Mr Purnell, people want to work, it won’t be put off (it didn’t help that Mr Humphrys said that, of course, no reasonable person could disagree with these proposals in better times, a statement so breathtakingly offensive that it had me wanting to hit the radio so hard that it might knock some sense into him). But what about parents who were concerned that their kids would grow up better if someone was there to look after them, and didn’t want to be forced away from their kids and into work? No, said Mr Purnell, people want to work, it won’t be put off. But what about there being less than a hundredth the childcare places needed with so many more children unable to be looked after at home? No, said Mr Purnell, people want to work, it won’t be put off. Seriously, it was like there was a string in his back.
And all because Gordon Brown, moralising workaholic that he is, demands that only people in work have any virtue, that scrubbing a loo in McDonalds is infinitely more rewarding than making your child smile. If there wasn’t such a shortage of mental health professionals, I’d suggest he gets his head examined.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1972 Brilliant?
The Curse of Peladon
“I would rather be a cave-dweller, and free.”Like UNIT, this interplanetary political fable inspires internationalism, with
“Free? With your people imprisoned by ritual and superstition?”
You’ll have to look around for a second-hand copy of the VHS until they bring out the DVD – or of Brian Hayles’ novelisation, which makes hermaphrodite hexapod Alpha Centauri if anything even more vivid, as well as giving the story just a slightly bigger budget.
Monday, November 24, 2008
“Your Mail.” “Yes, I Am, And I Can Prove It, D’You Hear! Prooove It!”
But wait! Setting it on my two other blogs – both dormant for eighteen months; I will reanimate them, but not today – I find something very different. My detailed Doctor Who analysis blog ‘proves’ me to be 94% male, with “strong indicators” that it’s written by a man… But my LiveJournal featuring enthusiasm about people I’ve met and complaints about toothache guesses that I’m 58% male, and “quite gender neutral”. Perhaps some of us are more versatile? I notice that Costigan, for one, isn’t afraid to be in touch with his feminine side.
I predict that, later today, Jennie will reveal her Butchometer score of 112% and threaten anyone who challenges her to a monster truck duel.
*Like the headline, this is a reference to Carry On Matron (yes, I can spell “your / you’re” and “mail / male”, but I’m pedantic about punning quotations).
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1971 Brilliant?
The Mind of Evil
“That is Thunderbolt. A gas missile, nuclear-powered, and British, of course. But the most important thing about it is that it’s illegal.”The Master at his most Bond-villain impressive. We see him smoke a big cigar, plot against a peace conference (complicated by the UK’s illegal WMDs), conduct disturbing experiments on prisoners then pitch them against the army in thrilling action sequences, and reveal his deepest fear.
This one’s unlikely to be out on DVD very soon; the BBC’s insane archive purges didn’t completely destroy any Doctor Who episodes from the ’70s, but they did cleverly burn the colour tapes of this story and leave us with just a black and white copy, which looks surprisingly stylish but which you’ll have to find on second-hand VHS for the time being. The book tells the story quite crisply, too.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1970 Brilliant?
“Three people have seen them. They do exist. And we’ve got to attack them first.”Green scaly rubber people are people too. A great cast clash over the discovery of a race of reptile people waking after millions of years to reclaim the Earth from ape-descended upstarts, leading to terrifyingly apocalyptic scenes and one of the series’ most tragic endings.
“Just because they’re an alien species, that doesn’t mean we have to kill them.”
Though you might be able to find a second-hand copy of the VHS, buy the DVD box set Beneath the Surface instead – not only is the picture restoration an enormous improvement, but the extras include a superb video essay on the politics of Doctor Who that you could easily imagine on BBC4 (oh, and there are two other stories in the box as well – Richard adds that you can listen to the isolated music tracks on all three and enjoy the terrifying race memory in the comfort of your own home!). Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation, Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, is just as stunning: it expands the characters, sees much of the story from the reptile people’s viewpoint, and has splendid illustrations. It’s probably more responsible for making me a Liberal than any other book, and if you can’t find a copy, you can now buy it as a talking book on CD.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1969 Brilliant?
The War Games
“Use the conventional forces. It could be quite amusing.”A grim, brilliantly structured story opens in the First World War then opens out into ever-wider revelations. Horribly similar rigged trials top and tail this passionately anti-war tale where each successive monster is more deadly than the last, and they all look just like us.
