Monday, July 24, 2006

Superman Returns

In 1977, Ma and Pa Kent were dead but Krypto the superdog was still alive. Jor-El looked like an extra from Buck Rogers and no-one had heard of John Byrne. Since then, the D.C Universe has been wiped out and reconstituted (twice). Superman has been portrayed as a yuppie by Byrne and as a fascist by Frank Miller. On the TV he's been one half of a romantic comedy and the lead in Little House on the Huge Pile of Kryptonite. But Bryan Singer's Superman Returns manages to ignore these developments, as if the Superman mythos was fossilized at the end of Superman II.(We're intended to pretend that Superman III and Superman IV didn't happen, instead of simply wishing that they didn't. The only difference this makes is that Martha Kent's death is reported in Superman III whereas in Superman Returns she is rather gratuitously alive.) From the opening bars of John Williams second most famous theme tune to the final image of Superman cavorting among the clouds, Singer seems obsessively unwilling to bring anything to this film which wasn't implicit in the first two movies. This is neither a sequel nor a remake: it's a collection of very reverent annotations.

Christopher Reeve is both brilliant and dead, so he is treated with the most reverence. The film is, of course, dedicated to his memory. Brandon Routh doesn't so much play Superman as play Christopher Reeve playing Superman. He doesn't look or sound very much like Reeve, but his acting style is eerily similar – especially in the Clerk persona, of which we see too little. Kevin Spacey doesn't attempt to turn in an impersonation of Gene Hackman, but he follows the zany megalomaniac persona to the letter. It's long enough since I saw the old films that I kept having to remind myself that it wasn't the same actor. (The most obvious difference is that Hackman mostly wore a wig, but Spacey is mostly bald.) Only Kate Bosworth is incongruously playing a completely different character from Margot Kidder, who admittedly never had a great deal to do with Comic Book Lois. Kidder was a career woman who had seen it all before; Bosworth seems almost to be an innocent caught up in events slightly too big for her. Jimmy Olsen and Lois seem to have aged in opposite directions.

There is nothing wrong with trying to recreate the cast list of a well-loved classic. But the characters seem fixed in pre-ordained roles; as if the earlier script circumscribes their range of actions. Not only is Lex carrying out a ridiculous real-estate scam that will kill billions of people; not only does he have a comedy moll who has a fit of conscience at the last moment; but he even reprises his "What my father told me about land" speech from Superman I. Perry repeats the "give me every possible angle on the Superman story" pep-talk. When Superman has saved the lives of the passengers on an experimental space shuttle he feels obliged to encore the old joke abut flying being statistically the safest form of transport. Is Superman a sufficiently iconic movie that today's teen audience can be assumed to have this level of familiarity with it? Over and over again, lines are given special significances because people had said them before – Superman not only greets Lois with the words "You really shouldn't smoke", but keeps blowing her cigarette out as a sort of symbolic romantic gesture. Would you automatically have remembered that that was the first thing he said to her in the old movie? And if you haven't seen Superman I in any recent decade you might very well not understand why everyone keeps quoting the speech about the father becoming the son and the son becoming the father.

The films structure also seems straitjacketed to that of the original. We get a ten minute sequence of Superman visiting his mother in the old homestead, which seems to contribute nothing to the narrative, but conforms to some rule that says that the story arc must go from Krypton to Smallville to Metropolis. At the half-way-point Superman shows off his special effects by flying Lois around the city – although, mercifully, she doesn't feel the need to recite any poetry. We get a montage of him zooming round the world doing a sequence of low-level good turns; followed by a build up to Luthor's mad scheme, and then a huge apocalyptic battle against disaster, climaxing with him turning the world backwards in the old film and bench-pressing a continent in this one.

Most curiously, every major plot event is directly extrapolated from Superman I and II – as if Singer thinks it would be blasphemy to bring anything new to the mix. In Superman I Luthor likes to make money out of real-estate; and the crystals in the Fortress of Solitude are shown to be able to grow and reproduce; so here, Luthor steals kryptonian crystals and tries to grow himself a whole new continent. (He gets into the Fortress of Solitude without much trouble. In the comic book, the door is locked with a very large key that only Superman can lift.) Even the Big Reveal -- which genuinely took me by surprise -- is a very natural development of something which happened in Superman II.

