Friday, August 26, 2011


Tory Boy Throws Toys Out of Pram: Not Exactly ‘Man Bites Dog’

British politics is known for its name-calling and point-scoring rather than adult debate, and few sane voters find the bearpit of Prime Minister’s Question Time very edifying. But since no party won the election, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have tried to do the mature thing, with neither getting all of what they want because the voters didn’t give either party absolute power. The voters don’t matter, though, to Tory Boy Tim Montgomerie, who today screams and screams until he’s sick that “With every passing day the Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition further away from the Conservative manifesto”. Well, gosh. Who’d have thought?

The Voters Have Spoken

Opinion polls always say that voters want politicians to put aside their differences and work together. Since opinion polls also show the Lib Dem vote share plummeting ever since we did exactly that, we’ve had to get used to the fact that voters can have it both ways and we just have to sit back and take it. Voters have the power over parties, and that’s how it should be, even when they want completely contradictory things: when you’re in government, though, you have to face up to reality. And perhaps the harshest realities are for Tories like Tim Montgomerie, whose childish sense of entitlement screams from every line as he complains that “it's been the Liberal Democrats who are increasingly flexing their 9%-sized muscles.” It’s true, of course, that the Liberal Democrats only won 9% of the MPs last year and the Tories 47% of them – though we might point out that the voters gave us 23% of the vote, just under a quarter, and the Tories 36%, just over a third.

Those of you with finer mathematical skills than Mr Montgomerie will have spotted that all four of those percentages have something in common. Can you see it, children? Yes – they’re all under 50%. Obviously, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives disagree on what democracy means: we think power should need support from a majority of the voters, while the Tories think it doesn’t matter if two-thirds of people vote against you, as long as you get the bums on the green seats. But the Conservatives didn’t even get that. So every time you hear a Tory bleat how unfair it is that they don’t get to do everything they want, remember that that’s because the Tories failed not just the piffling test of whether people actually voted for them, but their own test of Parliamentary majority. Claiming the Lib Dems are cheating them of all their toys is a blue herring: the likes of Mr Montgomerie are actually complaining that the voters didn’t give them their rightful power. We didn’t win the election either, so we’ve had to compromise on a lot of what we wanted to do, and some of it’s been horrible. But what a relief that the Tories have had to do just the same. Compare the two parties: many Lib Dems are depressed, because we’re used to being in opposition and hate having to agree with some of the nasty Tory policies as the price of getting 75% of our own manifesto through. But the Tories expected to be in power, so they’re angry that the voters put a brake on their birthright. And Mr Montgomerie’s childish refusals to compromise with reality are the authentic howls of that anger.

Con Home’s Howls of Outrage

The main part of Tim Montgomerie’s article on Conservative Home today is a top ten of Lib Dem perfidy and Tory impotence, snarling out such gems as “At every turn the Lib Dems have frustrated Damian Green and Theresa May's efforts,” “Thwarting of the NHS reforms” and stopping the Tories bossily telling everyone how to live their private lives, all of which should reassure many Lib Dems. If the Conservatives are that unhappy with how much we’ve stopped them doing, it’s worth the price, isn’t it? Here’s a selection:
“(1) Human rights laws: We have Nick Clegg in The Guardian arguing that the human rights laws are essentially sound: "I will refuse to let human rights laws be weakened". Cameron's promise to Sunday Express readers looks impossible for him to meet.”
A tricky choice, isn’t it? You have to pity poor Mr Cameron as he looks into his shaving mirror. ‘Treaty obligations drafted under Winston Churchill, British laws, basic freedoms… Or something my spin-doctor said to the Sunday Express for me? Which should I choose? Decisions, decisions.’ Fortunately, the Lib Dems and saner Tories like Ken Clarke – who Mr Cameron, you’ll remember, brought into his team to appeal to the voters despite the shrieking opposition of the likes of Mr Montgomerie – are in government to help Mr Cameron realise where the balance lies. And Mr Cameron needs it. He wants to rip up British human rights while telling other countries they need to improve theirs. Tories like Tim Montgomerie always say one thing in one place and something different in another, but the Deputy Prime Minister is more mature and more consistent. What was the line he took in The Guardian that so infuriated Mr Montgomerie? “Human beings need human rights – in Britain as well as Libya”. It would take a child of six not to see that you can’t run foreign relations by ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. Which is why I was also pleased to see Nick on TV yesterday saying that of course the government won’t be banning social media the way dictatorships do (and please ignore the idiot next to me in Number 10’s knee-jerk application for membership of the Chinese Communist Party, he was too polite to add).
“(4) Green policies. Certainly if George Osborne had had his way the climate change measures announced by Chris Huhne would be a lot less costly to businesses. Reducing Britain's carbon footprint is the lowest priority of the new generation of Conservative MPs but the arithmetic of the Coalition has tipped the balance in favour of unilateral action on global warming. Huhne may be unpopular with Tory activists but I'd suggest he was one of the government's most effective ministers.”
The truth of Mr Montgomerie’s position, of course, is that he’s an enemy not just of the Lib Dems, but of Mr Cameron. Mr Montgomerie would have been a very vocal critic of a Tory majority government on Mr Cameron’s programme; when he doesn’t even get that much – because, remember, the voters didn’t give it – he’s apoplectic. He may complain about Lib Dems moving the government away from the Conservative Manifesto, but on this issue it’s Mr Montgomerie and his far right coterie who want to ditch pre-election promises from both parties. It was Mr Cameron’s moving the Tories in a less mouth-foamingly hard right direction that both encouraged enough voters to back him that he had sufficient MPs to offer a coalition rather than being an absolute loser, and allowed enough common ground for the Lib Dems to form that coalition. And the earliest and most visible sign of that move was Mr Cameron’s commitment to greening the Conservatives. Remember “Vote Blue, Go Green”? “Hug a Huskie”? Even the redesigned “Tory Tree” Party logo? So when Mr Montgomerie attacks the Liberal Democrats, while admitting through gritted teeth how effective Chris Huhne is, and when he talks up the Chancellor’s anti-green agenda but pointedly fails to mention the Prime Minister, he’s in the hot air majority of the Conservative Party and poor David Cameron is isolated. With the Liberal Democrats, this government’s becoming the greenest Britain’s ever seen; without us, ironically, it’s clear that Mr Cameron’s biggest single commitment would have been subject to a putsch from his own side. It’s difficult to imagine a more blatant example of saying one thing in place and another somewhere else than Mr Montgomerie’s outrage here that ‘The Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition away from the Conservative Manifesto by making us keep to our word!’

