Thursday, April 29, 2010


Free Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks CD Today

Amongst the smears and hysteria in today’s Daily Telegraph, if you can bear to pick up a copy, there’s a voucher for a Doctor Who CD. Just cut out and present it at WH Smith and they’ll hand one over; if you don’t already have Genesis of the Daleks on DVD, go for it. Like the Daily Torygraph’s election coverage, the CD edit is highly selective, doesn’t give you the full picture, and is full of fascists. Unlike their ‘news’, it’s still rather brilliant – one of the best and most fiercely political of all Doctor Who stories, intriguingly abridged.
“Today, the Kaled race is ended, consumed in a fire of war, but from its ashes will rise a new race, the ultimate conqueror of the Universe, the Dalek!”
The Torygraph’s been giving away Doctor Who CDs all week – tomorrow’s is Mission To the Unknown, a Doctor Who story without the Doctor where the Daleks are in control (if that grabs you, buy the much longer CD of The Daleks’ Master Plan, which brings in the Doctor and continues the story).

Genesis of the Daleks, though, is perhaps the most natural choice: it stars Tom Baker as the Doctor, the high point of his superb first season; as the title suggests, it introduces the Daleks’ creator, Davros; it’s one of the best-known, most-repeated Doctor Who stories, and in every ‘favourite story’ poll among fans comes either close to or at the very top. When I wrote my mini-guide to all the Dalek stories a couple of weeks ago, I picked it as one of my favourites, too. But it’s not just for its importance in Who history or its undoubted popularity that’s made it a natural choice for a CD giveaway. It’s that 31 years ago, it became the first Doctor Who story you could enjoy at home whenever you felt like it.

A couple of years before the home video revolution, and to coincide with the sequel being broadcast on TV, the BBC released Genesis of the Daleks on LP. It’s difficult to grasp how exciting this was at the time – even though a two-and-a-half-hour story was cut down to one hour, with no pictures, it was the first ‘proper’ home Doctor Who experience, and after I bought the LP in the Blackpool Exhibition I listened to it until I virtually knew it by heart… So often, in fact, that (before I became such an obsessive collector) it was also the first piece of Doctor Who merchandise I deliberately bought a second copy of, so I could switch discs on the record player as I came to be familiar with exactly where the scratches were on each copy. After listening to theirs so many times, many fans of a certain age still can’t help saying “This seems an opportune moment to end this session” at appropriate moments. And it’s that LP version, in effect – some of the cruder editing cleaned up, which is a blessing, but the thrilling cliffhanger in the middle removed, which is a pain – that’s being given away on CD today.

The Politics of Genesis of the Daleks
“Brilliant. Brilliant! It has detected the non-conformity.”
“Aliens! I must exterminate! Exterminate!”
Appropriately for the General Election campaign, this is one of the most political of all Doctor Who stories, and in at least three crucial ways. It’s a story about politics and political machinations, as characters outplot and outmanoeuvre each other – centrally, it’s about the rise to power of a charismatic fascist, and how he holds the seeds of his own destruction. Davros is in a strong position when the story opens, but he doesn’t have absolute power: most of the plot is about how he gains it, and the Pyrrhic consequences. While this is something that works far better on DVD – when there’s time to let the plot breathe – even in the truncated version it feels almost like an historical drama, clearly taking inspiration from Hitler’s rise to power, and ending in the bunker.

The political speeches that pepper this story are also striking. I’ve listened to (and, indeed, given) so many speeches that most I hear in fiction seem to have a tin ear. This, though, has real oratory, with both the script and – particularly – Michael Wisher’s superb portrayal of Davros knowing just how speechmaking works. While the Doctor and many others declaim effectively, what’s really impressive about Davros is that, for a charismatic fascist to work, the story realises that he actually has to be both charismatic and persuasive, rather than mistaking just ‘speaking at length’ for ‘making a speech’. His arguments are horribly logical, passionate and resounding, not just a cardboard stereotype, and they’re properly structured, too – if you’re familiar with speechwriting, you’ll probably be aware of how to build up a phrase with the ‘rule of three’. Davros certainly is (even the Dalek’s speech at the end does it).

Perhaps most important of all is not just the political infighting, or the brilliant speeches, but that the story hinges on real, urgent political issues. Blatantly – and even more so on the DVD, where you can see the uniforms – the Kaleds from whom the Daleks grow are Nazis, and the essence of the story is to pit fascism against free will. The Doctor and the few sympathetic people tend to be characterised by doubt; Davros and all the others who do terrible things by absolute, chilling certainty, with the Daleks themselves conditioned to obey unquestioningly. And it’s the Doctor thinking for himself, asking what right he has to perform the mission he’s been sent on, that provides the story’s central moral dilemma. Notably for Liberal propagandists, the Dalek’s instinct to destroy is encapsulated in a hatred of non-conformity; perhaps disturbingly, some of the story’s weaker moments come with a ‘nice’ Kaled who lurches erratically from weapons developer to proto-pacifist revolutionary and tends to be rather more a walking, wooden plot function than someone who’s as electric in defence of compassion as Davros is on removing it. Then, three quarters of the way through the story, the Doctor and Davros discuss science, morality and the Daleks in a scene so gripping – aided by a brilliant score – that it’s still for me the single most quotable speech in the history of the series.

CD Versus DVD
“Daleks? Tell me more.”
When you cut out more than half the running time and lose all the pictures, obviously you lose rather a lot, but strangely enough I still listen to my own CD from time to time for pleasure anyway (the LP long since having given way to cassette and then CD versions even before today’s giveaway). The sixty-minute edit has charms of its own; you can listen to it when out and about, of course, or simply when you have much less time, and it rattles along at a great pace, with Tom Baker providing an appropriately doomy narration (if with the occasional oddity). The DVD, of course, not only has the full, beautifully remastered TV version, but a host of special features – notably a lively commentary and two pretty solid documentaries.

Though there are many fewer speeches on the CD, some of them have a greater immediacy when you’re just listening to them – Davros turning on a scientist he’s framed as a traitor, for example, is a gripping scene on screen, with terrific direction and music building up to blazing effects as the brand new Daleks make their first ever extermination. Brilliantly, those watching cover their eyes, both communicating the scorching power of Dalek death-rays and symbolising the way they’re closing their eyes to what Davros is doing. And yet… Somehow, for me, when the scene is carried just by Davros’ escalating denunciation and the horrible sound of blasts and screams, the bareness of the sound alone is still more chilling.

The script jumps unevenly on CD, but it’s exciting; on screen, things have time to build, but there are a few longeurs (notably, for me, the odd scene where Davros and one of his scientists have rather stiffly written moral arguments about conscience, laying it on with a trowel). You miss the eerie power of the shattered, war-torn landscape that grounds the early part of the story, establishing its seriousness, and you miss the moody direction, with its war story power overlaid with medieval symbolism (a robed Death sending the Doctor on a mission; tattered, bound plague-carriers stalking the hills…).

Perhaps the most obvious losses are seeing Davros’ performance enhanced by a terrific mask, and the inspired lighting – or, rather, turning the lights down low – that frames so many scenes. Less predictably, the outstanding musical score works much better in the full TV version, simply because it’s allowed to play out and build up, rather than chopping and changing, though there are still striking moments on the CD – Davros’ ‘march’, for example, works perfectly on his first full ‘appearance’. I’m still torn, too, as to whether the edited version presenting Davros first as a commanding leader in front of the Doctor gives him the best entrance, or whether I prefer the DVD introducing him first in tantalising glimpses, whispering orders to destroy and announcing the beginning of the Daleks… Or, indeed, whether it’s better to pick up the Nazi analogy through Davros and the Kaleds’ actions and philosophy, or whether to see them smack in the middle of the screen wearing black uniforms and iron crosses!

Which you prefer comes down, really, to the time you have to enjoy it on any given day. The DVD’s certainly the best for me – but I still love the CD, too, and not just for nostalgic reasons. Sometimes it just seems to work better to finish the story with a Dalek shriek of triumph rather than the Doctor drifting away on a cloud of hope; sometimes it’s more satisfying to breeze through at speed and miss out everything to do with the hilariously unconvincing giant clams. Most of the time, I’d rather be spellbound by the whole thing and struck by the story’s most memorable image, as a dark metal Dalek looms, tank-like, against a violet sky. But either way, if you don’t have Genesis of the Daleks to start with, pick up today’s Torygraph. It’s worth it – and if it whets your appetite, you can always buy the DVD later.

