Thursday, August 28, 2014

So, happy birthday then, Jack Kirby
You were born
97 years ago today.

You were the primary creative force behind
Marvel Comics

Although I think Stan Lee had some input as well
Particularly with respect to the
So I obviously hate you
And everything you stand for

(I wrote a book. George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and me))

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I wrote an article. About funnybooks. Here it is: Are the "words" printed in a "comic book" actually particularly "important." I am still quite pleased with it, actually.

Two years later a man on the internet wrote a reply. 

Here's the very note. This is what he wrote. 

God almighty, this has to be the most misguided, wrong-headed, HATE-FILLED pile of nonsense I've seen online in months. Not only is it an insult to Jack Kirby, it'a slso an insult to Don Mcgregor. That's knocking TWO of the BEST writers to have worked for Marvel!!

One thing a lot of people seem completely unaware of. Jack Kirby ALWAYS wrote his own stories, from the beginning. Since the 1930s. It's only in the 1960s that he was prevented by a no-talent hack "editor" (and I used that word loosely) from writing his own dialogue.

Lee's dialogue on Kirby's stories is often like taking a beautiful, just-constructed building, and DEFACING it with spray-painted graphitti.

And you know what? When it comes to "humor", guys like Al Hartley & Ernie Hart were FUNNIER. And SO was Jack Kirby.

I was going to make a point about this, but I think I will sit in a dark room and listen to folk music instead.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Doctor: All elephants are pink. Nellie is an elephant, therefore Nellie is pink. Logical?

Davros: Perfectly.

Doctor: You know what a human would say to that?

Davros: What?

Doctor: "Don't be silly. Elephants aren't pink."

Davros: Bah. Humans do not understand logic.

Destiny of the Daleks

Two weeks ago, Prof Richard Dawkins decided that he would use the power of Twitter to give the plebs a jolly good lesson in logic. If thing A has quality X, he explained, and thing B has quality X to a greater degree, then it doesn't follow that thing A doesn't have quality X at all. If cheese is nice but chocolate is nicer; it doesn't follow that cheese is nasty. If the Beatles are bigger than Jesus, it doesn't follow that Jesus is small.

This is obviously true. However it doesn't fully reflect how we Hobbits actually use language. If Andrew is 6 ft 2 and Steve is 6 ft 1, it would be a little odd to say "Steve is shorter than Andrew" or "Compared with Andrew, Steve is short." You would be more likely to say that Steve is tall but Andrew is even taller. It would be positively confusing to say "toothache is more enjoyable than a bone fracture" or "Joseph was even kinder and more humane than Adolph.". Your meaning is effected by your word choice as well as the actual logic of your sentence. 

Prof Dawkins chose the most toxic and incendiary words possibly to illustrate his purely logical point.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knife point is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.

He spent the rest of the week insisting that the logic of the two assertions was valid (which, obviously, it was) and that anyone who had taken exception to his examples obviously didn't understand logic.

To answer by the method: if you can't see what the problem is; you obviously don't understand language. Go away and learn how to write.

Utterances — even utterances on twitter — are not reducible to their logical content. Our problem is not that we are ignorant peasants who can't see that Thing B can be worse than Thing A without Thing A being good. Our problem is that your chosen examples are riddled — riddled — with unexamined assumptions.

1: "X is bad; Y is worse".

What do you mean by "worse"? How can we tell? Who gets to decide? Do you mean more reprehensible in absolute terms; more severely punished by the law; causing greater harm to the victim; less aesthetically pleasing; incurring more bad karma...? These things obviously do not need to be the same. We are being asked to take for granted a value-neutral line from "black" to "white" with "grey" in the middle. Some kinds of empirical science might work like that. Criminal assault does not. Is Macbeth worse than anchovies?

2:  "Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse." 

This takes for granted that "Violent" is a synonym for "Severe" and that "Non-Violent" is a synonym for "Mild". "Severe pedophilia is worse than mild pedophilia" would have been meaningless, amounting to no more than "Bad things are worse than good things". But "Violent pedophilia is worse than non-violent pedophilia" is contentious, to say the least. People with human feelings would  probably think that the two are, well, differently bad. The offences for which Rolf Harris went to prison were non-violent. Yet the victims testified in court about the devastating effect the assaults had had on their lives. Some people might think that a long term quasi-consensual "love affair" between an adult and a young child was if anything rather "worse" than a violent attack. But it's simply nonsense. Are orange things worse than bank holidays?

3: "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knife point is worse." 