Tories Against Tax Cuts and Economic Growth

But perhaps the most telling items in Mr Montgomerie’s countdown are numbers 5 and 6, “Opposition to growth measures” and “Even loading of the public spending cuts”. It takes a remarkable mixture of chutzpah, self-unawareness and economic illiteracy to push those two points together, but he did it; it’s difficult to imagine a more anti-growth policy than plummeting into every single spending cut on day one, with no chance to prepare for it. And he’s quite blatant about why he wanted that, too – not for the economy, but for the Conservative Party:
“It also means politically tricky cuts as deep as year one will be necessary in the run up to the election.”
Well, boo hoo. The Coalition is in power when the economy’s been tanked, and thanks to that Coalition, the government’s doing the responsible thing instead of only worrying about Tory election prospects. Continuing his onslaught against green measures, they’re Mr Montgomerie’s main example of being “anti-growth”; nope, the whole point of Green Investment Bank is to build the economy sustainably. And Mr Montgomerie’s top ten also rails against the Lib Dems stopping the Tories blocking immigration – when as all the business lobbies point out, slashing immigration is another stupidly anti-growth measure.

The biggest giveaway of the difference between a Conservative-only government and the Coalition, though, comes when Mr Montgomerie attacks the Lib Dems’ raising Capital Gains Tax as “anti-growth”. Well, where do I start? Seriously; he thinks rewarding lazy slackers for raking in wealth they haven’t earned should be the economic priority. As part of their ‘cosying up to the rich’ agenda, the previous Labour Government had slashed CGT to well below income tax, so that the very rich could dodge tax by plonking their wealth into property. Labour also doubled income tax on the very poorest. I wrote before the election about the big difference between Lib Dem and Tory tax cuts, and the way Mr Montgomerie completely ignores the Coalition’s big tax cut shows that he knows the difference, too. At the General Election, the Lib Dems’ top priority was tax cuts for low and middle earners, with increased taxes on the rich to pay for them. The Tories’ top tax priority was to cut inheritance tax for double millionaires. Never mind fairness; guess which would do more to stimulate economic growth?

The Liberal Democrats insisted in part on raising Capital Gains Tax because it simply wasn’t fair that those with a great deal of money could use lower CGT rates to dodge tax that that everyone else has to pay. But the reason that more economically sane Conservatives in the Coalition agreed to that was that the money from that CGT rise went into paying for the big raise in income tax thresholds, which cuts taxes for low and middle earners. Put more money into the hands of people on low and middle incomes, and they spend it; if you’re very rich, you can afford to save it. One of the things I’m proudest of the Coalition for doing – even if it doesn’t go nearly as far as it would were the Lib Dems in majority government – is starting to raise taxes on unearned wealth and give the money back to people who earn it. But Mr Montgomerie doesn’t even seem to notice that tax cut, and is furious at raising the money to pay for it. I’m grown up enough in my politics to accept that Tories don’t all just hate the poor, but Mr Montgomerie does a striking impression of it.