Oh, and make sure you’re listening to Tom Baker reading the novelisation of Doctor Who – The Creature From the Pit on BBC7. It’s the third part today, but you can catch the first two on the iPlayer, and hear each day’s instalment at 2.30, 6.30 and 0.30. It’s a witty fable with a remarkably Liberal message – both in how to treat people, and in economic policy. I might even write a piece about that, too, but I’ve only got so much energy at once…

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Lib Dem Poster Needed!

Does anyone have a nice big Liberal Democrat poster – Bird of Liberty, “Winning Here,” that sort of thing, but not a candidate’s name – which they could post to us? Physically, I’m not a lot of help right now, but we do have a large window, facing directly onto the Thames, which can be seen from the footpath and from all the boats that pass by. Up to about four feet across would be fine… If it’s that big, you could even see the day-glo orange diamond from the opposite bank. If you have a spare, please e-mail me (my addy’s in the sidebar).

I’ve not had an election like this one, and really rather hope not to have one again: my health, never good, has crashed so badly that… Well, I won’t go into the grisly details, but during the last fortnight I’ve lost more than a stone while hardly moving. The extent of my exercise has been occasionally to force myself out to the newsagent usually five-to-ten minutes’ walk away, depending on how brisk I’m being; at the moment, it’s taking me fifteen there, and twenty back, by which time I’m lathered in sweat and can barely stay upright. So I’m feeling just a little bit left out of things, and can’t even eat to cheer myself up. Thanks, then, to the Lib Dem candidate who rang yesterday and pummelled my brain for suitably aggressive hustings lines, as that made me feel slightly better than completely useless and as I could do it from my sickbed and say ‘I’m terribly sorry, I’m going to have to stop now’ without actually falling over in front of them. Oh, and just for a laugh, I could only hold the phone to my right ear, as I’ve also lost most of the hearing in my left in the last fortnight (eardrops from doctor faring no better than the anti-nausea pills).

If you know us, please also be nice to Richard, who as well as having to cope with me is working his usual long days, then working for the Lib Dems at nights, and yet is still managing to be far less ragged than I am (while definitely ragged enough to worry me).

Anyway, if you could send us a poster, that would add to a sense that I’m somehow doing my bit. In fact, an ordinary-sized window poster for the street side would be handy, too. Staggering about our local area this afternoon I noticed that, despite ours being in theory one of England’s few thrilling four-way marginals, there is in fact just one solitary little poster on any nearby street. And even that’s in the Conservative candidate’s house, bless him! So help the Lib Dems surge to, er, parity.

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Friday, April 23, 2010


Has Microsoft McAfee Just Wrecked My Computer? Or, In Short: Help!

Update: If your computer has had horrible problems in the last few days, you're at your wit's end, and you're reading this on a different machine to distract yourself, this may well be the answer: follow the link in the comments, then get rid of McAfee Anti-Virus. I've used them for over a decade, but never again.

An update to my PC on Wednesday evening seems to have stopped it functioning properly. Anyone got any ideas? Taking a break from how ill I am, yes, now my computer seems to have come out in sympathy. So why do I think it was an update that did it? Because as well as stopping most of my programs from working, whatever did it has slightly redesigned Windows XP along the way. Anyone else spotted anything like that? Because it's a complete pain from where I'm sitting: I'm typing this on Richard's laptop, as nothing much on mine is working.

There's a bit of a cautionary tale here: my PC's five or six years old and I have no idea where any discs would be if I needed to reinstall anything; and, yes, I definitely regret not having done a proper backup for about six months. But here's where I start:

On Wednesday evening, Chrome collapsed a couple of times while I was browsing, so - as I usually do in such circumstances - I restarted my computer. It may have taken a little longer than usual, but once it booted up, that's when the problems started. I could tell at a glance that something was odd: the taskbar looked slightly different. It had suddenly boxed off the icons at the far right. And, checking, several other windows and bars had the same - a redesign that put in extra little demarcation lines, and sharper boxes. Don't like it, I thought, but Microsoft's done more irritating things.

And then it did them.

I opened Chrome - it couldn't connect to the Internet. Hey ho, I thought, switch off the router and let it cool down, and meanwhile I'll clear up my desktop a bit, having let it get very cluttered with manifesto pdfs and other thrilling accoutrements I've downloaded there for ease of access in the last couple of weeks.

I couldn't.

Suddenly, my computer no longer lets me drag and drop. Or right-click to cut and paste. Or use keyboard shortcuts to do it. Well, that's very odd, and a bit worrying, I thought. Let me run a virus scan just in case. Oh - my computer won't let me open up my antivirus, neither from icon nor program menu. That's not helpful.

I slotted in a memory stick. Maybe it just couldn't shift things about on the PC itself? Nope. Still no use.

OK, one more idea - I opened up Word. "Blong," went my computer, without the loudspeaker being on. That's not happened before, I though. I opened up a file. "This document could not be registered" popped up. Well, that's not reassuring. But I clicked "Save As" and, thankfully, that managed to pop a copy onto that memory stick.

Oh, yes, and that oddly redesigned Taskbar? Word didn't appear on it. So it's less of a "Taskbar" than a "Bar" now.

Being able to use "Save As" was a relief, I'll grant you. I've written a lot of stuff, and I'd hate to lose them all. But as far as I remember from last week's virus scan, I've got more than 600,000 files on my machine. That's going to take an awful lot of "Save As".

...Or at least it would, if any programs other than Word seemed to be working. Most of them that I've tried simply don't open up at all. I tried opening Excel this morning to add to my records; oh, crap. Excel opens; "Blong"; up pops "Cannot use object linking and embedding"; but then the program crashes before I can enter anything, still less save it anywhere else. Oh joy. I can't replace any of those records, either.

I left my computer on all night last night; my Virus Scan usually starts about 5am, automatically, every Friday. I thought, though I can't start it myself, maybe it'll do it on its own. Nope. Sigh. But back to the redesign: do I actually think it's a virus? I do not.

Aside from all my stuff being on my own machine, of course, there are problems using Richard's laptop: I get RSI and tendonitis, and while my own chair, desk and keyboard are carefully aligned to minimise this, Richard's aren't; similarly, I tend to swap my mouse frequently to my much clumsier but less painful left hand, and can't do that with Richard's; most importantly, my beloved might occasionally wish to use his own computer (imagine!).

Yesterday I spend the whole day being very ill and feeling weak as a kitten. I still feel very weak, but after getting a significant amount of sleep last night I have just enough energy to write this up and think about dragging myself out to accident and emergency. I would very much like a simple way to sort out my computer without having to take it to accident and emergency, too - because I don't know who'd be able to do it properly, or how much it would cost, and because if I totter up to the Royal London at Whitechapel for them to prod me, the sizeable porn stock in my head will not be embarrassingly accessible...

Any suggestions would be very gratefully accepted.

Update: As the comments below make clear, it was indeed an update, but turned out to be all the fault of McAfee. I am massively grateful to Phil, and wish fiery death upon all their motherboards.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010


What will the Tory excuse be this time?

The attacks and smears launched by the Tory "forces of hell" today, the establishment closing ranks behind David Cameron to try to block change, they all signify one thing: regardless of the actual outcome, they all expect Nick to win the second debate.

So the question is, looking at Channel Four's "Ask the Chancellors" and the first Leader's Debate on ITV... what spin are the Tories planning to use this time? And will it be another U-Turn on what they said last time?

Those excuses in full –

- Vince only did well because he was in the middle and looked in control

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- Cameron only did badly because he was in the middle and was picked on

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- Osborne only did badly because he was on the side and looked sidelined

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- Nick only did well because he was on the side and looked like the outsider

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- Vince only did well because he didn't get asked any tough questions (by, er, Osborne)

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- Nick only did well because he was fed questions that let him talk policy (by, er, Cameron)

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- Vince only did well because the audience was stuffed with Liberal Democrats applauding and laughing

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- Cameron only did badly because he couldn't connect to an audience who weren't allowed to applaud or laugh

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- Vince only does well because the media have him on all the time and put him on a pedestal

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- Nick only does well because people have never heard of him

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- Cameron (elected Tory leader 2005) only does badly because he's been doing the job so long he's portrayed as yesterday's news

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- Nick (elected Liberal Democrat leader 2007) only does well because he's not been doing the job for long enough

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[that's enough useless Tory excuses, ed]

The only way that the Tories can plausibly complain that Nick's profile is because people have only just heard of him is if they are retrospectively condemning the media exclusion of Liberal Democrats over the last three years. And are they?