This has the same problems: we are being asked to take for granted that there is a thing called "rape" of which "stranger rape" and "date rape" are more and less severe examples — in the way that "punching Richard Dawkins on the nose, terribly hard" is a more severe example of "punching Richard Dawkins on the nose, fairly lightly." This ain't necessarily so. A court can send a rapist to jail for a period of time between seven years and forever. It takes into account a large number of mitigating factors (ones which make it less bad); and aggravating factors (ones that make it worse). I don't think "I bought her dinner beforehand" is necessarily a mitigating factor.

4: Go away and learn to think

Dawkins spends 30 of his 140 characters peremptorily insulting anyone who doesn't agree with him. It is just not true that people who can't do logic don't know how to to think. The world is full of people who raise families, survive in combat zones, manage farms, hunt antelopes, and carve sculpture who would go all to pieces if you asked them how many Bs were As if all Xs were Bs but only some Cs were Zs. (There are also people who are really good at keeping track of numbers in their head, but can't cope with the simplest written maths test.) The assumption here is that there is only one kind of thought — narrowly logical thought. Anyone who doesn't think in that way is a moron. Any subject that can't be talked about in terms of logic and simple continuum's from "good" to "bad" isn't worth talking about.

So, the question remains. Can we, as the young people say, give Dawkins "a pass" and say that, yes, he has been incredibly insensitive, but that's incidental to his status as National Treasure. We really should focus on the incredibly important logical point he is making, and not pay too much attention to the horrible way he has chosen to express it. Someone online said, well, yes, of course, Dawkins can sometimes come across as a bit sexist, but what do you expect of someone who is a scientific genius but also a 75 year old privately educated Oxford Don?

I am not at all sure I buy this. I think that his insensitivity is part and parcel of his ideology.

Obviously, we are talking about Twitter posts. Judge every man according to what he posted on Twitter, and which of us would 'scape whipping. But the current outburst fits into a pattern. Back in June he effected not to understand why anyone would consider throwing bacon at a mosque to be a hate crime. "Who" he asked "apart from the pig, is harmed by bacon?" That word "harm" again. It starts to look very much as if he thinks that if there hasn't been direct and measurable physical injury, nothing very serious can have happened. This is on approximately the same level as the person who doesn't understand why black people get so het up about the n-word. It's just a word. Who is harmed by a word. Why is the law so worried about this made-up idea of "offence"?

I assume that I don't actually need to spell this out: that particular words and particular kinds of meat have particular meanings in particular contexts for particular reasons. No-one was claiming that Johnny Muslim was kicking up a fuss about the remains of Bacon McMuffin which had been carelessly left near his place of worship by someone who didn't mean anything by it. The bacon had been placed there intentionally by racist bastards who knew the symbolism perfectly well. You might just as well say "what's the big deal about putting excrement though someone's letterbox?" You've probably got some marigolds and some disinfectant in the kitchen. Anyone with small kids or a dog has to clear muck up all the time.

If you press this kind of hyper objective thinking too its, er, logical conclusion, you might end up saying something like this: "Why is it such a big deal to touch someone's penis without their permission? More than, say, to tweak their nose or tap them on the shoulder? Your dick is just a part of your body, the same as any other. It's only social convention that has made it taboo."

Dawkins' Tweets are a sort of a test, like the pea which the prince put under the princess's mattress in one of those fairy stories which Dawkins doesn't think we should sometimes wonders whether we should read to our kids. Make a trivial logical statement, wrapped up in horrible example that makes light of what is, for quite a lot of people, the worst thing that happened to them in their whole lives. And watch people's reactions. Some people -- the one who don't believe in cultural meanings, feelings, or that language is complex -- will only see the logical bit, and not be able to understand how anyone could be "offended" since the logic is sound. Other people will react to the horrible beliefs that are "signaled" by the text as a whole, and say that the logic of it is neither here nor there.

Once you have divided people into sheep and goats you can then begin assimilate the logical ones into your cyber-army and start to exterminate the inferior creatures who do not know how to think.

Once you have divided people into sheep and goats you can assimilate the logical ones into the collective, form an invincible cyber army based on pure logic, rampage across the universe, seek out inferior life forms who have not learned how to think and ex-term-in-ate them!

Most of the people you talked to today were probably "atheists", in the sense that they don't believe in a personal deity who can be talked to and invoked; or in the sense that they don't give it very much thought one way or the other. But it is increasingly clear that what the "new atheists" disbelieve in is not the God of church and religion. It's also feelings and cultural meanings and subjectivity and the humanities and just about anything which isn't cold A = B logic. And if "atheism" means denying all that stuff as well, you have probably never met an atheist.