Cinematic vocabulary has moved on, and there are some very creative depictions of Superman's powers. The slowed-down-bullets thing, a monumental bore in every film since The Matrix was put to excellent use here: Superman bouncing machine gun bullets off his chest, and finally off his eyeball may have been the best scene in the whole movie. On-screen action is more frenetic compared with the old days: when Superman rescues the crashing jet, we keep cutting to very disorientating scenes inside the plane.

The film was oddly coy about iconography. The first time Clerk pulls his shirt off, we only see it for a split second; and during the first action sequence, we are not allowed many clear views of Superman. It was almost as if Singer was specifically trying to avoid a Big Moment in which Clerk reveals the "S" on his chest and launches himself into action. However, when someone snaps a photograph which looks oddly like the cover of Action Comics #1, Perry White helpfully tells us that the picture is iconic.

But the iconography of Superman isn't just lifting cars and rescuing aircraft: it's also about the Daily Planet; about Superman's double-life and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, and above all the Cyrano-like love triangle between Lois, Clerk and Superman. We see very little of this in Superman Returns. Perhaps if he'd had more screen time, we would have been unable to avoid asking how even Lois could have failed to notice that Clerk had been away for five years, and, er, Superman had also been away for five years.

At the beginning of the film, Superman stops a plane from crashing into a city. That is also now an iconic image. The posters advertising the film showed Superman swooping in front of a stricken jet over a landscape full of skyscrapers. Is the message that, if only Superman had been here, September 11th would have turned out differently: the world really does need a saviour. As with its overblown use of religious symbolism, the film is using highly charged icons to evoke emotions that it hasn't earned.

This is the heart of the problem. Singer thinks that he's allowed to use sacred images because he is approaching the character of Superman, the performance of Christopher Reeve, and the whole of the 1977 movie as something like holy writ. You can reverently illuminate it, but you can't alter it, much less have any fun with it. Superman Returns is at a very deep level, pretentious: a great deal of awe, but very little heart.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Superman: the Second Coming

Superman is not Jesus. The Old Superman is a boy-scout who regarded rescuing sinking ocean liners and saving the earth from asteroid collisions as 'super-chores.' The Very Old Superman was a tough-guy who socked wife-beaters on the jaw and said 'you aren't fighting a woman now, coward.' The Superman of the radio serials and the Fliescher cartoons 'came to Earth as champion of the weak and the oppressed.' Truth, Justice and the American Way came later.

But he isn't Jesus. The names of Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster appear on every comic featuring the Man of Steel – which is greatly to the credit of D.C Comics: Marvel are still reluctant to acknowledge the existence of any creator other than Stan Lee. According to one reckoning, Siegel and Shuster are jointly the 100th most influential Jews in history: Superman being the foundation stone on which the comic-book industry and therefore much of the movie industry was constructed. More people have heard of Superman than have heard of Hamlet. In 1938 it was understandable that a pair of young Jewish artists might have wanted to imagine a champion. A Messiah, even.

So there is no way that Superman can be Jesus. (His adversary is called Luthor, for goodness sake.) Would it be going too far to suggest that there is a racial motive in the incremental appropriation of Jerry and Joey's character as Christian symbol? Christopher Reeve was paralysed in a tragic riding accident; George Reeves, the first TV Superman, committed suicide. And since it is always possible to construct a straight line between two points, some people believe in a Curse of Superman which anyone who dons the red underpants will be touched by. At first, Siegel and Shuster, who sold the rights to Superman for a few a hundred dollars and died in relative penury, were imagined as victims of this jinx. But the latest iteration of the myth has Jerry Siegel, shortly before the release of the 1977 movie, calling down a curse on all those who have made money out of his character. To re-imagine Superman as a Christian saviour, maybe we had to turn his creator into an old, blind, bitter, Shylock, cursing his treasure.