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Three Politicians Who Simply Aren’t Up To It

Having a hellish day, so this’ll be truncated, but here are three political moments of the day to catch up with. Though my health’s usually poor, the last week and a half have been much worse than usual, today far more horrible still. My comfort is that, while this is personally my most frustrating election ever, politically it’s looking fantastic, and that’s definitely the right way round! But if you’ve been tuned in to the BBC today, you might have noticed that neither are going well for Liam Fox, Chris Grayling or the world’s least competent political Leader, Lord Pearson: Don’t take my word for it – catch them all on iPlayer.

And as it’s taken me a couple of hours even to write this much, I’m back off to my sickbed. I rang NHS Direct last night (five minutes of ID questioning, repeated three times over – very Labour) when, after a day of feeling like I might be on the road to recovery from the horrible extra stomach illness I’ve had since last week, I suddenly threw up again and was simply fed up with it. When they rang me back, two hours later, to go through all the same questions all over again, I felt reassured: it did sound like it was something that was slowly fading, and not too much to be worried about. They even told me to start eating properly again, and what (no chocolate, sadly). I ate (no chocolate, sadly). At 4am, I woke with a crippling pain in not so much my stomach as my entire torso, and managed to stagger to the bathroom for the most dramatic vomiting since the thing started. My twelve hours since then have essentially repeated the same pattern, of waking, crawling to the bathroom, sipping some water, crawling back, falling into a feverish sleep for half an hour to an hour, then restarting, with occasional breaks stretched out on the floor groaning as I tried to get up energy to do something really taxing, like clean the sink or find the painkillers. It’s not exactly been fun, but I have let occasional BBC news programmes wash over my sickbed.

My health means I’m not up to it – so I’m not asking for anyone to vote me this time. What’s their excuse?

So my level of engagement in this election remains, as I said above, frustrating. If you feel sorry for me and want to make me feel better, all I ask is one tiny little thing: just send a majority of Liberal Democrat MPs to Parliament and make Nick Clegg Prime Minister. There – that’s much less effort than sending a card, some grapes and a box of chocolates, isn’t it?

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Saturday, April 17, 2010


Daleks – The Top Twenty!

What a weekend for the first and greatest of the Doctor’s enemies to return. Just as it looks like, after over half a century, the Daleky forces of authoritarianism and conformity might be losing their grip on British politics. And what could be happening when, after nearly half a century of symbolising Nazism, the Daleks have suddenly joined the Allies with Winston Churchill, exchanging their Noughties Bling livery for khaki drab and, perhaps, more besides…? If tonight’s brand new Victory of the Daleks leaves you wanting more, here’s my highly partial guide to the Daleks’ top twenty stories (until today):

Well, Actually…

To date – between 1963 and 2008 – there have been twenty Dalek stories. That makes picking a top twenty a very easy thing to do… Except that two of them were remade as feature films with Peter Cushing, so I’d best not go into them right now. Nor all the Doctor Who stories that aren’t exactly about the Daleks, but brought us noticeable new cameo appearances from the blob-and-metal monsters: The Space Museum; Frontier in Space; The Five Doctors; The Waters of Mars

Some of the Daleks’ most thrilling adventures, too, have been in media other than television. Many of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas have starred the Daleks or their creator Davros: Jubilee and Davros, in particular, are as good as almost anything that’s ever been on TV. Terra Firma and Brotherhood of the Daleks might just do strange things to your mind; then, of course, TV’s voice of the Daleks himself, Nick Briggs, created several epic Dalek Empire, starring such actors as Noel Clarke and, yes, David Tennant. Daleks have hit several books – though if I were you, I’d skip John Peel’s terrible two original photocopied and reassembled novels – but for me, perhaps the pinnacle of the Daleks’ off-screen success was in the stunning, beautiful TV21 comic strips of the 1960s. Untroubled by the Doctor, the Daleks were the anti-heroes of their own adventures, telling thrilling stories in gorgeous colour – if ever a comic strip needs a lavish collected edition reprint, this is it.

OK, this one’s actually mine…
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So the top twenty I offer below is merely one dimension of the Daleks – if the dimension seen by millions. But first, if by some strange chance you’ve never met them… Well, watch BBC1 tonight at 6.30 (and BBCHD at 8.25)! And you can read my very best old-fashioned Doctor Who Monster Book-style introduction…

Who Are the Daleks?

The Daleks are the Doctor’s greatest enemy – the personification of war in the Universe. Though apparently like robots on the outside, they are living creatures and far from emotionless, with their war-cry to “Exterminate!” all other life. Every Dalek machine has heavy armour and a camera eye, mechanical arm and powerful gun, like a fearsome personal tank driven by the creature inside. They believe themselves to be superior to every other being in the Universe, and their intelligence and appetite for destruction gives them total confidence to proclaim in their harsh electronic voices:
“One Dalek is capable of exterminating all!”
Once a human-like race called the Kaleds, they fought a terrible war with their neighbours the Thals, using everything from knives and bullets to chemical and nuclear weapons. Their planet Skaro was devastated, and both races were changed by mutation. The Kaled chief scientist Davros kept himself alive despite great age and injury, in a life-support wheelchair like the base of a Dalek. He became obsessed with similar preservation of his people. Hungry for power, he genetically modified the Kaleds into hideous mutants of great cunning and ambition, but conditioned to obey unquestioningly, to hate every creature that is different, and unable to survive outside protective travel machines he designed – the Daleks.

In one of the Doctor’s most dangerous adventures, the Time Lords sent him to prevent the rise of the Daleks, and saw how the Daleks shot their own creator because even he was not a ‘pure’ Dalek. But the Doctor decided he could not destroy the Daleks at their birth. Killing entire races is how the Daleks act, not the Doctor – and such a massive change to time could prevent too much good as well as evil from having happened.

The Doctor first met the Daleks long after their creation, when they plotted in their metal city to destroy the survivors of their enemies, the Thals. The Doctor defeated them, but he soon found that there were many other Daleks throughout time and space. The Daleks were the only other race to discover the full secret of time travel and, realising that the Doctor was a threat to them, tried to find and kill him as he travelled through time and space stopping their plans.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The Daleks even succeeded in conquering the Earth in the Twenty-Second Century, turning humans into zombie-like Robomen before being defeated by the Doctor. Their creator Davros also once operated on humans to create a new race of Daleks more loyal to himself, after he narrowly survived the first Daleks’ betrayal. Perhaps the Daleks’ most evil plan against humanity was to trick the Doctor into identifying “The Dalek Factor,” using it to alter the mind of every human into that of a Dalek who would obey and exterminate without question. Only the Doctor’s own cleverness turned the tables, giving Daleks free will through “The Human Factor” and plunging them into civil war.

No other monster has been such a terrible threat to all life in the Universe, so many times, as the Daleks, employing war, radiation and plague. When it suited them, they have enlisted alien servants such as the brutish, ape-like Ogrons, and schemed with greedy humans or with alien allies to advance their conquests. But whatever promises they may make, the Daleks hate all other life, and one thing is certain: all allies of the Daleks will be exterminated in the end.

With two great civilisations in the Universe both having control over time travel and one determined to dominate, eventually the inevitable happened. The Time Lords and Daleks fought each other in the last great Time War. Great tides of time damage swept the Universe, both races were destroyed, and it seemed only the Doctor survived. But there were Dalek survivors, too, with the Emperor Dalek and some of his most cunning acolytes hidden away to pose new and greater threats. The last time the Daleks appeared, the Doctor saw the destruction of a risen Dalek empire from which Davros and his creations had aimed to destroy the entire Universe except themselves. Was this the final end of the Daleks?

Often before they have seemed finally defeated – but they always come back for more…

The Top Twenty

In my own tribute to the traditional Dalek story, I’ve been horribly ill all week, so I’ve not been able to finish all the mini-reviews explaining why I think each Dalek adventure merits the position I’ve given it below. So please tune in for more, and I’ll have finished them before the same time next week. Update: …In fact, I finished by the end of Sunday. How about that? Read, enjoy, and disagree!