And of course, it might be that Dawkins is right. It might be that once you have eliminated Jehovah and Krishna and Wotan -- all the old men and all the sky fairies -- then all the rest caves in as well and what you are left with is a race of Daleks, who know how to think but not how to feel. And it might be that if you admit cultural meanings and feelings and fuzzy language and morals then all the gods-with-faces start creeping back in through the back door. And that might be one reason why religion can't, ultimately, be dispensed with. Not by human beings, at any rate. There is no point in asking the Daleks. They wouldn't, by definition, understand the question.

Read: Where Dawkins Went Wrong --  The Book

Friday, August 22, 2014


“Corporal punishment never did me any harm.”
“Really? Then what did?”
      A.A Milne. attrib.

The God Delusion is a very unevenly edited book and contains many passage which simply seemed to the author like a good idea at the time.

If you or I were briefed to prove that God doesn't exist, we might, I suppose refer in passing to the clerical child abuse scandal — Roman Catholic priests sexually molesting kids, and the church authorities covering it up. I think that we would probably make two points. 

1: Roman Catholic priests claim to have special, supernatural access to God. But in practice, they don't seem to behave any better than anyone else, so this claim to inside-knowledge looks pretty dubious.

2: The idea of "God" enables organizations like the Catholic church to build up great power and influence. Powerful, influential organisations are, by their nature, good at covering up wrongdoing in their own ranks. If you don't want Mafiosi and Freemasons adding "thus saith the Lord" to their club rules, best get rid of  "the Lord" altogether. 

Some people might make a third point: 

3: Catholic taboos about sex resulted in their clergy committing these kinds of offences. If you force a young man to take a solemn oath never to have sex, then it's not too that surprising if after ten years he's tempted to do something dreadful.

But that would be a bit of a stretch: there's no necessary connection between believing in God and vows of sexual abstinence. The fact that the Catholics believed in both is strictly speaking a coincidence. And anyway, English Public Schools achieved quite high levels of cruelty and pederasty with very little input from God. Hell, my bog standard utterly secular comp had the cane and a gym teacher who seemed rather over-keen on showering with teenagers.

A serious writer would have dealt with all this in half a page and moved on to something more substantial. But if a less serious writer — and anti-religious zealot, say — wanted to go on and on for pages and pages of ghoulish detail about all the ghastly things these Romish clergy get up to, well, no-one could really blame him. Blackening the name of your opponent is a perfectly good rhetorical technique.

The strange thing is, Dawkins doesn't really do either of these things. He doesn't use the abuse scandal to make valid points against the church; but neither does he use it to whip the reader up into an anti-clerical frenzy.

Instead, he goes on and on about how everyone else has got a terrible bee in their bonnet about sex and abuse, how there's much less of it than you'd think and that it does much less harm than you'd imagine and how he, Richard Dawkins, is going to restore a sense of proportion. Like so much of his writing, it feels like a riff; endlessly spiraling around a point that never quite gets made.

"Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged, at the outset, to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way. Others have noted that we live in a time of hysteria about pedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch hunts of 1692..."

The whole matter is going to be put out of the way in the next three pages. Excellent. Up there with C.S Lewis telling us he's going to take three page to sort out the doctrine of Hell. I particularly like the "nowadays" part: ah, for those sepia tinted olden days when priestly abuse meant something else entirely. And the "1692" part, in case we thought he was referring to all those other Salem Witch hunts.

In what way was moral panic about pedophilia like the witch craze in Salem? The point of Salem was that people accused their neighbors of being witches, and that some of those neighbors confessed to being witches even though there were, er, no actual witches because witches don't exist. 

And so on, talking about the News of the World "barely stopping short of inciting vigilantes to take direct action against pedophiles"; and the mob who attacked a doctor because they were "unacquainted with the difference between a pediatrician and a pedophile". Pure urban myth: a group of young teenagers may have scrawled the word "pedo" on a doctor's door, but the baying mobs hunting down pediatricians in general have their origins (again) in a Private Eye cartoon. In some versions the doctor's house is burned down, in others she is beaten up. I look forward to the version in which she flees to Birmingham just in time to celebrate Winterval. 

And so on. And on...

"We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and lawyers... Forty years on, it is harder to get redress for flogging than for sexual fondlings, and there is no shortage of lawyers actively soliciting custom from victims who might not otherwise have raked over the distant past. There's gold them tha long-gone fumbles in the vestry — some of them indeed, so long gone that the alleged offender is likely to be dead and unable to present his side of the story..."

This is nasty stuff. He has entwined a number of different substantive arguments:

1: People's fear of child molesters is out of all proportion to the number of child molesters in society.

2: It's hard to give a fair trial to a person who may have committed an offence 50 years ago.