A DVD may well be on its way next year, but in the meantime, you may be able to find second-hand a copy of the VHS or of Malcolm Hulke’s shortened but thoughtful novel. If you can track down WH Smith’s The Time Lord Collection, that includes not only the best video transfer of this story, but also The Three Doctors and The Deadly Assassin.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1968 Brilliant?
The Mind Robber
“I think we may be in a place where nothing is impossible.”Funny, silly, literary, intelligent… Our heroes find themselves first in a void where the TARDIS, shockingly, explodes, then marooned in a Land of Fiction. Highlights include a resigned Rapunzel, a dumb superhero, a helpful Nottingham man and the Doctor losing face (but not his own).
The book’s rather fun, if slightly less disturbing, so you can look out for that (or the VHS) second-hand – but it’s the DVD you should buy. The picture’s been spruced up a treat and there are some smashing extras, with documentaries on the story and on the Doctor’s companion Jamie, and even a bit of Basil Brush.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1967 Brilliant?
The Evil of the Daleks
“Somewhere in the Dalek race, there are three Daleks with the Human Factor. Gradually, they will come to question. They will persuade other Daleks to question. You will have a rebellion on your planet!”Doctor Who’s Faust, a gripping morality tale of insidious Daleks and the Doctor exploring human and Dalek nature – defined as ‘to ask questions’ and ‘to obey and to kill’ – it’s the series’ most powerfully Liberal message and intertwines past, present and an alien world to perfection.
And, yes, I’m afraid it’s one more that doesn’t fully exist, though I’m hoping the big, CGI-Dalek-packed Recon that’s due soon will be thrilling. If there’s one ‘missing’ (burnt) story that I’d love to be rediscovered… Anyway, thankfully you can at least buy the one fully surviving episode in the Lost In Time DVD set, and the whole soundtrack is terrific on CD (there’s a book you might find second-hand, too). It was adapted as a stage play two years ago, and though you can’t see that, you can read Richard’s review courtesy of Millennium.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1966 Brilliant?
“One Dalek… Is capable of exterminating all!”The Daleks reach the zenith of their power and cunning in a plan for Universal conquest spanning many planets and times and spinning between thrilling, sinister and downright surreal. Shockingly, several of the Doctor’s friends die – the harrowing climax beats even modern finales for emotional punch.
Unfortunately, if you want to see the whole of this story… You can’t. Three-quarters of it was burned by the BBC and no longer exists, though you can buy the whole soundtrack on CD, and see the restored surviving TV episodes in the Lost In Time DVD set (and you might find second-hand copies of the twin books). However, though you should of course buy those, if there’s one Recon you should send off for, this is it. The huge Reconstruction of this story is a labour of love, with CGI Daleks and a breathtakingly recreated finale. It was adapted as a stage play last year, and though you can’t see that, you can read Millennium’s review.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1965 Brilliant?
“You defy me with the Pope?”The Doctor lands in a remarkably even-handed 12th Century ‘BBC adventure serial’, caught between two dangerous leaders – intelligent, calm Saladin and impulsive, petulant Richard – and their butchering warlords. An extraordinary script brings out the best from outstanding actors with perhaps the finest ‘serious’ dialogue in Doctor Who.
“No! You defy the world with your politics!”
Unfortunately, if you want to see the whole of this story… You can’t. Half of it was binned by the BBC and no longer exists, though you can buy the whole soundtrack on CD, while the Lost In Time DVD set has both the audio-only parts and the restored surviving TV episodes. This is a good one to send off for the Recon, naturally, with a superb interview with Julian Glover as well as reconstructed visuals. Then there’s David Whitaker’s rather dashing novel Doctor Who and the Crusaders, now available as a talking book read on CD by William Russell, and well worth getting.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1964 Brilliant?
“But you can’t rewrite history – not one line! …I know. Believe me. I know.”The most fabulous companion ever, schoolteacher Barbara Wright, is made a goddess and determines to save the Aztec people from destruction. The greatest of tragic historicals, with stunning concepts and dialogue. Plus, the Doctor gets engaged, which means lovely characterisation, cocoa, and absolutely no tongues.
“Not Barbara. Yetaxa.”
You might be able to find second-hand copies of the VHS, or of the novelisation (an enthralling recreation of a then unimaginably ancient story for me in 1984), but really, I urge you to buy the marvellously cleaned up and extras-filled DVD. It’s by far the best way to enjoy the story, and even boasts an educational piece by Valerie Singleton and a South Park-style cartoon of the late, great John Ringham as the villainous high priest Tlotoxl, telling us how to make proper Aztec cocoa.
Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1963 Brilliant?
“Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles?”Two teachers investigate a strange old man’s granddaughter – their lives, and ours, are never the same again. They fall into the TARDIS and into history (quite literally, with cavemen). And the very first episode is still perhaps the greatest single piece of television ever made. Seriously.
Now, if you want to buy it… You might be able to find a second-hand copy of Terrance Dicks’ rather jolly novelisation, or of the two releases on VHS (and two more of the Pilot version of the first episode), but really, you should pick up the marvellously cleaned up and extras-filled DVD box set, Doctor Who – The Beginning, possibly the most indispensable release in the range. As a bonus, it has two more stories and a taste of another on it, too.
Friday, November 21, 2008
What’s New Is Old: The Seventies Are Back! Starring Tom Baker’s Explosion of Desire
House of Cards at five past midnight tonight on BBC4 is a splendidly double-crossing piece of cold war fun featuring a high-kicking bishop and an outrageous shaggy dog scene about the past Avengers women, and starring the always enjoyable Peter Jeffrey. One of The Avengers’ top recurring guest stars, this is the last of a strange trilogy of episodes spread across a decade, in each of which he plays a different old foe bent on revenge against an Avenger. Each uses a playing card motif; each has a dubious continental connection; and each one is dead…
On Sunday night at six and again at midnight, Doctor Who’s 45th anniversary, brings a radio sequel on BBC7 to a rather fabulous 1975 TV adventure. Terror of the Zygons was the last big hurrah for UNIT, brought in the Loch Ness Monster (seriously), and perhaps best deserves to be remembered for the Zygons, undoubtedly for me the greatest of one-off Who monsters (sorry Reapers, werewolf and Quarks). Despite a slight disadvantage to seeing these aliens with your wireless sets, this sequel with Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith is very different in tone, but fun – guest stars include Tim Brooke-Taylor and Steven Pacey. And though it’ll be introduced as The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, it’ll always be Trevor of the Zygons to me.
The Doctor Who-related highlight, though, despite strong competition from Einstein and Eddington on Saturday night (damn! It clashes with The Devil’s Whore! But still, the Doctor and Terry Nation on the front of the Radio Times, and not even for Doctor Who; how brilliant is that?), is Monday’s The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith. The first half’s on BBC1 at 4.35, and the conclusion follows on CBBC at 5.15; having seen Part One on CBBC last week, I can’t wait to find out what happens after the fantastic Pyramids of Marsesque cliffhanger. Don’t let it being a ‘children’s programme’ put you off; it’s a great series, not only far better than Torchwood but – heretical thought – possibly better than this year’s Doctor Who, too (and how many other kids’ shows quote The Wicker Man?). This story by the very talented Gareth Roberts is the highlight of this year’s Sarahs so far, in which she’s led into a trap by a sinister figure known as the Trickster, who to fans of Doctor Who’s 1978-9 Key to Time season may bear an uncanny resemblance to the Black Guardian (but, as Gareth said to me of something completely different when I jumped him in Borders last week, “We’re not allowed to call it that”).
The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith is also, of course, the sequel to the very best of last year’s The Sarah Jane Adventures, the positively uncanny Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? BBC1 handily repeated that last Sunday, so if you missed it, tune your IPlayer to the 16th and watch the sufferings of Lis Sladen and Jane Asher – but be quick, before it’s gone (or just buy the boxed set of the complete first series, which came out on DVD last week).
And finally, of course, I’m on edge wondering just what the remake of Survivors will be like, coming up on Sunday night at nine. The original series varied from gripping post-apocalyptic drama to, er, The Archers, and was never the same after the producer sacked the terrific actress playing the strong, independent female lead because she was, er, a strong and independent woman. I’m hoping the new Survivors is good; there’ve been some intriguing teasers shown and it’s got quite a few good actors in it, but they’ve given the central part to that woman from Bonekickers. Let’s hope it was the series and not her, eh?