20 – Death to the Daleks (1974)
All Doctor Who is brilliant. But some of it’s more brilliant than other bits. If I was rating stories by the old “hit, miss or maybe,” I reckon that of the Doctor’s three biggest recurring enemies, the Master and the Cybermen might have a fairly even spread… But there’s something about a Dalek story that makes writers deliver. So many of them are stacked towards the top that it seems almost unfair to mention the handful that, when they do fall down, fall down hard (even the music here’s unspeakable). And yet even this most tired of Dalek stories has much to enjoy in it: ancient alien cultures falling to dust; Sarah Jane Smith; and the religious maniacs determined to wipe out their non-conformist naturist cousins (the ones who looked so thrillingly like living rock when I first saw their photos in The Doctor Who Monster Book as a kid). It isn’t out on DVD yet, but look out for it in the next couple of years and prove me wrong. Golden moment? The elegiac closing shots. Rather lovely.

19 – The Chase (1965)
Dalekmania gave Doctor Who its liftoff to initial mass success in the early ’60s, and they were great days for Dalek stories, too – William Hartnell faced the Daleks more often than any other Doctor, in an ascending spiral of excitement as their arch-enemy. There was one stumble along the way… The idea is to make the Daleks more impressive – first they took Skaro; then they were seen conquering our home as if the Nazis won World War II; now they can chase our heroes through time itself! Unfortunately, the analogy of a crack Gestapo squad hunting down the Resistance falls flat very quickly; a mixture of comedy that isn’t funny, sadly slipshod production and an hilarious ‘double’. But this, too, has its moments. While trying to play the Daleks for laughs in the middle doesn’t work, the opening episode’s light comedy ‘holiday’ opening with the Doctor and his friends is rather lovely, as is the story’s very end. And the climax, as the huge robot Mechanoids spit fire at the Daleks, is rather fab (even more so in those TV21 comic strips, where they’re a major space power and we can’t hear them). It’s just out on DVD, in a box paired with The Space Museum. Golden moment? It has to be the coda, as the Doctor’s companions Ian and Barbara return home in an inspired montage. My eyes get misty.

18 – The Stolen Earth (2008)
The epic finale to the 2008 season of Doctor Who, with more Daleks and returning companions than you can shake a stick at, and even more than one David Tennant. Topping the TV charts for the week, this was one of the series’ most massive successes. Well… For me, it looks glorious, and the first episode’s terrific, but the conclusion is an amazing lesson in how things fall apart. A magnificent cliffhanger turned into a great big cheating cop-out; the Doctor unable to answer Davros’ – Davros’ – moral arguments; the Doctor taking away Donna’s choice. Above all, perhaps, it’s that with the Daleks having been down (again) to one sole survivor, they then instantly regrew (again) like watercress to a huge new empire, destroyed (again) in the blink of an eye… It’s impossible to see the Daleks as a threat, or their defeat as an achievement [post-Victory: and I’m hugely relieved that their 2010 comeback didn’t make the same mistake!]. This has been released at least five times on DVD, paired with other stories and seasons. Golden moment? Sarah Jane picking up that transmission from space, and knowing exactly what it means.

17 – Planet of the Daleks (1973)
Terry Nation returns to write for the Daleks a decade after his glory days, and nothing’s changed. Well, the script hasn’t, at least. It’s almost a cheesier, dumber remake of some of the earliest Dalek stories, with none of the eeriness or subtlety – but with shaggy purple capes and added sexism! Made, in theory, as the second half of a ginormous epic, directly following Frontier in Space (with which it’s available in the Dalek War DVD box), it has the slight disadvantage that it doesn’t bother picking up the story at all. But there’s no hope for me – I quite enjoy it, particularly the early scenes where Katy Manning, playing the Doctor’s companion Jo, gets to ad-lib most of her lines and does a much better job for herself than the script does. Golden moment? The Daleks work out who the tall stranger who’s been causing trouble is. And brick themselves.

16 – Resurrection of the Daleks (1984)
A grim tale of mercenaries, death and Docklands, much of this looks terrific, it has a great score, and there are some very impressive guest stars. Unfortunately, the minor guest actors are often a bit shonky, and after a gripping first episode the plot falls apart. Half the cast never meet each other, nor the Doctor, still less have a clue what’s going on, while the Daleks’ plans get loopier by the minute. On top of all that (you can tell this isn’t a favourite trope of mine), the Doctor is unable to answer Davros’ – Davros’ – moral arguments. This one’s available on DVD both on its own and in a Davros boxed set. Golden moment? Despite having little to do in theory, the Doctor’s companion Turlough keeps stealing scenes – on hearing they’re headed back to Earth, I love his sarcastic “Best news all day”.

15 – Destiny of the Daleks (1979)
One of Doctor Who’s few direct sequels, this picks up after Genesis of the Daleks and has never really been forgiven by many fans for being nowhere near as good. Its big problem, I suspect, is that it’s such a mixture: funny and grim; beautifully designed and grotty; intelligent and impossibly dumb. Davros is rather a let-down, yet there’s some striking camerawork and sound design. Perhaps the biggest contradiction is that, although the first half tends to be very derivative and the second has intriguing ideas, it’s the ‘living dead’ opening episodes which rather work, and the ‘logic problem’ latter half that breaks up on daft details. This one’s available on DVD both on its own and in a Davros boxed set. Golden moment? I still find the tense build-up to the second cliffhanger rather thrilling, with its mixture of burial and exhumation.

14 – Evolution of the Daleks (2007)
I could probably have put my numbers 20-17 in any order; I could probably do the same for 14-11, too. This is the one that went down rather badly with most fans but, though for me the second half of the story (again) has a rather too easy resolution that doesn’t match the promise of the first, I love it for its ability both to build on Dalek stories of old and to do something very different. It’s 1930s New York, and the Great Depression has hit the Daleks in two ways: not only have they had a crushing material fall, but their leader is, quite simply, depressed. He thinks outside the casing to make himself a Dalek messiah – but the other Daleks stick to that old-time religion… All this, plus lashings of James Whale’s Frankenstein, and even musical theatre. This has been released at least five times on DVD, paired with other stories and seasons – I prefer to watch it with the preceding story Gridlock, as together they explore the same themes of loss and rebirth, heaven and hell, even (very visually) ‘up and down’. Golden moment? Dalek conspirators in the sewers, swivelling and whispering.

13 – Day of the Daleks (1972)
An intelligent story of temporal paradoxes with a great twist, in some ways this has quite a Moffaty flavour (as well as something of Planet of the Apes), and Jon Pertwee has one of his better stories as the Doctor, despite lashing out at MPs’ expenses and then drinking all the wine. It has a few faults: with interesting sets of both ‘fascists’ and ‘terrorists’ presented to us to dislike, it doesn’t maintain much ambiguity over which side the Daleks are on; and the Daleks are unimpressive, both in numbers and with very feeble voices. There are some very strong characters and ideas, though, and a fascinating story. It isn’t out on DVD yet, but look out for it in the next couple of years – I wouldn’t mind a talking book version of the novelisation, either, or even Nick Briggs overdubbing the weedy Dalek voices when the DVD comes out. Golden moment? The Doctor slouching at dinner like he’s at a Roman orgy and slapping down claims that a fascist police state:
“has never been more efficiently, more economically run. People have never been happier – or more prosperous.”
“Then why do you need so many people to keep them under control? Don’t they like being happy and prosperous?”
12 – Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)
One of the first Doctor Who stories to have an exciting pre-titles teaser, and it still grabs you today. This is a favourite of many fans, an intelligent and complex story that doesn’t pull its punches on fascism – and brilliantly made, too, with great guest stars and terrific explosions. Why, then, might you ask, do I not put it further up my list? In short, the ending, which I think makes a horrible moral mistake, one of the most offensive in the series’ history. Watch it, and see what you think. This one’s available on DVD both on its own (make sure you get the “Special Edition” version) and in a Davros boxed set. Golden moment? The first cliffhanger, when after many hints in previous stories, we see for the first time clearly, absolutely, a Dalek flying up the stairs.