3: Many of the so called victims have been manipulated by psychologists, lawyers into imagining abuse where there was none; or exaggerating events for financial gain.

4: Awareness that child abuse is a thing may encourage us to infer sinister motivations to perfectly innocent acts.

But underlying it all seems to be

5: Most child abuse really isn't that big a deal to begin with. 

This is consistent with a notorious 2013 interview, in which he said the following:

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today."

The more I think about this passage, the more confusing I find it. Apparently, when he was at boarding school a male teacher put his hand down Dawkins underpants. Dawkins regards this as a pretty minor incident, which I guess it was. But he seems to be asserting three different things at the same time:

1: The incident was relatively trivial in itself — there are much worse things than someone briefly touching your penis without your consent. 

2: The incident was trivial because it didn't do any long term harm. (If it had done harm, it would not have been trivial.)

3: The incident was trivial by the standards of the day. (It would not have been trivial by today's standards.) 

This makes no sense at all. If "long term harm" is the criteria, and if someone touching your willy without your permission doesn't do any long term harm, then a teacher who harmlessly touches a boys willy in 2014 doesn't deserve to be condemned any more than a person who did so in 1954. But can we meaningfully make "long term harm" the criteria? Do we say that one inappropriate grope was okay because the patient suffered no ill effects, but that another inappropriate grope was not okay because the patient did? Is the idea that unwelcome touching didn't cause harm in the 50s but does cause harm now; or that "harm" was the measuring rod back then but now we've dreamed up a better metric? I give up.

The placing of "caning" and "mild pedophilia" in the same bracket it rather telling. Until about 15 years ago, corporal punishment was perfectly legal and socially acceptable. Everyone apart from a handful of utopian crackpots regarded it as a painful fact of life. This is something which society as a whole changed its mind about, rather suddenly. You get the impression that he thinks we've all had a sudden change of mind about sexually interfering with kids. But we haven't. The pervy teacher was breaking the law back then, just as much as he would be today.

I know well enough how Dawkins' minions would defend all this. Because the great man's own experience was trivial, that doesn't mean that there aren't serious experiences as well. If some victims are only in it for the money then it doesn't follow that there are no real victims. Tabloids can create a climate of fear out of proportion to the actual danger. Memory can turn a very trivia event into a more serious one. Perhaps we do tend to infer sinister sexual intentions in perfectly innocent behaviour. Maybe it is perfectly normal for men of different ages to get naked together, and its my dirty mind that has retrospectively read something weird into my P.E teachers behavior. But that's the problem with this kind of riff. The individual elements may be defensible, just. But the  piece as whole  — insinuating connections between victims who report traumatic experiences with urban myths about ignorant peasants who believe in witches and get their Greek coinages muddled up — is very troubling indeed.

Where does "we've got a bee in our bonnet about child abuse" fit into the argument of The God Delusion?

The answer seems to come down to a remark which Dawkins says he once made in a public debate:

"Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was"

("no doubt"...the sneery voice of the municipal jobs-worth: no doubt you are a friend of the band, sir, but you still need a backstage pass)

"the damage was arguably less than the long term psychological damaged inflicted by bringing the child up catholic in the first place."

This is a fairly obviously stupid remark. There are billions of Catholics in the world, and the great majority of them are perfectly happy about being Catholics and have no psychological scars at all. We know this because they have told us so. (If we have to believe the professor when he tells us that beatings and touchings up never did him any harm, we have to believe them when they tell us they are fine with being Catholics. Fair's fair.)

I think that police officers, doctors, social workers, child psychologists, judges and teachers are better placed than biologists to tell us about the long term effects of being sexually abused. I think that if you told them that of course its bad, but its not nearly as bad as mum and dad taking you to Mass on Sunday mornings, they would regard it as a silly, hurtful rhetorical flourish. I think that the writer is aware of this, and has spent three pages saying it-never-did-me-any-harm to soften us up for the big pay off.

The best that can be said is that Dawkins is using the word "abuse" to gratuitously yoke unrelated points together. It is certainly a bad thing to interfere with children sexually. It is almost certainly a bad thing to whack them with sticks. It may be a bad thing to teach them to believe in something which is Not True. It may very well be a Bad Thing to teach them about Hell. It may even be (yawn) that it's Bad Thing to say "Jewish child" if what you mean is "Child with Jewish parents". And "abuse" doesn't mean much more than "doing a bad thing". (Bad tempered tennis players sometimes get docked a point for "racket abuse", don't they?) So I suppose you can say that "telling a child that he might be going to hell" is a form of "child abuse", if you want to: but you haven't said anything, except that you don't approve of it, which we already knew. To say "Oh, you might call what the gym teacher did to you child abuse, but surely the real child abuse is labeling someone a Zoroastrian when they are too young to know the difference between Mazda and Odin" is an empty rhetorical gesture. Politicians do it all the time. "The honorable member speaks of police brutality, but surely real brutality experienced on a day to to day basis by my constituents is the rerouting of the number six bus to Asda on a Wednesday mornings."