In Power To Limit Power: It’s A Start

When Liberal Democrats dreamed of being in power, it wasn’t with the economy trollied by Labour, nor with having to accept much of what the Tories want to do. But that’s the limited power the voters gave us, and we’re grown up enough to accept it. We’re getting just 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto implemented – yes, I’d rather it was 100%, but when for the last 90 years of greater purity it’s been 0%, being in partial power is a start. And while being in power just to block the Tories wouldn’t be enough, when you read how upset that makes Mr Montgomerie, it cheers you up, doesn’t it? Thank you, Tim!

Conrad Russell used to point out that you could trace back our party’s history to the Seventeenth Century, and that the founding principle on which early Liberals came together was control of arbitrary power. Just as there were proto-Liberals back then, there were proto-Tories, too. They were the ones who wanted the arbitrary power. Controlling excessive power isn’t the sexiest of slogans to boast about, but it’s still at the heart of Liberalism. Today, it’s an important part of what we’re doing in Coalition. Both sides from the Seventeenth Century would recognise it. So do Tim Montgomerie and all the other Tories with their sense of entitlement to absolute power without the votes to support it.

That’s why they’re so angry with us, and that’s why we should carry on.

This post was commissioned by Helen Duffett of Liberal Democrat Voice and was first posted there.

Update: A couple of weeks later, Andrew Rawnsley makes the same point. Even including the person the mouthfoaming Tories really hate.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011


DVD Taster: Doctor Who – The Dominators

This Saturday, Doctor Who comes back for Autumn – the second-earliest it’s ever returned, only beaten by 1968’s The Dominators, in which the Doctor and his companions land on the peaceful planet Dulkis and encounter the cruel Dominators and their deadly servants. So just how terrible are its politics? Which actors nearly save it? What do Doctor Who writers old and new think of it? What exciting work by Paul Cornell do I reprint below? What connects it all to The Da Vinci Code? What’s my shameful secret? And is it worth buying on DVD? Look out! It’s the Quarks!

Doctor Who – The Dominators may not set the happiest of precedents for this weekend’s Let’s Kill Hitler. With mediocre ratings and bad reviews, it may be set on an obscure planet in a distant galaxy rather than in the recognisable history of the Third Reich, but its authors would claim it’s all about what happens when a culture lacks the moral backbone we showed in 1939, while its detractors point out that the authors set up a fight between fascists and hippies, then side with the fascists. I once wrote about How Doctor Who Made Me A Liberal; ‘not like this’ would be a start. Even the less political broad sweep of fandom don’t much care for this story: back in September 2009, Doctor Who Magazine 413 published “The Mighty 200” – 6,700 fans’ votes on all 200ish TV Doctor Who stories to that point – and placed this at a lowly 191 (at 49.99%, the first to score under half marks). Against all reason, I’m fond of it, so I might put it 20 or so places higher…

While this ‘taster’ may not be short, incidentally, my style in these is not to be too spoilery. So read on without fear of finding out the key twists.

The Terrifying Quarks

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That Golden Moment
“It is not unknown for a leader who is unfit to be replaced.”
“It is not unknown for a mutinous subordinate to be executed!”
Easily the most striking figures in The Dominators are the two Dominators themselves, representatives of an empire that stretches across galaxies and towering above the rest of the cast, both physically and in acting presence. We never hear about this empire again, so it’s easy to assume they fall into civil war (possibly giving way to their thrilling robot servants) – the two of them are arguing from the very first scene to the end of the story. Probationer Toba, of the hungrily sadistic expression, wants to destroy everything in sight. His boss, Navigator Rago, is the intelligent one who wants to evaluate and make use of things before just blowing them to bits, and it’s thank to a superb actor that he doesn’t come across entirely as the junior Dominator’s mum, given that most of his role consists of coming home and finding that young Toba’s broken another toy or impatiently directing Toba’s attention to yet another vital fact he’s failed to spot.

This argument comes to a head early in Episode 4, in a much more tense mirror of a scene in Episode 2, both set in the Dominators’ incredibly groovy spaceship control room. In that earlier scene, the Dominators subject the Doctor and Jamie to a series of physical and intelligence tests, a disturbing sequence that might tip into unpleasantly sadistic but for Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines’ inspired ability to clown around and make things entertaining. Toba, on the other hand, is not one of nature’s jollifiers (despite providing some mirth by apparently peering up Jamie’s kilt in Episode 2). The drama when Toba oversteps the mark and gives Rago reason really to slap him down is more gripping than anything else in the story: the ambitious young subordinate makes the mistake of calling his boss weak during an unfavourable performance review, and suddenly finds himself subjected to exactly the same treatment as their victims. Officially, there’s no music in this story, but quite a bit of it’s actually supplied by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the deep clattering tones as a Quark (of which more later) closes threateningly on Toba are very effective. It’s a vicious humiliation, and you wonder just how far Rago is going to push it – the half-crazed joy that comes into Rago’s eyes when he unleashes just a tiny bit of the sort of sadism Toba’s been boasting shows that he is a far more dangerous individual.