11 – Bad Wolf (2005)
A story that starts as hard-hitting satire on TV – daring to confront the viewers in a way the series really hasn’t since – and finishes with the most visually stunning Dalek invasion we’ve ever seen, as hundreds of fabulous Dalek saucers swoop through space. Added to that, there’s not just the conclusion to the tantalising “Bad Wolf” storyline, but also to the whole life story of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, moving at last from death wish to new life. Ironically, though the first half is made up of many different reality TV parodies and the second moves inexorably towards (another) final confrontation with the Daleks, it’s the first half that tells a more coherent story for me, and the Doctor never quite manages to come up with the ‘third option’ at the end. But it’s a strong story, nevertheless. This has been released at least five times on DVD, paired with other stories and seasons. Golden moment? I’m tempted to say plucky Lynda-with-a-Y’s hideously memorable extermination, but the more hopeful choice is the moment when it all comes together for the first cliffhanger – the Doctor, the Daleks and determination.

10 – Dalek (2005)
The perfect way to reintroduce the Daleks for a new audience – one Dalek, alone, weakened, yet outthinking and outfighting (and, of course, outflying) the arrogant humans who think they’ve got it under control. Both in psychology and by action, this is all about what a Dalek is, and once again, it’s a hit… Though I still prefer the Big Finish drama Jubilee, which has the same kernel of an idea at its heart, from Rob Shearman, the same author. If the Dalek is perfectly characterised, the effect it has on the Doctor and his companion is still more remarkable. It’s a fantastic day for Rose, and a terrible one for the Doctor. Faced with a nightmare returned from the Time War – and the viewers suddenly shown what that War was all about – he loses it. Here’s a curious contradiction: in the very first Dalek story, it’s in reaction to them that the Doctor gains his moral sense; finding one here pulls his morality completely out of shape. Intellectually, I appreciate the point of the Doctor’s guilt and horror tipping him over the edge, but emotionally, making him suddenly a macho bully who sneers at intellect turns me right off. Even the Dalek can see he’s gone wrong (or, in its view, right). This has been released at least five times on DVD, paired with other stories and seasons. Golden moment? The little boy in me loves the Dalek going on the rampage. With just a teeny smidgeon of disappointment that the death-rayed victims didn’t start leaving burnt shadows on the walls.

9 – Mission to the Unknown (1965)
The only Doctor Who with the Daleks, but without the Doctor. Guess who wins? The shortest Who story ever, it’s a one-episode teaser for nearly the longest, The Daleks’ Master Plan, and like many of the best pre-titles mini-adventures, it has James Bond in it. Well, nearly. Edward de Souza takes the lead (you thought Doctor-light episodes were new to this century?) as space special agent Marc Cory, discovering a sinister SPECTRE Dalek plot in a sinister space jungle. Unlike 007, he doesn’t make it through alive. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a much grimmer series – though, sadly, a snapshot with very few pictures. It’s one of those early stories the BBC carelessly burnt, but you can listen to it on a narrated CD of the soundtrack (as part of The Daleks’ Master Plan release, and also to be given away for free with the Telegraph in a week’s time, as luck would have it), or sort-of watch it on the rather excellent free Reconstruction. Golden moment? The brutal end, when you realise you really do need the Doctor to make everything all right.

8 – The Power of the Daleks (1966)
You can tell how good the stories from this point up are: the more you know them, the more you’ll realise how relentlessly plundered for ideas they’ve been. Having now seen Victory of the Daleks, you may be interested to know that – because this was the first story ever to introduce a new Doctor, Patrick Troughton – the Daleks are essentially here to convince us that he really is the Doctor. If that still doesn’t ring a bell, as part of their cunning plan here they present themselves to humans as helpful robots, intoning “I am your sol-dier ser-vant” while the bow-tied new Doctor is a lone voice against them. The Daleks are brilliantly treated here: one lost ship rediscovered by a human colony tricks them into rebuilding a Dalek force, less a galaxy-spanning threat than a corruption from within (you might call it ‘Daleks Unplugged’). The human settlers are a bit of a nasty, squabbling bunch, though, so it’s difficult to be upset for any of them being exterminated. It’s one of those early stories the BBC carelessly burnt, but you can listen to it on a narrated CD of the soundtrack or sort-of watch it on the free Reconstruction. Golden moment? This time, the human scientist who reckons himself in control of the Daleks isn’t a robot, merely gullible. So guess what happens to him?

7 – The Daleks (1963-4)
Perhaps the most important Doctor Who of them all, this was only the second ever made, and introduced the series’ first monsters. You know what they are – from the first, a metaphor both for Nazism and nuclear war – and they’re as much the reason Doctor Who is still here today as anything else, for which we must be eternally grateful to writer Terry Nation, inspired designer Ray Cusick and determined producer Verity Lambert, who got it made. But it’s not just important because of the effect the Daleks had on the series: it’s the effect they have on the Doctor. Their ruthless plans bring the Doctor out of his detachment to make a moral judgement, and that’s the formation of the character we know today. It’s a good story, but a sheer masterpiece of design to evoke an alien world: the eerie sound, the stunning architecture and, of course, the Daleks themselves. It isn’t perfect – many of the characters are shallow, and after a strong start the later episodes simply meander – but it’s still mesmerising. This is available on DVD as part of the Doctor Who – The Beginning boxed set, and the novelisation (the first, and one of the best) is now a talking book, rather splendidly brought to life on CD by William Russell, who played the Doctor’s companion Ian. Golden moment? The wonderfully gittish Doctor discovering his morals despite himself – memorably railing in brilliant, passionate close-up against “This senseless, evil killing…”

6 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)
A powerful series of images of the Daleks in a ruined London really sells this blatant ‘what if the Nazis had won?’ allegory. It doesn’t reach the same heights of design or imagination as the first Dalek story, but it’s more satisfying, probably because it keeps up the pace and has a climax that works instead of petering out, despite the Dalek plan to pilot the Earth around like an interplanetary dodgem being barking mad. Both the grimy resistance fighters and the Daleks’ tattered zombie Robomen are quite effective – their pet ‘Slyther’ less so. The Doctor’s missing for a few too many chunks of the action, but has some haunting speeches when he’s around, not least his closing goodbye. This one’s available on its own on DVD (with the special bonus that you can switch on new CGI flying saucers to replace the not-completely-convincing model), while the excellent novelisation is now a talking book, rather splendidly brought to life on CD by William Russell, with Nick Briggs as the voice of the Daleks. Golden moment? Many, but today I’ll go for the first cliffhanger, as the ruins of men stalk the Doctor through the ruin of a city – only for a Dalek to rise from the Thames behind him…

5 – The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-6)
What can you say about a story so huge that it was originally broadcast over three months, and takes five hours now if you put the whole thing on? That’s it’s brilliant, happily, but sags in the middle – it’s almost a series of linked short stories, evoking a dangerous Universe but with an outrageous Christmas ‘comedy’ episode half-way. It really shouldn’t work, but this is The Chase done right: the devious Daleks, their alien allies and a fabulous human traitor hunting the Doctor to get back the key to their invasion of the galaxy. This epic pits the Daleks one last time against William Hartnell, their arch-foe, and sees both Doctor and Daleks at their terrific best. More than one of the Doctor’s friends die along the way – not least future Brigadier Nick Courtney – and death is never far away. Perhaps it would have been better off ditching some of the ropier episodes in the middle, but its sheer scale and the time we’ve taken to know the characters help it build up to an awesome conclusion. It’s one of those early stories the BBC carelessly burnt most of, but you can see three surviving episodes in the Lost in Time DVD, listen to it all on a narrated CD of the soundtrack (Mission to the Unknown is included), or sort-of watch it on the CGI-Dalek-tastic free Reconstruction. Golden moment? This story features the best statement of the Daleks’ arrogant superiority ever broadcast, but as I’ve already quoted that above I’ll go for the finale: the emotional punch of the climax is still harrowing today, with the Doctor seeming almost an elemental force as the series absolutely makes up its mind that he isn’t human…

4 – Doomsday (2006)
A rip-roaring season finale mixing two of the most popular Doctor Who themes: the Twenty-first Century stories’ action-packed invasion extravaganzas; and the mid-’70s favourite of the dead returning – this time, in four different scary ways. ‘Harmless,’ sentimentalised “ghosts” have a terrifyingly logical explanation as undead Cybermen storm through them; the British Empire itself threatens to rise again under the fabulous Yvonne Hartman; and, from beyond space and time, the last of the Daleks return. Which will win? The finance and technology of Torchwood? The massed millions of Cybermen? Or just four Daleks? There’s no contest – it’s almost a disappointment when they find more of them. All that, and Rose says goodbye (#1), though Jackie steals the show (despite an inspired last-minute scene-stealer from Donna to kick us all out of moping). This has been released at least five times on DVD, paired with other stories and seasons. Golden moment? That cliffhanger – the Cybermen have won. But guess who’s back to say it won’t be for long?