Atheists presumably tell their children that granny has died and they are never going to see her again and we are going to put her in a box and burn her and sprinkle the ashes on a rosebush AND ONE DAY THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU AS WELL AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT SO THERE....(FX: Evil laughter). Which seems only marginally better than saying that there is a good chance that Granny has gone to be with Jesus but also a chance that she hasn't and only God knows for sure. I think the best thing is to tell children what you actually believe is true. The one thing I think is pretty definitely wrong is telling children that Granny has gone to be a star in heaven, that one, third on the left — not because you believe it, but because you don't have the courage to tell them what you really do believe. But I wouldn't call it child abuse. I wouldn't say "Being told granny is just dead is worse than feeling that the gym teacher is staring at me in a slightly creepy way." It's a meaningless, like asking which is better, Thomas Hardy or Maltesers.

Read: Where Dawkins Went Wrong --  The Book

Thursday, August 21, 2014


“Good Morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it....

"What do you mean?" said Gandalf. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"

"All of them at once," said Bilbo.

      The Hobbit

A very clever monkey can sometimes work out that if he makes the sign for "want" and the sign for "banana" there is a very good chance that his keeper will give him a banana. 

But human language is more complicated than that. A group of words means something different from what those words mean individually. And that meaning can't be found on a look-up table. It has to do with who is speaking, and who is listening, and where the conversation is happening, and in what tone of voice, and what was said earlier in the conversation, and what was meant by that particular group of words the last 99 times someone said them.

What do the words "I am going to make you an offer you can't refuse" mean?

1: I am going to make you an offer you can't refuse
2: I am going to kill your favourite horse and put the severed head on your pillow
3: I am big fan of 1970s gangster movies

I assume that the answer is "All of them together".

Hobbits understand this kind of thing. Wizards, monkeys and biologists seem not to. Wizards pretend that they can only hear the literal meaning of what you say to them. Words mean what words mean and nothing else. Teach these boys and girls facts; facts alone are what is wanted in life. Try telling a Wizard that, at the end of the day, what makes a good school is happy children and devoted teachers, and the Wizard will ask if those things are not equally important in the morning? (I have mentioned Mr Simon Heffer's guide to the English language before in these column. It is very funny indeed.)

A sensible person might perfectly well criticize "at the end of the day" on stylistic grounds: it's a cliché, it calls to mind a particular kind of sports journalists, and my comment would read better if I'd found a fresher way of expressing it. But at the end of the day, the reality is that the vast majority of people up and down the country would understand perfectly what you meant. ("We could have a very long discussion about what makes a good school, and that discussion would go on all day, but I feel sure that we would eventually reach the following conclusion....") Only a wizard could be confused by it. 

If I were to say "Hello, hello, hello: what's all this then?" I think that most Hobbits would be able to work out what the words mean. They mean something like "I have noticed you, and I want to make it clear that I am keeping and eye on you, although you haven't done anything wrong so far." But if someone does say that, it's most unlikely that that is what they mean. The words, taken together, send out a sort of signal, and they signify something along the lines of: "I am a very old fashioned police officer." But it is most unlikely that they mean that, either. Most likely, they are signalling something like "I am a character in a play which is so old fashioned that the policemen still use this kind of cliché," or, more succinctly, "Ladies and gentlemen, please do not take this play too seriously."  You can't find this out by looking up the word "Hello" in the dictionary, or studying its etymology. You can only find it out by knowing about plays and policemen. The words don't mean what they mean. There isn't anything but social context.

People sometimes use the expression "dog whistles" to describe the practice of planting phrases, innocuous in themselves, into political speeches, which the specific intention of signalling "I am on your side" to a particular segment of their audience. The late Michael Gove communicated almost entirely in signals of this kind. His actual theories about faith schools, classroom management and the examination system were more or less irrelevant: but speeches which contained words like "detention...lines...prefects...latin...eleven entrance exam" signaled to some of his listeners "I am an old fashioned, nostalgic chap who thinks that everything was better in the olden days. Please make me leader of the Conservative Party." 