The Very Old Superman leapt tall buildings in a single bound. Christopher Reeve flew. Bryan Singer's re-invention of Superman floats. Not to put to fine a point on it, he Ascends. He looks down on the earth from above, and says that he can hear everything anyone is saying. 'You say that the world doesn't need a Saviour, but I hear people crying out for one.' And sure enough, he ends up carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders: first, lifting the gigantic globe from the top of the Daily Planet building; then carrying Lex Luther's re-created Kryptonian continent into space. (Luther sees himself as Prometheus, and Superman as a selfish god from whom he is going to steal fire.) Having saved the world but exposed himself to Kryptonite, Superman takes on a cruciform pose and falls to earth. At great length. But of course, he's only Mostly Dead, and when the hospital staff go to check on him, they find the place empty where they had laid him.

No one tried to crucify the man of steel in the 1993 'Death of Superman' comic. He was just beaten to death by a big strong alien. He got better.

Mario Puzo's script for the 1978 Superman movie had Marlon Brando drawing fairly explicit parallels between the origin of Superman and the birth of Jesus, even though it is blindingly obvious even in Puzo's own script that the real parallel is with Moses. But the 70s Superman never became Christic other than in the Kryptonian prologue. Considering that he defies his Father's will to turn back time in order to save Lois's life, and subsequently relinquishes his powers in order to fuck her on his fathers shrine, you could argue that there was something Luciferian about him. Bryan Singer references Marlon Brando's speech no less than three times.

'You will carry me inside you all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your own eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son....They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son.'

In Puzo's script, this lends some cheesy gravitas to the proceedings. Here, it is merely pretentious.

Spider-Man, Frodo Baggins, Neo, Leo DeCaprio, Indiana Jones – Hollywood turns all its heroes into Christian symbols. (All except Aslan, obviously.) But do the symbols actually symbolize anything? It's hard to see how the story of Superman would help Christian viewers understand the story of Jesus; but neither does it seem to be critiquing or commenting on that story. When Bryan Singer has Magneto use the words 'By any means necessary' at the end of the X-Men, he is asking us to look for connections between his mutant fantasy and the civil rights movement. When Superman thrusts out his arms and falls to earth, he is simply borrowing significance from a bigger story: pretending to be far more important than he has any right to be.

Superman is a friendly alien. He was born on a planet with atomic cities, art-deco architecture, and Flash Gordon fashions. He grew up in Anytown and went to the Big City. Oh, all right, Smallville and Metropolis. Lex Luthor is a mad scientist. Luthor has outrageous schemes; Superman cleverly defeats them. His other enemies include a mad scientist with green skin who steals cities and keeps them in bottles; and a mischievous sprite in a derby hat. He started life in Action Comics and on a radio series presented by the makers of Kellogs Pep, (the super-delicious breakfast cereal). Superman may be able to lift whole continents on his shoulders, but he isn't substantial enough to carry such weighty symbolism.

Superman isn't Jesus. He's a comic-book character.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Doctor Who -- Notes

1: 'Camp'
The word 'camp' means 'a gay man affecting effeminate mannerisms' and 'ironic self-awareness; enjoying a dramatic work because of its faults.' Not sure if the two meanings are linked: is there a lot of effeminacy in camp drama, or do effeminate men have a tendency to send themselves up?

Doctor Who has sometimes been 'camp': a lot of fans enjoy watching the bad old stories just because they are so bad; and in the later Tom Baker stories you sometimes feel that the cast are deliberately camping it up. And at least since John Nathan-Turner, there has been no shortage of Doctor Who fans who are themselves camp. Before it was discovered that they were all asexual, fandom accepted and even embraced the stereotype of the gay Doctor Who fan. And the stereotype was sufficiently recognisable in the gay community that it was used in Queer as Folk. (Can't remember who wrote that.)

I am not completely sure where the link comes from. I wonder if it started out as pure theatrical camp: most luvvies sometimes 'did' Doctor Who, just like they 'did' panto? Or is it just that the dandyish / bohemian clothes fit in with a certain kind of gay aesthetic?

There's never really been a tradition of Doctor Who slash. There are very few successful parodies of Doctor Who either. Star Trek is so po-faced that imagining Kirk slipping on a banana skin or giving Spock a good rogering presents a challenge. Who porn and Who slash could be quite hard to distinguish from actual Who. 'Curse of the Fatal Death', which largely consisted of fart jokes, might be considered slash since it ended up with the Doctor going off arm-in-arm with the Master. How did fans react to it? By arguing about whether or not it was canon.