Senior Dominator Rago is for me the performance of the story, played by guest star Ronald Allen – a playboy in The Avengers, a send-up in The Comic Strip, and a mainstay of… Crossroads. Yet whatever you’ve heard about that soap, he has massive charisma that’s all the more effective for being underplayed. Playing one of the two characters who has a brain – and doomed by never quite realising that the Doctor is the other – he’s made up to look almost like a zombie, with staring, sunken eyes. Ironically, not only is he far less of a zombie than the Dulcians, and not only does he notice the Doctor’s eyes when his are the most noticeable in the show, but also, out of scary make-up he returned to Doctor Who a couple of years later (in a much better story) and turned out to be very handsome when being laid-back instead of intense. This time round, though, his charisma is very cold indeed.

Something Else To Look Out For

Forty-three years ago this evening, The Dominators was broadcasting its… Middle bit. At the risk of giving the impression that the production was a bit sloppy, what would have been “Episode 3” is forever untitled, as they forgot to stick the caption on it. Inauspicious, you might think (though Terror of the Zygons and The Leisure Hive also began in late August and they were both terrific, so take your pick). At the time, The Dominators was broadcast between a repeat – something so rare, before BBC3 and DVD, that they worked it into the story – of The Evil of the Daleks, Patrick Troughton’s best story, and the first broadcast of The Mind Robber, his next-best story. So it was just one of many stories, with a brilliant one either side. Today, it’s one of the rare survivors of the BBC purges that burnt most of Mr Troughton’s time as the Doctor, forcing attention onto it as it never was in 1968.

This opened the third and last season for Matt Smith’s favourite Doctor, and Mr Troughton’s variable here: brilliant thinking on his feet with the Dominators, entertaining taking an aircraft to bits while flying in it or doing other bits of business with Frazer Hines’ Jamie; bizarrely fond of Dulkis, a planet of dull, two-hearted reactionaries who never do anything, particularly in view of their far scarier counterparts at the opposite end of the season; and noticeably losing interest and hamming it up at some points, having grown the catchphrase “Oh my word!” over the summer. His other companion Zoe gets a bit of a raw deal, as (the special features reveal) did the actress, so no wonder she doesn’t look like she’s having much fun. And another new member of the team, the sonic screwdriver, already has amazing magic powers way beyond its design specs – to think, Deputy Script Editor Terrance Dicks complains about how they use it these days…

Arthur Cox – later seen in last year’s The Eleventh Hour – is often slagged off for his part here as Cully, Dulkis’ James Dean, the oldest, plumpest, most follically challenged teenage rebel in space, but for me he’s up with Beryl Reid as Sigourney Weaver, Bernard Cribbins as Luke Skywalker and using Weta’s The Lord of Rings army-building CGI to make cute waving alien babies as perfectly wonderful Doctor Who casting. And he’s very entertaining, too, from his early “An adventure with Cully is something never to be forgotten” to a glamorous woman (they’ve clearly shagged, and she looks embarrassed about it) right through his exasperation at his civilisation to turning into a gleeful bomber. Cully gets involved by sailing into a danger area in a dodgy ship (it looks like a lemon-squeezer, making one of his party’s use of the word “zest” difficult, difficult, lemon difficult to get away with. Still, it blows up spectacularly, in what may be Doctor Who’s earliest example of serious BBC pyromania) and getting his handsome but dumb passengers killed; they also include a very camp handsome young man who’s clearly heckling because he’d expected to get the part and the girl, who in later life becomes a leading Shakespearean actor and the despicable Bruno Kransky in Brogue Male, and a dumpier, grumpier actor who also had a significant part in The Horns of Nimon, yet didn’t turn up at any of last year’s signings. Perhaps he’s embarrassed. No, for me the only thing about Cully that doesn’t work is that his part of the story was inspired by The Boy Who Cried Wolf: we never hear of his earlier pranks, just that he breaks the rules and so people sneer at him; everything he says on screen is the truth; and, undermining the fable entirely, not only does he never cry wolf, but the whole point of the story is that the Dulcians would never come running to deal with a threat, anyway.

Another element of the story that everyone slags off is the Quarks, the Dominators’ terrifying robot servants (not a spread, a subatomic particle nor a Star Trek character). And, all right, they’re not very terrifying, but they’re an attempt at something different, and I love them. Short boxes with spinning spiked heads and arms that pop out at strange angles, they have memorable voices: intended to sound like homicidal children (and with real schoolboys, mental state unmeasured, within their boxes), their giggling mania is mostly so high-pitched as to be incomprehensible. And then there’s the famous sound effect Quark Goes Berserk and Explodes. They were expressly commissioned as a marketing rival to the Daleks, but this was their only major appearance; as, despite their obviously 360-degree sensors, by the end of the story they’re being tripped up and destroyed in ways so pathetic that you can’t help going ‘Awwhh’ at them, they split fandom. Essentially, some fans think they’re completely rubbish… And on the other side, there’s me. You see, when I was a little boy, I saw photos of three green Quarks striding across the Radio Times Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special, and I thought they looked brilliant. Sources differ as to whether they were actually green or grey, but I know for a fact they’re really maroon and orange. Because those were the two colours of paint my Dad had enough of when I was a schoolboy, mental state uncertain, in a home-made Quark box – aged eight, I came second in the local fancy dress competition to my mate Ste’s fantastic Dalek creation (which had the curves). And they’re still really groovy. Even now I’ve seen them.