3 – Revelation of the Daleks (1985)
One of the most unexpected of Dalek stories, this delicious black comedy centres on Davros, a plotter, a poisonous tempter and a postmodern commentator on the action as he builds new ‘whited sepulchre’ Daleks from the bodies of the dead. A creepy, dreamlike – no, nightmarish – visual triumph, the horror at the heart of it is turning immortality into hell. Add perfectly cast guest stars, a touch of sex and politics, and what more could you ask for? Well, you might ask for more of the Doctor, but even though the script often sidelines him, Colin Baker’s striking performance still dominates as he strikes up a cracking rapport with Davros. This one’s available on DVD both on its own and in a Davros boxed set. Golden moment? A dead man entombed in a glass Dalek casing pleading with his daughter for destruction rather than become a Dalek…

2 – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
Dark, gripping and brilliant, this is Doctor Who’s ultimate war story: the barren, shattered landscape after a thousand years of war is almost a character in itself; the Daleks are born out of a desire to end that war by any means necessary, and are never more blatantly Nazis; and the Doctor being sent by the Time Lords to stop them is today seen as the first strike in the Time War. Few stories are played with such gravity, and almost everything comes off – the odd giant clam aside – with Tom Baker’s Doctor perfectly playing the moral dilemmas (and ably assisted by Sarah Jane and Harry). The Daleks are used sparingly, but have the presence of tanks when they glide into view; the musical score is terrific; but what really counts is Davros and his story. It doesn’t take the easy route and have Davros completely in charge from the start, but using his wiles in a cleverly truncated portrait of a fascist’s rise to power, resembling an historical thriller, and Michael Wisher creates the part magnificently – intelligent, fanatical with extraordinary oratory. This one’s available on DVD both on its own and in a Davros boxed set; I remember it as the first Doctor Who you could ever re-experience at will, released as a heavy edited LP – that’s now a CD, and it’s another to be given away for free with the Telegraph in a week’s time (“Thank you, that’s what I wanted to know”). Golden moment? Davros engages the Doctor in scientific discussion, and the Doctor turns it into a moral debate. It’s probably still the most compelling scene in the whole of Doctor Who.

1 – The Evil of the Daleks (1967)
The greatest Dalek story of them all raises them from a physical to a metaphysical threat – malevolent spirits that plot to seed all humanity with “The Dalek Factor” in a darkly alchemical fairy tale. Patrick Troughton (Matt Smith’s favourite Doctor) is outstanding, and often disturbing, as he and the Daleks both lay secret plots against each other, both at their most devious, both going through the looking glass… Yet even the Doctor is taken for a ride by the Daleks this time. We see new sides of the Daleks: insidiously evil; child-like and trusting; the first appearance of the great Emperor. There’s even an apparently human servant of the Daleks with a strange magnetic force, saved by love, while another human falls into temptation. Passing from contemporary London to Victorian times to the Dalek City of the future for the epic climax, too, gives it a breadth of vision that is almost unbeatably ideal Doctor Who. Back in 1967 they knew how to do a season finale, too. It’s one of those early stories the BBC carelessly burnt most of, but you can see the one surviving episode in the Lost in Time DVD, listen to it all on a narrated CD of the soundtrack, or sort-of watch it on the rather fantastic free Reconstruction. Golden Emperor moment? Not just a terrific story, this is one of the most powerfully Liberal messages that Doctor Who has ever made. It’s the final cliffhanger where the Doctor defiantly stands up to the biggest bully in the Universe and sets out the battlefield between the Dalek Factor, to obey and to destroy, and the Human Factor – to ask questions.

Question authority. Don’t do what they tell you. And this time – the Daleks might be defeated.

So what do I think of Victory of the Daleks? Oh, I won’t know that for ages! I like to sleep on my Doctor Who reviews for a couple of decades. Well, I don’t rush things, you know? But if you want a brilliant and incisive assessment of exactly how wonderful it will be, catch Richard’s undoubtedly superb thoughts on it on Millennium’s Diary sometime in the next few days. I’m looking forward to it.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010


“OMG! Voting For THEM Might Let THEM In!”

It’s tired already. The soundbites, the leaflets, the screaming newspaper headlines – when it’s this hysterical from the start, what will it be like come May? So what’s the real truth?

And you know what?

Prepare yourself for a shock: every single one of those hysterical accusations is true.

But not one of them is true for the whole country.

They may well be true for individual constituencies… Though no-one knows for a fact which ones, because voters change their minds. OK, with quite a few you can make a pretty good guess, and most of the time it’ll be right – but even then, it’s only a probability, and in only one seat at a time.

The newspapers and leaflets and soundbites that say it applies across the whole country – like the literally millions of Unite-funded Labour leaflets claiming it’s between Labour and the Tories in seats where the Tories are in a poor third place and there’s either a Liberal Democrat MP already or perhaps soon will be – are simply telling a massive, shameless lie. It doesn’t say much for any positive reasons for voting, does it?

Lib Dems Must Really Want To Be Either Labour Or Tory, Mustn’t They?

Yesterday, I saw Gordon Brown on TV saying that the Liberal Democrats really agreed with Labour – while his unelected crony Lord Adonis has made this into an art form (my friends Stephen and Prateek, like most Lib Dems, are not impressed) – and David Cameron on TV saying that the Liberal Democrats were really closer to the Conservatives. At the same time, I saw Conservative leaflets claiming a Lib Dem vote was a vote for Labour, and yet more Labour leaflets claiming – usually shrieking hysterically, insofar as you can do that on paper – that a Lib Dem vote was a vote for the Tories.

Here’s a newsflash. While Labour and the Tories both try alternately to insult, bully and love-bomb Liberal Democrat voters into supporting them, Liberal Democrats aren’t Labour or Tories. Most of us believe that the Conservatives and Labour are much closer to each other than they are to us: whether ideologically, with both hideously authoritarian; or on their near-identical records in government of green inaction, centralisation and warmongering; or just for a laugh about the Labservatives. But that’s a teeny bit of negativity coming through.

Let me ask a simple, positive question about why you think Liberal Democrats are Liberal Democrats: it’s much, much easier to get ahead and get power in a slightly bigger party that, thanks to the electoral system, has alternated in absolute power for most of the last century. I can see why people would become Labour or Tory even if they don’t really agree with them at heart, because, pragmatically, it makes a kind of sense. But given what a struggle it is even to be heard, let alone win power as Lib Dems – though we’re on 23% in the polls today, and have 63 MPs, when I joined we were on 19 MPs and struggling to make 5% – why on Earth would we bother if we didn’t believe in it?

A Positive Vote

Some Liberal Democrat supporters this election have got tired of all the negative campaigning and anti-voting, and set up a new Positive Voting site. Why not take a look? As opinion polls have often said – if everyone who said they’d vote Liberal Democrat ‘if they could win’ voted Lib Dem… Then we’d win.

If you’re passionately in favour of the Conservatives, or Labour, or any of the others, and if you’re really not keen on the Lib Dems… Well, then don’t vote Lib Dem. But why not take a look at what we stand for, if you’re not sure, and if you like what the Liberal Democrats say – then vote for us. Don’t be bullied into something you loathe fractionally less than something else.

Here’s the full Liberal Democrat Manifesto.

Or you could just read Nick Clegg’s and Vince Cable’s top priorities.

For me, I’d say vote Liberal Democrat for fairness. For freedom. For a green future. To fight poverty, ignorance and conformity.

And because we’re the only party that’s had the honesty to put all the figures in our Manifesto so you can work out for yourself if the sums add up.

The more votes and the more seats Liberal Democrats win, the more likely it is that Liberal Democrat policies will count in the next Parliament. Even while Labour’s had absolute power on a third of the vote, we’ve still made the difference on issues like the Gurkhas and civil liberties: every Lib Dem vote increases the chance of a Lib Dem government, or at least of stopping the other two being able to do every single thing they want to without anything like majority support and let some new ideas in for a change.