If you insist on sexualising the Doctor, then it makes sense to think of him as a rather repressed gay man: a succession of close friendships with much younger women would seem rather sordid, not to say paedophilic, if he was straight. Maybe we are now supposed to believe that all of his previous 'companions' were more or less girl-friends; but frankly, if you can ret-con it so that Doctor Patrick was screwing Zoe, then you can ret-con anything, and there is no real point in pretending that the programme we're discussing has anything to do with Doctor Who.

So I wonder if the gay sub-text in the new series is another example of RTDs self-consciousness? Fans have sometimes speculated that the Doctor might be gay so the idea that the Doctor might be gay has to be alluded to within the series itself. If this is right, then the series has become camp because it has become camp...

2: Sci-fi

Doctor Who
has in the past done a lot of pretty straight sci-fi – galactic empires and ray guns ('Frontier in Space') generation starships ('The Ark', 'The Ark in Space') and more flying saucers and aliens invading the earth then you can shake a magnetic core at. It has also done a lot of gothic with a paper-thin sci-fi gloss ('Daemons', 'Horror of Fang Rock'); not to mention swashbuckling with a science fiction gloss ('Androids of Tara') and fantasy with a science fiction gloss ('Keeper of Traken'). And it has also done straight, unapologetic fantasy ('Celestial Toymaker' or 'Mind Robber'.) There have been attempts to do Proper Science Fiction – in their different ways 'The Space Pirates', 'Logopolis' and 'Kinda' might all have been in that category. But they were atypical and not necessarily successful.

I very much take the point that the alien-which-sucks-you-in-to-the-TV-screen and the alien-which-sucks-you-into-the-child's-paintings are demons, working according to a metaphorical logic. This kind of monster has only rarely appeared in Doctor Who in the past: it's more what I associate with Sapphire and Steel. But there is no mismatch between 'magical' creatures of this kind and the concept of Doctor Who.

My problem isn't that they are demons; nor that the sci-fi justification for them is weak. It's that the script writers can't be bothered to set the ground rules. I don't need the television monster to be explained with scientific accuracy: I would quite like to know what its powers and weaknesses are supposed to be.

Remember 'Curse of Fenric'? The monsters were mutants from the future that drunk human blood. In case you missed the point, they landed at Whitby. At some point, Ace says 'Can you really use a cross to repel a vampire?' and the Doctor says 'It's not the cross which bothers them: but human faith sets up a psychic barrier they can't get past.' Pure gobbledegook, but it established a rule, and they stuck to the rule for the rest of the story. The communist repels the vampire with his hammer and sickle; the wet vicar fails to repel one with a cross; and Ace nearly spoils the Doctor's plan because the psychic barrier created by her faith in him is so strong.

Internal logic. Is it too much to ask?

3: Race
Micky is a person with dark coloured skin who lives in a part of London where lots of people with dark coloured skin live. His accent is also the kind of accent which dark skinned people from that part of London sometimes have. It would have been quite silly if Rose didn't have any black neighbours. The fact that, in episode 1, he is a bit of an idiot; and the fact that he is dating Rose, who happens to have light coloured skin, is neither here nor there. They were just two characters. I don't think any element of any story would have been any different if Mickey had been white and Rose had been black, or if they had both been black, or if they had both been white. That is why diversity quotas for dramas are a silly idea.

Maybe a hypersensitive person could have said that it was a mistake that at the end of the first episode, Mickey was (arguably) represented as ape-like. But I'm inclined to say that we've been through racism and come out the other side and that although this is the kind of joke which could have been made in such a way as to be very offensive indeed, it wasn't meant in that way, so no-one took it in that way.

Is it true that people only enjoy TV shows if some of the main characters look like them? Will a person with dark coloured skin be unable to enjoy 'Robin Hood' unless someone invents an Afro-Saxon outlaw?

I thought that the President of England was a bit of a clich̩ Рthe wise, patrician statesman with just a trace of his Jamaican accent. I can't think of another example off hand, but I still think it's a bit of a clich̩. Captain Zac, (not to be confused with Captain Jack or indeed Captain Jack) on the other hand, was a character who I really liked and believed in for the whole story. I'd like to see more of him. But it was still striking that someone had said in both stories 'The highest status character ought to be the one with dark coloured skin, so that no-one can accuse us of being patronising.'