Design Masterpiece

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My Secret Shame: I Was A Pre-Teen Quark

Pre-Teen Quark

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The Quarks have some great point-of-view shots, at least – used to fabulous effect in the brilliant DVD Coming Soon trailer (though this DVD really needs a trailer for The Mind Robber, too) – and an eerie electronic bubbling sound as they open fire; the first, and most expensive, time they kill someone is a chillingly memorable effect. Andrew Skilleter’s moody cover for Ian Marter’s taut and gripping Target novelisation of the story helped, too, and the book encouraged me to play with chemistry sets (I bet one friend’s bedroom ceiling is still covered in marks after I persuaded him to let me mix the more poppable substances in his). I can’t see them coming back on telly this Autumn, or next, though. Not least because after the Macra returned in 2007’s marvellous Gridlock, I wrote about how I’d redesign the ‘homicidal children’ Quarks in the forms of spheres with spikes and expandable implements, like evil penknives… And then along came the Toclafane two months later.

How To Make Doctor Who A Bit Fascist

I like Cully. I like the Quarks. And yet even for me, The Dominators remains fatally flawed. I’ve not gone over how dull the script can be, how repetitive the ‘action’ ping-ponging between Island and City, how jaw-droppingly unflattering the dresses the Dulcians wear, how it’s not remotely as kinky as the title might make you hope. The problem is deep in the story’s very conception. I have problems with the series’ moral compass for this year’s stories, but this story’s moral compass isn’t uncertain – it’s pointing in absolutely the wrong direction, save the points where the producers intervened or the writers simply messed up their own conservative allegory. The production team wanted ‘the new Daleks’; the writers wanted to write a Terry Nation story, with much of it taken from the original The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth (though later Doctor Who borrows from The Dominators, too; not just the Toclafane, but look at the plot behind Aliens of London, or at The Sontaran Experiment, telling a similar story at 40% the length, with more style, but not as fab a robot). And what they took from The Dalek Invasion of Earth is not just the solution, and not just ‘what if the Nazis had landed,’ but ‘what if the Nazis had landed after those bloody hippies had taken over’.

The intimidatingly prolific Doctor Who blog TARDIS Eruditorum loathes The Dominators with a fiery passion and a plausible argument:
“…instead of pacifists being good people who can be made better, pacifists are deluded fools and it's funny to watch them die. It is easily the most cynical and mean-spirited scene I have seen yet in Doctor Who. It is a scene that exists only to take people who are acting out of a genuine moral conviction and mock them for their own morality.”

“It is an overt attack on the ethical foundations of Doctor Who. Not only is it an attack on the entire ethos that underlies the Doctor as a character, it's an attempt to twist and pervert the show away from what it is and towards something ugly, cruel, and just plain unpleasant.”
And that’s about the toned-down version of the story, once the production team had taken a hatchet to it. If you read his article, you’ll find my partial defence underneath, though there’s not much I can do to salvage the politics. Basically, writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln hated hippies and thought their peacenik ways a threat to all that made Britain great, so wanted to write a story showing them rightfully getting their noses bloodied. It’s the horribly misbegotten Doctor Who equivalent of Carry On Camping, which made exactly the same mistake at almost exactly the same time of putting a resolutely anti-authoritarian series on the wrong side of the youth divide (though if you want to see Wendy Padbury’s Quarks, you’ll have to watch The Blood On Satan’s Claw). In part, they were toned down by the production team; in part, they just weren’t talented enough right-wing polemicists not to torpedo their own message. But it’s bad enough, and, yes, “mean-spirited” probably hits it, and that’s just not something Doctor Who should be.

Whether it’s just the nature of Doctor Who or the writers making a hash of it, there are points at which the series’ innate Liberalism breaks through. Though Dulkis is presented as a world long after the hippies have taken over – men in frocks, horrors – they’re also rich and conservative, and while the younger generation (well, one of them) are rebelling to rediscover excitement, asking questions and resisting authority is not just Liberal but, well, counter-cultural. Not only do they not ‘get’ what the hippies stand for nor the courage of non-violence, but they don’t understand that backing a youth rebellion against stuffy old men undermines their attempt to pit the series against ‘young people today’. Even the younger Dominator does it; hopefully, the writers failed to spot that he is, in practical terms, right – the more intelligent, analytical Dominator is brilliantly played and written like the grown-up, but if he’d just shot everyone in a spasm of bloodlust as Toba wanted, he’d have won. So the script’s ‘We should stand against the Nazis and the hippies!’ message manages to fall apart both in a more Liberal and in an even-more-fascist-than-it-thinks-it’s-being direction. And as for the sexual politics… Well, the text notes reveal what the BBC thought of the purposes of their actresses, while star student Kando on screen is so blatantly as thick as two short planks that when she’s praised by her tutor after not even getting her parrot-fashion lines right, it’s difficult not to conclude that he must be shagging her (add that Jamie suddenly knows what “homework” is and that Zoe, with her perfect recall, shouldn’t think much of her). Though perhaps she is qualified to Dulcian standard, as Educator Balan turns out to be absurdly literal to the point of idiocy, too.

Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln having previously written two rather good stories, this is where they hit a brick wall and never wrote for the series again – the latter, hilariously, starting the whole Knights Templar / Holy Grail / Jesus’ bloodline conspiracy fad with The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail – though not necessarily for their politics being watered down, nor for their final couple of episodes being shredded. No, it was because they and the BBC fell out over who would profit from the Quark goldrush. Titter ye not. I’d still love a toy Quark, but I bet Character Options won’t touch those two’s contracts with a barge pole.

New Bits!

If this hasn’t been a wholehearted recommendation of the DVD, there are more reasons to buy it – not least because it has one of the biggest leaps in picture quality from the VHS. I watched my twenty-year-old tape recently, and it’s shocking how almost unwatchably fuzzy the first episode was, in particular; the improvement for the opening titles and space fleet is fantastic. Some of the old film stock remains quite perished, but if you have the story on tape, compare and marvel. Slightly more of the picture’s been captured here, too, as I suddenly noticed on spotting part of Barry Newbery’s lovely sets that I’d never seen before. There’s also about half a minute of ‘new’ footage, all from late in Episode 4 and the start of Episode 5 where censors slashed the shooting of Brian Cant (Brian Cant!), the torture of Teel – even in this restored version we only hear it, but if anything watching Toba’s greedily gleeful face is more disturbing – and Balan’s killing, which now goes on horribly long but is still very badly edited, not to spare our feelings but because it was just clumsily cut between shots in the first place.

As well as a photo gallery, pdfs and a feature on press clippings, Recharge and Equalise is a proper ‘Making of’ which essentially turns into one big bitching session about who’s to blame between the co-writer and the script editor, on separate cameras! Frazer’s a sweetie, though, while Brian Hodgson is handsome and dignified, and the late director comes across as a horribly sexist martinet. The commentary is similar but more variable, thanks to swapping people in and out – it only really catches light when teaming companions Wendy Padbury (now an agent, who discovered Matt Smith) and Frazer Hines, and that’s not often enough. Episode 4’s is probably the best, but perhaps I just enjoyed the shagging gossip and young David Troughton’s long-suffering reaction to one glamorous woman… I enjoyed the text notes revealing just how much Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines worked out between them in rehearsal, too – including the laxative joke that About Time and TARDIS Eruditorum claim helped put him off the part – but am disappointed that, given that the sixth episode was dropped and the fifth written by the script editors rather than the writers, who took their names off it, there’s absolutely nothing about the storyline of the original ending.

I remain very fond of bits of The Dominators, but there’s a lot that just doesn’t work on screen (and sometimes that’s a blessing). Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping’s seminal Doctor Who – The DisContinuity Guide (the first to include analysis – and mockery – rather than just an episode guide) called it sadistic and dull, and those two words stuck in my head. I remember some years ago talking about the story – goodness knows why – with Doctor Who writer Rob Shearman. Now, Rob’s written a great many erudite and a great many more piss-taking Who reviews in his time, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell which is which. There’s no other person I know with such a talent for barefaced Devil’s Advocacy. But when, unconsciously echoing Cornelltoppingday’s words, I told him how much I’d like to like it, but whenever I watch it, it just seems sadistic and dull, “But that’s what I like about it,” he replied judiciously, “its dullness, and its… sadism…” At which point he corpsed, defeated. Not even Rob could lie with a straight face about enjoying The Dominators.

Finally, these days Paul Cornell is a major TV and comics writer and author of the superb Doctor Who TV stories Human Nature and Father’s Day. Back in 1995, he was known to a smaller audience for short stories, reviews and silly songs, and author of the superb Doctor Who New Adventures novels Human Nature and Timewyrm: Revelation. While he didn’t think much of The Dominators in 1995’s The DisContinuity Guide, at around the same time that was published, the story and Blur’s Parklife inspired him to write some lyrics to a possibly familiar tune. As it’s hard to find these days, Paul’s kindly given me permission to reprint it here…


(from the tune by Blur)
Resilience is a preference for the spiked practitioners of what is known as…
And big-shouldered suits should be avoided if you want to make it through what is known as…
Toba’s got a padded suit, he gets intimidated by the Dulcians, they’d love a bit of him.
Who’s that fat Time Lord snooping? You should cut down on your porklife, mate, get some exercise!