Which brings me to my final reason for a positive vote for the Liberal Democrats – even if you’re not a Liberal Democrat by natural inclination. If you think more voices need to be heard in politics… If you think absolute power when most voters oppose you isn’t healthy… If you think a government should represent the people… Then vote Liberal Democrat, not to shore up the system, nor to inherit it, but to break it open.

Because, you see, electing MPs by proportional representation would all but eliminate feeling you have to make a choice between the lesser of two evils when there’s something better on offer.
Of course it wouldn’t stop people and parties campaigning negatively in other ways – there’ll always be attacks, and that’s an argument for another day – but it would cut off at the knees most of those daft ‘voting X is only a vote for Y’ babbles. Your X would simply be your X – or, in the Single Transferable Vote system the Lib Dems prefer, your 123: putting it simply, most types of PR give fair shares but too much power to parties, but STV gives voters a double power. Not only does it reflect your votes in proportion, but it lets you choose which individual candidates you want, either within or across different parties. Sounds a bit technical? It would mean the safe seats that led to the lazy arrogance of the MPs who most abused their expenses would be swept away, too.

The Conservatives will never choose to back proportional representation – unless actually letting the people in is the only way they can get power. And we all know now that Labour will never change the system on their own. In 1997, they had the largest majority in the House of Commons (on one of the lowest pluralities of votes) for a century. They promised in their manifesto that they would hold a referendum on proportional representation. They had the power to do it: they didn’t. They made the same promise in 2001. They broke it again. Last year, with defeat staring him in the face, Gordon Brown promised a referendum on ‘the Alternative Vote’ – a half-way system does give preferential voting, but that’s often even less proportional than the one we have now (at random). Then, just a week ago, they dropped that policy in the House of Commons. Now they promise to bring it back after the election. Of course you will, Gordon. No. You broke your promise when you had power, then broke it again, and again: offering a much weaker policy at some time in the future doesn’t deserve a second glance (though you might take a pause to realise that the Labour leaflets pretending sitting Lib Dem MPs can’t win deceitfully pretend the country is one big seat, despite the fact they’ve been the main protectors of it being lots of little ones).

A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to deliver real change. It’s not the only possible vote for change in all seats: if making every vote count is your main aim, then in Scotland or Wales you might look to see if Plaid Cymru or the SNP are ahead in your seat, while in one seat in England – Brighton Pavilion – the Greens have a decent chance. I’d argue even then that you should vote Liberal Democrat, of course, but that’s because I do passionately believe that we need a party that’s fair, liberal and green, and mine’s the only one that’s all three. And I’ve already given you my reason my STV’s a better, more voter-powerful system of proportional representation than those other parties support.

If you support any smaller party, or even if you are Labour or Conservative supporter, and you want proportional representation, so every vote counts – then in nine out of ten Westminster Parliament seats the Liberal Democrats are almost certainly the party which is best-placed to gain PR. So, why not give us a try? If enough people support us this time, we are committed to changing the system – and then all those leaflets can go in the dustbin, and you can vote safely for your first choice for ever afterwards. Where the Labservatives want to scare you into voting for them by keeping the crooked system that might make you feel that’s necessary, the Liberal Democrats want to break open the system and run the risk you’ll then feel free to run to someone else. I think that’s a better way, don’t you?

And finally (courtesy of my friend Andrew)… Who do you get into bed with if you vote Liberal Democrat? The dreadful truth!

Wouldn’t it be awful?
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Liveblogging BBC 10pm News 14th April

“Tonight at ten, fair taxes and cleaner politics – the Lib Dem appeal to voters.”
For the first time in nine election days, the Liberal Democrats are given top billing – though, despite Labour and the Tories getting consistent main BBC headlines for their manifestos, the Lib Dems weren’t top during the day.

“Later” headlines: BNP given plug for later on. Two supportive quotes from public for them. None against. Unbalanced – as ever, media talk up the BNP way out of proportion to their support.

Liberal Democrat Manifesto Launch: Fairness

Click here to read the full Liberal Democrat Manifesto, with every policy paid for in figures you can read in full.

Liberal Democrat Manifesto launch – Nick Robinson sets the scene, as ever, by talking about a Hung Parliament.

Clip of Nick Clegg speaking – setting out the Lib Dem top four pledges about fairness.

Swiftly cuts to Nick Robinson speaking. Rattles breathlessly through some spending cuts. As ever, he has much more time than the real Nick.
“The figures are there for everyone to see,” says Nick Clegg – every penny’s accounted for.
Robinson voiceover misrepresents the IFS, then asks about tax avoidance figures in the big Lib Dem tax cut for low and middle earners: Robinson edits Nick’s answer to imply whole of £17 billion cut coming from tax avoidance – without even saying what the tax avoidance policy is (new legislation, not just an ‘aim’).

Robinson notes – with quote shots – that Cameron and Brown were being very nice to the Lib Dems today; links to Lib Dems voters, not Hung Parliament.

Huw explains all five ways in which Lib Dem £700 tax cuts are to be paid for according to our detailed costings – better late than never, but the misleading impression’s already been given.

Stephanie Flanders claims to fact-check the figures.

Poorest fifth of earners pay 38.7% in tax
Richest fifth of earners pay 34.9% in tax

She talks about the poorest families – not the poorest earners. This is comparing apples and oranges, but she doesn’t admit it. And never mentions marginal tax rates. Talk about added income from benefits – but ignoring that not all lower earners are entitled to tax credits, so they aren’t helped by them. Also ignoring that keeping your own money rather than have to apply to the Govt not only adds to self-esteem but means you don’t have to get involved in all the tax credit cock-ups – which they don’t mention.

Quote from IFS without facts to back it up. BBC at no point says that Lib Dem figures are from the Office of National Statistics – not from the Lib Dems. Implies all facts on the Fabian Society’s highly partial side, when in fact the UK’s largest factual body supplied the Lib Dem figures. Also doesn’t talk about who would gain – just singles out a few people who won’t. They do say it’s the biggest tax cut in modern times: so isn’t it strange that the BBC can’t bring themselves to say who all that money would actually go to?

Some of the poorest don’t gain, says Flanders – but doesn’t say that they won’t get income tax cuts because they don’t pay tax.

David Laws – it’s not a general tax cut. It’s all paid for by rises in other taxes. BBC treat this as if it’s some revelation they’ve unearthed, when in fact the Lib Dems have been saying almost exactly the same about a Green Tax Switch for three years: though the details of the policy have been updated, it has always been the case that for every penny Lib Dems cut taxes by, other taxes will rise on the wealthiest.
“The Liberal Democrats have got some credit today putting more numbers in their Manifesto than the other two parties, and they have much more ambitious tax plans.”
Misleading at best, deceitful at worst – implies other parties have supplied any costings figures at all. That is untrue. The Liberal Democrats have full costings printed in their Manifesto which you can see with a couple of clicks: the Labservatives have none.

Flanders flat-out states won’t help poorest – when in fact Lib Dems will help lowest-paid. Highly partial – seems to have been taken straight from Labour Party attack book that says the poor shouldn’t be allowed to benefit if it means the middle will too. Richard adds that she claims not to know who some of the tax rises will hit: in fact, we set out exactly where they hit, but she’d have to do something intelligent like explain how behaviour affects impact – such as how often you fly, and how the airlines fill their planes – which is of course the point of green taxes.

Cameron says TV debates might be dull and boring and, oh, God, don’t tune in, please, don’t watch, you won’t enjoy it, just listen to the Tory spin the day after which will say I’ve won even if I fuck it up completely.
I may have paraphrased.

Tiny clips of Brown and Clegg on debate, then lots on the process, behind scenes at ITV for tomorrow’s debate.

Robinson says Brown and Cameron are both saying the other will win – and that both (again, excluding Lib Dems) have people from Obama team in to help.
All parties practicing. He names the Labour and Tories playing the opposite numbers – doesn’t bother naming the Lib Dems.
Afterthought: “The big difference here is Nick Clegg.”

Moves on to hopeful genetic medical breakthrough. This was the lead at 6pm.

Short item announcing there’s no evidence of wrongdoing in climate change inquiry. Richard snorts, quite rightly, that if there had been it would have been the top story!