Tom Baker’s Explosion of Desire
Having had a rough couple of weeks and not got out much or been in any way sociable, this morning I spent a couple of hours queuing outside the Stamp Centre on the Strand and getting very, very cold. In keeping with the ’70s mood, it was one of those rare opportunities to see ’70s Doctor Who icon Tom Baker, and indeed fellow ’70s Doctor Who icon Nicholas Courtney, the Brigadier, who’s a very funny man in his own right but usually plays Tom’s straight man at such events. As Tom has a rather mercurial temperament, I thought it best to bring along a little sweetener. You never know if he’s going to go into an extended anecdote and profess his love for you, or eye up what you want signing and mutter “You can see I was in 180 episodes…”
Reckoning he was sick of jelly babies (“Yeerrhh,” he growled), but remembering that he’d given me a bag of them, along with half the kids in Britain, when I met him at the age of about nine, I gave him a pack of Hotel Chocolat’s Fruity Selection. “Fruity seemed appropriate,” I suggested. Those brilliant blue eyes fixed me. “Am I fruity, then?” Fortunately, Nick came to my rescue and told him that indeed he was. On my recommendation, he tried the lemon truffle first: it’s got a centre of lemon and white chocolate, but the outer shell is incredibly tart. Fortunately, he loved it. “That’s kept me from death!” rang this great cry down the shop. “What an explosion of… Desire!” He turned to Nick. “Try the pink one. You’ve played a bishop” (I didn’t enquire whether or not he was high-kicking or not, though I suspect not). Nick agreed that they were, indeed, very good. Tom tried a pink one too, and slowly swooned into Nick for a kiss. Then, upright and bellowing again, “Aren’t these marvellous? We could do the adverts, if they’ll have us!” So there you are, Hotel Chocolat. Get in touch with his agent at once.
The morning’s guests also included the rather brilliant and slightly terrifying David Troughton, who’s appeared in Doctor Who in the ’60s, ’70s and Noughties, with the distinction of turning up in the best story of the year each time. I love him, though, for an ’80s series, A Very Peculiar Practice (like all four of the doctor stars, he’d have made a terrific Doctor). Though the first series is out on DVD, the second’s never even been repeated, so I’ve not seen it in twenty years. He’s of the view, it turns out, that Mrs Thatcher was so offended by it and hated the BBC so much that she stopped it being reshown (and I probably can’t repeat some of his comments; suffice to say that, unlike poor David Davis crying this morning into his Puccini on Desert Island Discs over her resignation, Mr Troughton is more likely to play Elvis Costello). Who’d have thought the man who played uber-Thatcherite Bob Buzzard would be so vehemently anti-Thatcher in person? Well, everybody, admittedly.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I Scream For Palin; and, When Is a Phoenix Not a Phoenix?*
Oh, give ’em a poke.
Nope, still ashes.
Richard’s getting us ice cream and some more big chocolatey birthday cake we’ve been saving. Mmm, it’s all nice and fudgey. And the cake too. Last week we bought a lot of ice cream – including Baked Alaska and Fossil Fuel, in honour of Governor Palin. Well, that’s what I said, anyway. Richard pointed out that in half-baked Alaska, you can’t have fossil fuel, because fossils are the creation of Satan just to tempt those wacky evolutionists with their evidence and science and crazy things like that. And of course he’s right. That’s why she’s so keen on drillin’ all those fossil fuels out of the ground and burnin’ them, followed by books, gays and n – urban people who aren’t Real Americans…
Look, it was still funnier than Studio 60, OK?
*(Or: it’s gone midnight and the tension is getting to me)
2.40am update: I’ve now switched to worrying about Prop 8 rather than the Presidency, so it feels safe to call it.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Good Luck, Senator Obama! And… Why Do I Bother With the BBC On Election Nights?
Jeremy Paxman started by firing off mistakes – 130 million people are entitled to vote; no, that’s the anticipated turnout… We have the results from just one small town in New Hampshire; no, there are two that vote at midnight and we’ve had them both all day… And since then he’s been grumpy as ever.
Worse is that Jeremy Vine’s no doubt extremely expensive touch-screen county breakdown is of no use at all to the viewer. True, it looks less insultingly stupid than his last UK election cartoons, but he’s been showing us pictures of states, in white, split up into an intricate grid of counties and districts. So what? He gestures at them, presses them – often the wrong one, because there are dozens of the things and they’re just blank white – and then shares with us some random demographics from, say, two districts out of fifty. Why that one? How significant is it? We don’t know. It comes across as someone just showing off their software to you, when what you want is to press the buttons yourself.
Next time (sigh), they need to learn the value of shading, which every other political mapmaker online or in the papers can manage. Add colour for population – to say, for example, that the Democrat areas are small, but where a lot of the people live – or for party share of the vote last time, I don’t care, but each would tell us something for a glance. But a blank white grid, like a serious broadsheet fifty years ago…
It’s going to be a long night.