It may sometimes happen that someone accidentally sends out a signal of this kind without really meaning to. If you do this, the best thing to do is to say "Whoops, sorry, that wasn't what I meant at all". (If the speaker does this, the best thing for everybody else to do is to assume he's telling the truth.) Perhaps I am convinced that a group of Jewish people in Bristol are planning to vote together at a PTA meeting to make local schools celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas. Perhaps I am right. Stranger things have happened. But it would be silly of me to describe the situation as a "Jewish conspiracy". Because the words "Jewish" and "Conspiracy" together signal "I believe in a secret Zionist plot to rule the universe" or more succinctly "I am a racist idiot." 

"Oh, Andrew, so now I am a racist for pointing out that Mr Abrahams and Mr Cohen and Mr Joseph always vote together at school board meetings? But it's true. I can prove that it's true."

I daresay you can. But, by accident or design, you chose to use antisemitic language to express yourself. If it was by accident, then apologize and rephrase your concern using a less loaded phrase. Otherwise, I will continue to believe that you are a racist idiot. Or, at any rate, a wizard.

Read: Where Dawkins Went Wrong --  The Book

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


English is my native language. My words mean what I intend. If you read them differently because of "social context" that's your problem.
               Prof Richard Dawkins

Analogy is to a man arguing on the internet as a banana skin on the pavement is to a fat lady in a silent comedy.

In 2012, One Of Those Clergymen was reported as having said that gay marriage was just as wicked as slavery. He won an award for being the most homophobic man in the UK.

Naturally, this wasn't quite what he had said. What he had said was that his church though gay sex was taboo, on religious grounds, and that he didn't agree with gay people getting married as that gave religious approval to the taboo thing. (He may not have phrased it in quite such temperate language.) People told him that this was okay; he was entitled to his beliefs; no church was going to have to solemnize same-sex marriages if it didn't want to. He retorted that this was neither here nor there: you can't defend legalizing a bad thing on the ground that you aren't making the bad thing compulsory. 

And he was quite right. You can't. "X is not compulsory" is no kind of a response to "X should not be permitted." If you are against bringing back slavery, then you are against bringing back slavery even if you personally won't have to own any slaves if you don't want to. 

Rilstone's third law states that when someone says something very stupid, the internet will immediately claim that they said a different very stupid thing. Rilstone's second law states that the person who points this out will immediately be suspected of agreeing with the very stupid thing that the original person didn't say. When I suggested that, well, no, Father O'Bigot hadn't really said that gays were as wicked as slave owners, the Spartist wing of my fan-base claimed that I was using the concept of analogy to "give him a pass".

I am not entirely sure what "give him a pass" means. We don't use the expression in this country. I think it has to do with American school children getting permission to leave the classroom to go to the toilet.

It is very clear that Father O'Bigot had, in fact, said something very stupid. The analogy between slave-ownership and allowing gay couples to get married in church is a tenuous one. If it is wrong to own slaves, then it is wrong for anyone to own slaves, because slave ownership does obvious harm, mostly to slaves. If you personally believe that gay sex is taboo then it is hard to see how other people doing the taboo thing harms anyone else. (When the equal marriage debate was at its silliest, some religious groups attempted to claim that allow gay couples to get married would somehow make straight couples less married: I don't understand what they meant, and still don't.) 

And he deliberately chose an incendiary example. If what you want to have is a  discussion as opposed to a shouting match, then incendiary examples are not terribly helpful. And if your example is sufficiently toxic, well, naturally, everyone is going to focus on the example, rather than the substantive point, however valid the substantive point might be. If an MP says "I think that Prime Minister should roll up his sleeves and the give the striking dock workers a jolly good black eye, just as he would to his own wife if he got home and she didn't have his dinner ready" then I don't think we would be very surprised if the story in the papers the next day was that an MP appeared to take wife-beating for granted. Even if he had a good point about prosecuting the strikers with utmost severity.  

So. The question before us today is whether or not Prof Richard Dawkins should be allowed to visit the bathroom over his recent twitter pronouncements about sexual assault and pedophilia. 

Read: Where Dawkins Went Wrong -- The Book

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Friday, February 07, 2014

Fluffy Bunnies

The Rabbits of Watership Down are rabbits. They are as rabbitty as Richard Adams can make them. Everything they do is based on real rabbit behaviour. However, Mr Adams asks us to imagine -- well, not imagine, but take for granted as a scholarly fact -- that these rabbits have human intelligence, culture, language, even religion. Well no, not these rabbits -- rabbits in general, and foxes, and sea gulls. How this works we can’t question for a moment. (Could a leoporine mouth even form the syllables El-ahrairah? Is a rabbit brain big enough to develop that kind of consciousness?) It’s funny, actually, how easily our mind accepts this kind of thing. It gets you into philosophical hot water if you aren’t incredibly careful. If a rabbit or a hamster had human consciousness, then obviously vivesection would be wrong. I think Richard Adams develops this fallacy at some length in his later books.