Moves to Barking with James Landale to talk about the BNP.
Shows BNP hand on BBC camera.
Griffin talks about immigration.
Man who wants face hidden says Griffin’s a racist. Griffin laughs unconvincingly and denies it.
Other vox pops in doorways.
Landale talks about economic migrants in last ten years.

Hodge admits Labour has ignored the area. “What we haven’t done is listened hard enough to the fears…”
Labour claims that everyone has to vote Labour to stop the BNP – unbelievable chutzpah. They ignored the area, they let down the area, then demand to be rewarded for causing the rise of the BNP!
One sentence from Tory, one sentence from Lib Dem (the BNP have no substance, just riding on fears).
“Barking is a testing ground for politics.” Hardly – talking up the BNP. They have one chance out of 650, and that’s only because Labour and the media talk them up.

Move onto the return of Hair to the stage. Hippie shit it may be, but I like the songs (and the nudity, obviously).


London news – and on Brown’s apology for getting it wrong on the banks. After thirteen years in power, he finally realises you have to make decisions “in the whole national interest.” So a macroeconomic story is “London,” yet Barking is national? Strange.

Good opening on actual policies, though: “When it comes to tackling bankers, the Liberal Democrats are the most radical.” With clip of Matthew Oakeshott, then just report for Labour and Tories (clips of them later). This is the first news item (aside from the one above that’s specifically a Lib Dem story) all election where the BBC’s given the Liberal Democrats the best coverage, and that by about five extra seconds. Are BBC London editors less biased?
Mike Ramsden on Brown:
“The Conservatives say this is an extraordinary admission. The Liberal Democrats say, in effect, ‘we told you so’.”
And still more Paul Whiffen. He’s shouted vile racist abuse, but he’s actually been sacked as a UKIP candidate for being critical of the Queen.

Baby Peter story with Ed Balls.

Tories Split

Tory split story – Cameron’s written to everyone in Croydon Central to say ‘Don’t vote for Andrew Pelling,’ the sitting Tory MP. Pelling attacks him for extreme negative campaigning.
The Tory candidate is a former aide to Lord Ashcroft. He denies taking any Ashcroft money. He looks very nervous, and denies the party’s given up on him.
Labour “big hitters” have been in the constituency. Labour candidate gets a line, then a very brief bit from the Lib Dem.

All told, easily the best coverage of the Liberal Democrats since the election began – despite patently partial and misleading economic “analysis”.

Note – neither Richard nor I are feeling physically up to helping out at Lib Dem HQ tonight (I’m not too well, he’s been doing it too much and is knackered). I am, of course, still pro-Lib Dem, but still edited and instructed by no-one.

Incidentally, I was Chair of my party’s youth wing for a year, some time back. So was Nick Robinson. I always make it clear I’m a Liberal Democrat: he is, of course, strangely reluctant to mention his high-flying Toryness, despite the fact that I don’t talk from Lib Dem press releases, while he often gets his lines from Tory ones.

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Pillow Talk

Where do you get your pillows? What are they like? How do you find ones that suit you? I ask because this week’s been a pain in the neck for me – I cricked my neck nastily on Saturday, and have since been in a lot of neck and upper back pain (plus a phlegmy sore throat, but no, I’ve not considered neck amputation), which means I’ve been spending rather more time mostly unsuccessfully trying to sleep than usual. And I’m not happy with my pillows – they’re just too soft, and I can’t find anywhere that sells firm ones.

You’d think it would be very simple, that with so many bed shops, furnishing shops and even supermarkets selling pillows there would be plenty of choice. Yet they all seem to be soft, very soft or ultra-soft, with no catering for those of us who prefer something with a bit less give to it. It doesn’t help that pillows in stores tend to be tightly bagged, which leads only to disappointment once you open them up and they go all saggy. Yet neither Richard nor I like sinking into pillows.

No thanks to feathers, by the way. They always seem to stick out and jab you, don’t they?

What I’m looking for is very simple. A pillow that’s quite firm under my head. I don’t care if it’s cheap or artificial – I just want one with minimal give, and no-one seems to stock them. Any ideas?

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Saturday, April 10, 2010


Nick and Vince Answer: “Why Vote Lib Dem?”

I don’t know what I’m going to be able to write about during this election campaign. I want to help at least five Liberal Democrat candidates; I want to volunteer at Lib Dem HQ; I know my poor health’s going to get in the way, as always. And I want to write about the election, not just getting pissed off with other parties but about my positive reasons to vote Lib Dem. So, in case I’m too ill, or too tired, or too busy, here’s a start: Nick Clegg and Vince Cable’s reasons to vote Lib Dem. It’s about fairness.


The Liberal Democrat constitution starts by saying that what we do, what we are is based on our values of Liberty, Equality and Community. Our purpose is to free people from poverty, ignorance and conformity. That’s why fairness was a key part of the Liberal Democrat campaigns in 2001 and 2005, and why for the last five years our policies have increasingly been aimed at creating greater fairness – not least economic fairness, in a society where under both the Tories and then under Labour, the gap between rich and poor has always widened, and in a tax system where under both the Tories and then under Labour, the richest in society pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax than the poorest.

For the last year, the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning on four key ways to make Britain a fairer place:

Nick Clegg: “Why Vote Lib Dem?”

I’ve got my own beliefs and my own reasons to support the Lib Dems, but – though I hope to find time and energy to get on to those too – you might think it only fair that I tell you directly why Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg is asking you to support him. He set out those four themes in detail at our Conference last month in Birmingham; click here to watch or read the whole speech.

This is why Nick wants a vote for the Liberal Democrats:
“Shall I tell you the one phrase that bothers me more than any other? It’s this.
‘That’s just the way things are’.
“No. The way things are is not the way they have to be.
”We do not have to live in a country where the poorest pay the biggest chunk of their income in tax. We do not have to live in a country where politics is the plaything of wealthy donors and corrupt MPs. We do not have to live in a country where the banks can profiteer at the expense of everybody else and our climate is in jeopardy. We do not have to live in a country where children’s chances are determined more by their parents’ background than by their own hopes and dreams.
“There is a better way.”

“We will give you fairer taxes.
“We will make sure your child gets the fair start in life they deserve.
”We will create a new, fair economy where we are no longer held hostage by the greed of bankers in the City of London.
“And we will give you a fair, open and transparent politics after the gross betrayal of the expenses scandal.
“It really is as simple as that. No-one can guarantee what the election result will be. But I can guarantee what we will always fight to deliver.”

“When you think about who to vote for remember that the future of your country is at stake.
“Whatever you do – do not settle for the way things are.
“Be demanding.
“Vote for what you believe in.
“Vote with your heart.”

“A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a commitment to hope and opportunity.
“It’s a vote that says:
“I want government to be honest and open.
“I want a green economy.
“I want fairer taxes.
“I want a fairer future for my children and for all our children.”

“And if you like what we say… If you share our values… If you want fair taxes, a fair start in life for your child, a fairer economy, and a new, fair politics… Vote for it.”

Vince Cable: “Why Vote Lib Dem?”

When Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable won the Channel 4 Ask the Chancellors debate on the 29th of March – my bias or my observation? I’m confident enough in Vince to say, don’t listen to the spin, just watch the whole thing and I think most of you will agree with me – he did something considered unusual: he answered the questions. He was measured, and sensible, and positive (even when giving bad news). But in his closing statement, he showed passion as he finally went on the attack.

This is why Vince wants a vote for the Liberal Democrats:
“I’ve set out my agenda. It’s financial discipline in the public sector; directed lending from banks to support small and medium-sized companies; we’ve got to have a fairer tax system; we’ve got to make the economy much less dependent on financial gambling. The question is – who can you trust to do it?

“The Labour Government led us into this mess; they have done severe damage to pensions and savings; they have wasted a vast amount of money on over-centralised public services.

“The Tories presided over two big recessions in office; they wasted most of the North Sea oil revenue; they sold off the family silver on the cheap; now they want to have another turn to get their noses in the trough and reward their rich backers.

“The Liberal Democrats are different. The Liberal Democrats are different. We got this crisis basically right. We are not beholden to either the super rich or militant unions.

“We have people of real experience who are committed to fairness. We want a change of government. Yes, we want a change of government. But it’s got to be a change for the better – not for the worse.”

Update: Now you can read the full Liberal Democrat Manifesto, complete with all the figures at the back so you can see how every priority is paid for – the only party with fully worked-out costings.

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