I have no doubt whatsoever that when Tennant decides he has had enough, the TARDIS will be occupied by a Doctor of colour. By itself, a second regeneration won't be very exciting: there's a danger that the show-biz pages will just say 'They are changing the lead actor yet again in a last ditch attempt to save that series which isn't as good as it used to be.' To get the tabloids onside, Davies will have to do something unexpected -- and that means either a female Doctor or a black Doctor. But the Daviesite dynamic wouldn't survive a gender reversal; the audience understands that Doctor Who is about an Unattainable Hero and Ordinary Girl. Unattainable Heroine and Ordinary Boy would appeal to a quite different audience. So the headline grabber has to be 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GOES MAD IN THE TARDIS: NOW DOCTOR WHO IS BLACK.'

I don't actually think the situation will arise. I imagine the BBC will renew the series as far as the fifth season, but not for a sixth; and that Tennant will stick around for the duration. But I've been wrong before. Frequently.

Did you know that when the series was first on the rocks, JNT had a meeting with Sydney Newman (please don't anybody say 'Who's Sydney Newman?') to talk about how he would revitalise the series. Newman said
1: Less sci-fi
2: Do a story in which everyone gets shrunk down really, really small
3: Turn the Doctor into a woman.


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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Doctor Who Series 2: Episodes 12 & 13

So; that's that then. All over for another 39 weeks.

And this time it really is 'all over'. First, they sold us 'The Doctor and Rose Show', and then Chris went, and now Billie's gone and we're back in uncharted water. Next Christmas will be the third re-launch in two years.

In March 2005, Rose's alarm clock went off and since then we've seen everything from her point of view. When the Doctor tried to dump Rose in 'Parting of the Ways', we went back to earth and sat with her in the chip shop and wondered what he was up to. But this time we stayed with the Doctor, alone again, fiddling with the TARDIS controls. We see the mysterious bride through his eyes, and like him we wonder who the hell she can be. Eighteen months ago, RTD made a Copernican shift in the focus of the show: from Doctor, to companion. Well, now we've shifted back.

And it really, really is all over, because once the Doctor has stood in the TARDIS and tried to say 'I love you' then the programme that used to be called Doctor Who has been gently, lovingly, painlessly put to sleep. It will probably now go to interesting places; and we can decide to go with it or we can decide to stay behind and regret that staying until the day we die. But we can never change things back to how they were before: if we did, the Reapers would come and get us.

And that's okay. It's not the first time the series has committed euthanasia. The T.V series that had been called Doctor Who came to an end in 1976, when the Master held Tom Baker's head under water. It probably finished the first time someone used the word 'Time Lord' or when the unearthly child was booted out of the TARDIS.

There was a story. There was Mickey, and his appearance in a Torchwood lab coat would have been a really good surprise, if it wasn't that the BBC is obliged to protect us from unexpected plot twists, because of the special way it's funded. There were Ma and Pa Tyler and they were done really rather well. Jackie got a go at being a companion, and the nice thing was that she'd changed since episode 1, but not changed beyond recognition. The look on Mickey's face when Jackie tells Pete 'There's never been anyone else' was priceless. Good call to play the scene as comedy; that made it quite touching; if it had been played as a tearjerker, it would have just been annoying. It's nice to occasionally be reminded that the reason RTD has a reputation for being a good scriptwriter is that he can, when he tries, write good scripts.

There were Daleks. And Cybermen. And I don't know what the Daleks were for. Beyond opening the rift for the Cyberpeople to come through, they had no role in the story. Billions of Daleks appear; they swap taunts with the Cybermen; the Doctor waves his magic wand; billions of Daleks disappear. But they did get Doctor Who an unprecedented third Radio Times cover, so I guess they served their purpose.