The Dominators
They both go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their

I activate when my power’s replenished, except on Wednesday when I’m rudely awakened by Dominator Rago.
I check my disintegrator, flap my arms about, and then think about leaving the saucer.
I spin my head, I sometimes spin my whole body. It gives me a sense of enormous well-being.
And then I’m happy for the rest of the day, safe in the knowledge there will always be a part of my programming devoted to it.

The Dominators
They both go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their

It’s got nothing to do with your Ka Faraq Gatri, you know…
And it’s not about you Chumblies who go round and round and round…
– Paul Cornell, 17th April 1995

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Rogue Male and Michael Jayston

Radio 4 Extra is now rebroadcasting Michael Jayston’s superb reading of Geoffrey Household’s pre-World War II thriller Rogue Male (playing every weekday in half-hour slots, each episode four times daily and on iPlayer, so it’s easy to catch). The anti-hero spends the book on the run from sinister agents of a great power, each examining the moral questions of the ‘sporting’ event that opens the story… Stripped of all ambiguity, you might call the inciting incident ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’. Michael Jayston’s acting career includes, of course, Doctor Who’s Valeyard – there are spoilers, if you don’t know who he is…

Geoffrey Household’s original book was written in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, and neither the British antihero nor the European dictator he takes a fancy to stalking like big game are named; the only significant character with a name is Major Quive-Smith, and while that’s certainly a name, it’s certainly not his. Michael Jayston’s unabridged reading was made for BBC7 (as was) in 2004, and was instantly so acclaimed that it’s been a feature of the station’s programming every year or two since (I praised it last four years ago).

Rogue Male is a compelling thriller, its first-person narrative ideal for a talking book, but it’s Mr Jayston that makes it. I’ve always thought he was a terrific actor, and his reading is brilliantly sardonic – the perfect note for a central character’s voice that we can’t hate, or the story wouldn’t work, but that it’s impossible to like. He’s been perfectly cast as both heroes and villains; this anti-hero’s pretty much dead-centre in between. One of his most memorable roles for me was A Bit of A Do’s Neville Badger, almost the archetypal Mr Nice Guy; the Rogue Male is about as far from a nice guy as you can get, and yet his pursuers are very much nastier. In reading the character as slightly distanced from the action, he almost seems to be taking you into his confidence, and succeeds in getting you on his side – no mean feat for a “gentleman” both of and very much outside the establishment who’s best-known as a big game hunter, and whose ambition for the ultimate game seems to have precipitated a reversal in which the hunter becomes the hunted. Though, of course, it may not be as straightforward as that…

I still hold with what I said in 2007, that I generally prefer my old-fashioned heroic adventures more tongue-in-cheek than this gritty ‘test of manhood’, and yet the way the story turns from rugged pursuit to philosophical introspection to near-feral survival instinct – and above all the layers of moral question and the layers the central character does or doesn’t reveal about himself – utterly draw me in. Decades ahead of its time, there are points when it anticipates The Day of the Jackal, with just as much tension but in many more shades of grey. So give it a go.

Incidentally, if you happen to know what the keening, mournful music is that sets the scene for each episode, could you let me know?

Michael Jayston and Rogue Male

Due to multitudes of ill health that it’s far too tedious to go into here, last weekend was the first time I managed to get to a Doctor Who convention for a full year. Two of them, in fact, and knackeringly (by the very reasonable Fantom Films people). The reason I swerve into this is that the biggest draw for me was special guest Michael Jayston, the weekend’s main Doctor. I jabbered excitedly about several of his roles as I got him to sign a bundle of DVD inserts, and regretted that there’s no CD of Rogue Male I could bring along to add to the pile. “Well, they’re always repeating it,” he suggested, with just a touch less enthusiasm than I might have expected, before moving on to ask if I’d heard the sequel, Rogue Justice; “I don’t think it’s nearly as good,” he commented. A bit of a relief, as I’m wary of telling people at signings which bits of their work aren’t so great, and though his performance was nearly as good when BBC7 got him in to record Rogue Justice in 2009, the novel really isn’t. A sequel written more than forty years later, abandoning the tension and claustrophobia of the original to leapfrog across different countries and this time blatantly pitting the main character against the Nazis, I told him I agreed: “It doesn’t have anything like the same intensity or ambiguity.” He nodded at that. But why the lack of enthusiasm for the original reading, when everyone I’ve talked to or read about it had loved it too?