Peter Rabbit is also a rabbit, possibly with a fly upon his nose. And the anthropomorphosiation has gone a lot further than it has in Watership Down. He wears clothes. His daddy smokes a pipe, forsooth. But he also lives in a whole, and steals cabbages from a farmers garden, and if I remember correctly there is an implication that the farmer has sometimes made his relatives into pies. If Watership Down asks us to imagine a world in which rabbits have human minds, the Peter Rabbit books asks us to imagine a world in which, instead of Rabbits, there are tiny, Rabbit shaped people.

Again, we don’t have any trouble getting our heads around this. We don’t say for goodness sake they have culture and language and you are going to put them in a pie what kind of wierdo are you?

The Hare in Aesops Fable is in a lot of ways less animal like than either Hazel and Fiver or Peter Rabbit. I mean, we take it for granted that tortoises and hares can communicate, and place bets, and that owls can adjudicate, and so on and so forth. Peter Rabbit is doing Rabbity things, even if he wears a tam o shanter. You never saw a hare behave remotely like that. But I suppose it doesn’t count; it’s not really a story; it’s just a proverb, with the Hare representing “fast thing” and the tortoise representing “slow thing.”.

Bugs Bunny isn’t a rabbit. In fact the only rabbity thing about him his the carrot, and that is pretty much only there to be a place holder for a cigar, so that he can be a sort of caricature of Groucho Marx. He isn’t even really rabbit shaped, any more than one of those childs drawings of a cat looks anything like a cat. But we sort of accept that that’s the way rabbits look in cartoons. In the days when people used to watch Walt Disney cartoons, they used to ask “What Kind of An Animal Is Goofy”? The answer is, well, he isn’t really any kind of animal, and it wouldn’t make any difference if he was. I think there used to be a rabbit in the Disney Mythos, but it was retconned out during the crisis. There is a famous example of false memory syndrome in which subjects are persuaded to believe that they met Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, even though Bugs Bunny isn’t owned by Disney, or wasn’t then. But cartoons are probably a different thing and I have run out of rabbits.

Okay, then, bears. Paddington Bear is clearly not a bear. He wears clothes, talks English and although he causes chaos wherever he goes, its the sort of chaos that a very naughty child would cause, not the sort of chaos that would occur if a large South American carnivore got loose on and English Railway station. There is pretty much nothing bear like about him at all. There is a vague memory of the fact that bears (proverbially) like honey in Paddington’s liking for marmalade, I suppose.

Does anyone but me remember Mary Plain? She was a sort of proto-Paddington, a two legged bear who could talk English living in a suburban home. But she mostly did human things -- enter fancy dress competitions, join the boy scouts, and, after the series had jumped the entirely non anthropomorphic shark, solved a mystery and get shipwrecked on a desert island.

I suppose Yogi bear is more like Peter Rabbit. He wears clothes and talks and can interact with the human world when he needs to, but he retains one specific bear-type attribute: he lives on a nature reserve, and steals goodies from visitors picnics.

The least bear like of all is Rupert the Bear (everyone sing his name). He is, basically, not a bear. He isn’t even a teddy bear. He is twelve year old boy with a bear’s head; whose friends are twelve year old children with elephants heads and badgers heads. I don’t recall that he even particularly likes honey. Cartoonist Alfred Bestall said that you couldn’t ever send Rupert to the seaside, because putting Rupert in a bathing costume would force you to address the question of weather he is furry all over.

One can see the point of Yogi Bear being Yogi Bear rather than Yogi Naughty Petty Thief Man. His relationship to the touritsts, on the one paw, and the park ranger, on the other, sort of reflects that of an actual bear to and actual tourist. (On my one visit to an American national park I was warned to hang any food out of reach of the bears or put it in a metal crate, so evidentally its a thing.) It’s like Tom and Jerry who are really cat like and mouse like only in so far as the former chases the latter. But what’s the point of making the comical protagonist of Paddington a bear shaped child, rather than, say, a child?

I never quite understood why clever men like C.S Lewis and A.A Milne and Pink Floyd were quite so keen on WInd in the Willows. I’m not sure I ever got to the end of it. I think Lewis was right about why Mr Toad had to be a toad rather than and English country gentleman, even though he’s obviously an English country gentleman and not a toad. If he was a human, he would have to have servants and employees and we’d have to at least have a hint about where his money came from. As long as he’s an animal, we can sort of skate over that. (Lewis thinks he’s both a child and an adult: a child in that food sort of just turns up and no-one asks where it came from; and adult in that he gets to choose what he wants to do and there’s no-one to tell him off.) And the shape of a toad’s face is a sort of fixed caricature of a certain kind of human. I don’t think that there is any reason to suppose that Owls are wise, particularly; I don’t even know if they are cleverer than other birds of prey. But they are always wise in stories because the big eyes look like we imagine a wise human ought to look. So stories about animal-shaped humans lend themselves to a kind of fable where everyone has a more or less fixed personality and it can’t really develop. (A.A Milne said that you only had to look at the toy pig and the toy donkey and the toy tiget to see their personalities -- timid and gloomy and bouncy.