It was cute to have Daleks and the Cybermen standing around saying 'Identify yourself' 'No, you identify yourself'. I am glad this stopped before one or other of them claimed to be a lighthouse. I quite enjoyed 'Daleks have no concept of elegance'/'This is obvious'. But 'In one thing only are you our superiors: you are better at dying' is just not the kind of thing that a hate filled cybernetic alien would say. Is there no-one who can restrain RTD from this kind of meta-textual silliness? The channel hopping gags are getting boring, too. If weird aliens had invaded earth disguised as ghosts, then they wouldn't be appearing on daytime TV. It would have made more sense to show Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury arguing on Newsnight about whether ghosts existed or not. My mother tells me that there was an in-joke in the Eastenders clip which I didn't spot; which makes up for the occasional Doctor Who in-jokes that she doesn't spot.

But the story wasn't really about Daleks, Cybermen, aliens, ghosts or Torchwood. Those things are just there to keep the asexuals happy. (Did you notice that in the Episode 1 trailer, a human gets zapped by something which we regulars could easily identify as a Dalek death-ray. A gun, I mean, not an ice-cream. Take that, you asexuals: we'll put in spoilers that will spoil it for you, but not for anyone else – if that doesn't drive Doctor Who fans away from Doctor Who I don't know what will.) The real subject of Doctor Who – indeed, the real subject of everything, all that matters in life, is dating. It's a subject which is especially close to the heart of the pre-adolescent target audience, which is why the old series was so silly to base itself around Old Labour ideas like friendship. The chemistry between Eccleston and Piper was enough to sustain a series. The chemistry between Tennant and Piper decidedly isn't. You could have got some plot mileage out of 'Rose loved Doctor Chris, but she doesn't love Doctor David, Doctor David is hurt, because so far as he's concerned, he's still the same person.' But we didn't try: after 45 minutes of post-regeneration angst, we've just had to assume that the Doc and Rose's relationship has re-set to whatever it was before 'Bad Wolf'.

So the only question about 'Army of Ghosts'/'Doomsday' is 'Does Rose die?' And given quite how much foreshadowing there had been, it's no great surprise that the surprising answer was (look away now) 'No, course she bloody doesn't.' Which raises the question of what Satan thought he was doing making portentous predictions, and why anyone would describe 'the circumstances under which my name was erroneously added to the list of casualties of a disaster I escaped from' as 'This is the story of how I died.'

If she is really going to work for the Torchwood of Earth-2, then it probably won't be the last story she ever tells.

So the only tension was meta-textual: we kept thinking 'Is this the bit when Rose dies' because we'd been told in advance that Rose was going to die. When Rose goes back to Earth-2 with Mickey and Jackie, we all think 'Ah, perhaps this is how it ends'; and then when she is nearly pulled into the void, we think 'Aha, this is how it ends', which makes the final appearance of Pa Tyler almost unexpected. The Doctor and Rose trying to touch each other through the now-closed-off rift in space was almost as moving as in Phillip Pullman, although without the under-age shagging.

I'm usually a sucker for sentimental stuff. I was quite touched by 'Father's Day'. But RTD was trying so hard to make me cry that I didn't feel remotely like crying: although goodness gracious me isn't Billie Piper a remarkably remarkable actress; totally convincing us that her whole life has fallen apart, without going remotely over any kind of top. There are still people who say that they can't watch Doctor Who because of Billie, which I can only interpret as class-snobbery or pure straightforward misogyny: we don't want smart, competent women in our sci-fi – or at any rate, not smart, pretty competent women who speak with lower class accents and failed their A levels. I know that Tennant's Doctor is supposed to slightly aloof; I know that he is supposed to be wacky; I know that the slight woodenness is part of the characterisation. I like him as much as I've liked any Doctor since Tom Baker. But I still couldn't quite stop myself from thinking 'What could Christopher Eccleston have done with this material?'

Some people have noted some rather gratuitous religious imagery in this series; I must say I was relieved that, when the holographic Doctor meets Rose on a beach, and Rose says 'You look like a ghost' the Doctor resists the temptation to say 'Do not cling to me.' Not in so many words, at any rate.

I watched the episode with a group of Whovian friends. Everyone liked it and we laughed in all the right places. I think the last scene was meant to be tragi-comic rather than sad, so when Rose says 'I love you' and the Doctor says 'Quite right too,' we all think the line is almost as funny as it was when Harrison Ford first ad libbed it a quarter of a century ago; and when the Doctor tries to say 'I love you' but dematerialises mid-sentence, we all laughed -- laughed with it rather than at it I mean; and of course, it should have ended there, where it started, with Rose and Mickey and Jackie; not back on the TARDIS with the Doctor; because now we've seen him cry, and like the first time you see your parents cry, it's all over and nothing can ever, ever, ever be the same again.