Up on stage after he’d finished signing autographs, I had my answer. In a wide-ranging interview that only started at Doctor Who, Mr Jayston caught my eye in the audience and raised Rogue Male. At the time, he’d just spent two or three months doing audiobooks and was, as he said, “match fit”; they booked him for six days to record Rogue Male, and he did it in three, flying through that sort of work after a couple of months’ limbering up. So when it began broadcasting and friends in the business – directors, other actors – starting ringing him up to say how brilliant it was, he thought they were taking the piss. To him, it was just a job he’d galloped through with ease in three days, but because people rate it so highly and it’s frequently repeated, he feels mildly embarrassed at the attention it gets. The same is true of his Only Fools and Horses, again only a few days’ work, and the one drunks always recognise him for – he’ll go through most of his career, than say “I was the one who found the watch” last, and it’s always that.

Doctor Who and The Valeyard

Michael Jayston was the first actor to play James Bond on the radio in Britain, and (along with Patrick Mower and Anthony Hopkins) nearly got the big job in the ’70s; he’s the only actor to be both a partly apocryphal James Bond and a partly apocryphal Doctor. In 1986’s Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord, he was the Valeyard, prosecuting counsel in the Doctor’s trial, and a title that’s said to mean ‘Doctor of Law’. In fact, it’s a wholly made-up word with a bogus definition as a hint: he’s really the Doctor’s future self, and has it in for himself in a big way, at least according to the orthodox interpretation – Millennium’s made a convincing case that he’s really the goodie. And asked if he’d like to return as the Valeyard – or simply Doctor – Mr Jayston was quite certain: yes.
“There’s no doubt about it – I am one of the Doctors.”

“I keep sending messages to Steven Moffat… He was a very young writer when I worked for him and I thought, he’s good, he’s going places.”
That was when he played a figure not entirely unlike the Doctor or John Steed in UneXpected, one of the stranger episodes of Steven Moffat’s first TV series, Press Gang – and viewers of The Trial of a Time Lord might find the Doctor’s evil other self or a story inspired by A Christmas Carol not entirely un-Moffated in Amy’s Choice or, indeed, A Christmas Carol. But let’s hope he comes round to re-using Michael Jayston, too. I have to admit, seeing the Valeyard himself act out the final scene of Terror of the Vervoids live on stage on Sunday was a particular highlight…

And did you know that he’s been a friend of Tom Baker’s since 1969, often exchanging unprintable emails with him and describing Tom as “as mad as ever”? Though it wasn’t Mr Jayston (Tsar Nicholas) who got Tom his major role in 1971’s film of Nicholas and Alexandra: Peter O’Toole (ironically also the lead in the film version of Rogue Male that no-one’s ever seen) was cast as Rasputin, but it took a while for them to put the film together – so his contract ran out and he put up two fingers to the producer. Laurence Olivier suggested out of work actor Tom Baker, because he was very talented. And they could get him for a pittance, which they did.
“‘He’s working on a building site,’ said Sir Larry. ‘I admire his dedication – it’s marvellous for building up the muscle tone for parts.’ ‘Bugger muscle tone,’ said Tom. ‘I need the fucking money.’”
Sorry, I’ve Got No Head

Meanwhile, as I type, I’m half-watching and laughing at another episode of mostly fabulous sketch show Sorry, I’ve Got No Head on BBC1. Now in its third season, if you’ve ignored it because it debuted on CBBC or because it goes out on weekday afternoons, don’t; like every sketch show, some bits are better than others, but the better bits are great. If you’ve seen it this before, there are twists in how the complete git parents have developed, or Marcus Brigstocke’s overgrown French exchange student who’s been there twenty years; David Armand’s Witchfinder General still has anyone who winds him up even slightly, usually in a queue, carried off as a witch (a curious mixture of evil witch-hunt and, er, consumer champion); and while I don’t think much of the new ‘mousetrap’ sketches, Mel Giedroyc looking for her big dog makes me laugh (and beat Wilfred to it), you can’t fail to be moved by a deadly serious study of the misery of addiction (involving a clown’s reaction to custard pies), and they’ve dropped the tedious computer game characters. The snowman’s still a frighteningly Daily Mail sort of sketch, though. If you’ve got something against kids’ shows, bear in mind that the cast’s pretty much the same as for, say, The Armstrong and Miller Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look, and some of James Bachman’s characters tend to bleed into Harry Biscuit, which is a bonus (cakes. Why did it have to be cakes?).

As far as I’m concerned, though, nothing can beat the increasingly postmodern and multi-layered (and that’s just their blouses) Jasmine and Prudith. Look, if you can’t work your home recording device of choice (maybe my bees can help?), it’s on iPlayer, too, and that costs nothing more than your internet connection.

Oh, here we go. Money. Filthy lucre. Nothing’s free these days! Internet connections – with the telephone wires on top, and fibre-optics paid by the strand. The sound doesn’t come cheap, either. Extra for each pixel, too, I shouldn’t wonder. And a special supplement on the TV licence for using your is when you play them. When all’s said and done, I shouldn’t think you’d get much change out of a thousand pounds!


Oh, I should say about a thousand pounds. It’s what these things cost these days.

No, no, it doesn’t cost –

A thousand pounds! It’s too much, a thousand pounds!

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