When Rose mentions 'the baby', the Doctor automatically assumes that it is hers and is pleased. Does the Doctor think that when he dumped her, Rose immediately started sleeping with Mickey? Or is it possible that, just for a moment he thought...

No. That way, madness lies.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Page 1

The ultimate outrage by a British Government.


Sinister new powers allowing the State to confiscate family homes were unveiled by ministers yesterday as Labour's socialist instincts came to the fore.

The government abandoned any pretence of being reconciled to private property or the rights of individuals to run their own affairs. New Whitehall guidelines set out powers for town hall officials to seize homes for seven years if they are left empty for just six months.

Furniture and heirlooms will be grabbed as well under plans drawn up by shamed Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Today the Daily Express begins a new crusade to defend householders rights by demanding: "Hands off our homes."

Page 5

Terrorists kill 163 in train bomb massacre

Monday, July 03, 2006

Oh, for goodness sake...

The word which Jonathan Ross said to David Cameron was not especially rude, certainly not by the standards of anyone under 35. The activity represented by that word is not "lewd and obscene" by the standards of anyone at all. Most people would regard it at the same level as the other shocking and obscene word beginning with the letter W that Ross used in the same interview: "having a wee". A perfectly ordinary word to refer to a perfectly ordinary thing. Of course you'd be embarrassed to be caught doing it in public. (In that respect it's a lot like reading the Daily Mail.) But it doesn't make you short-sighted or drive you mad. (In that respect, it isn't.)

Satirists, like court jesters deflate pompous people. That's their job. One way of doing that is to imagine them performing private bodily functions. Didn't Winston Churchill overcome stage fright by imagining that his audience were all sitting on the lavatory? But mixed in with the anglo-saxon language, Mr. Ross was actually making two quite good political jokes. First, he insinuated that Mrs Thatcher was popular because Conservative men found her sexy. This isn't true, any more than it is true that John Major wore his underpants outside his trousers. But it's funny because we feel that Mrs Thatcher's huge popularity requires some kind of explanation; and because we can imagine that middle-class ex-public school men liked to be ordered around by a deep-voiced woman who thumped them with her handbag. You can't watch that footage of William Hague making his first political speech at the age of 14 without thinking that something weird is going on. But the joke is that Ross asks the question directly – were you ever sexually interested in Mrs Thatcher? Having embarrassed his victim by saying out loud what everyone has sometimes thought; Ross asked an unrelated question and received an evasive answer. So he repeated the previous question using much ruder language, adding "See, I'm just like Jeremy Paxman." Any fool could see that he was now making a joke against himself ("I'm the sort of person who would ask a rude question like that?") and against political interviewers" ("I'm going to repeat the same silly question over and over again.")

So how is it that when the Daily Mail affects to be very, very shocked by this lewd and obscene language both the Tory party and the BBC nod their heads sagely and pretend that it is a very serious matter. Should politicians go on programmes where they might be asked lewd and obscene questions? Should the BBC pay nineteen million pounds a year to someone who asks such lewd and obscene questions? Or are the BBC perfectly free to transmit lewd and obscene programmes -- even though of course I myself didn't watch it. Why did they not have the guts to say "Oh, shut up you stupid, humourless, holier-than-thou, frigid, late-Victorian, prudish, priggish, puritan."

The answer to the question "Why did a serious politician appear on this man's show" is presumably the same as the answer to the question "Why do the BBC pay this man £19,000,000?" -- because his viewing figures are nothing short of obscene.

Were we really so innocent that we missed the main point? The Mail, by pretending that it didn't know what masturbation was, managed to get us to file the programme under "The interview where Jonathan Ross made a rude suggestion to an M.P." This cleverly deflected attention from the fact that Ross also asked a perfectly serious question about Conservative drug policy. By responding weakly and evasively to Ross's perfectly valid points, David Cameron came across on prime time TV as a complete wanker.