In that sense, Star Trek is more like an animal fable than anything else, isn’t it? The different “races” representing a different fixed kind of human personality; or possibly a different aspect of one individuals make up -- The Klingon representing “The soldier” as much as The Owl represents “the Wise”. Which is why it’s so besider the point to read anti-semitism into Deep Space Nine.

But while this may be a literary effect of anthropomorphic animals, I don’t think it’s actually the reason. It is perfectly true that if a child behaved like Paddington Bear, he would get punished or injured or given pills. (If an adult behaved that way, he’d be arrested or put in a home.) This is not to say that you can’t do stories about naughty or accident prone children in a realistic setting, but they either have to get some sort of comeuppance, like Dennis the Menace, or they have to be devious enough to avoid it, like Just William, which introduces an element of cynicism which isn’t funny. Or which is funny in a different way: more sophisticated, less innocent. But I don’t suppose for one moment that Michael Bond said to himself that he wanted to write a story about the kind of child who floods the bathroom the first time he needs a wash, but then thought it wouldn’t be that funny if a child did that kind of thing and then thought I know I’ll make him a bear instead. He started to tell a story about a bear. That’s what’s odd, in way. Once we start to tell stories about bears or rabbits it somehow becomes natural that they wear duffle coats and tam o shanters and like honey and marmalade. We almost can’t look at an animal without anthropomorphising it.

I hope this has been helpful to all those who have been so seriously confused and perplexed by recent pronouncements. I admit that I was surprised to find out that Hello Kitty had a personality or backstory. I assumed it was just something that existed to be stamped on note paper and teeshirts. But I can’t see how anyone could possibly have been surprised by the information that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Of course it isn’t. Anymore than Bugs Bunny is a Rabbit or Pooh is a bear.

Friday, November 22, 2013

29 Nov 1898 - 22 Nov 1963

Dear Miss Douglas

Thanks for your kind note. Yes autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn't last.

Yours Sincerely

C.S Lewis

Letter dated "31 Sep 63"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Today's Guardian essay about C.S Lewis contained all the usual distortions by all the usual suspects. If anyone but me is still interested in the Historical Lewis, the following may possibly be helpful:

Sam Leith (journalist)
Susan appears to be punished for entering adolescence and develping an interest in lipstick by exclusion from what in the Narnia mythos passes for heaven.

C.S Lewis
"Susan is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations."
      The Last Battle


A.S Byatt
There was a terrifying moment in the Screwtape Letters where the devil is trying to tempt somebody into thinking milk is disgusting because it comes from somewhere in the cow quite close to excrement. I think that was a personal thing of Lewis's I think he didn't like milk because he didn't like females.

C.S Lewis
Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailer said as he put down the pipkin. "Our relations with the cow are not delicate, as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions."

"Thank heaven! Now I know you are talking nonsense."

"What do you mean?" said the jailer, wheeling round upon him.

"You are trying to make us believe that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of things as sweat or dung."

"And pray, what difference is there except by custom?"

"Are you a liar, or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which nature stores up as food and that which she casts out as refuse...?"
     The Pilgrim's Regress


Phillips Pullman
He pours scorn on little girls with fat legs....among Lewis's readers will be some little girls with fat legs who find themselves utterly bewildered by this slur on something they cants help and are embarrassed and upset by already.

C.S Lewis
Then (Miss Pizzle) saw the lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled he class, who were mostly prim, dumpy little girls with fat legs.
     Prince Caspian


A.N Wilson
For 33 years he shared his life with the woman he called Minto, Jane Moore. She was the love of his life.

George Sayer
Some of those who have written about C.S Lewis regard his living with Mrs Moore and Maureen as odd, even sinister. This was not the view of those of us who visited the Kilns in the thirties...Like other pupils I thought it completely normal in those days that a woman, probably a widow, would make a home for a young bachelor. We had no difficulty in excepting her, even when we came to realise that she was not his mother.
     C.S Lewis: His Life and Times


A.N Wilson
C.S Lewis hated all poets because he was a failed poet. He hated TS Eliot. He hated Louis MacNiece. There's a very bad 'poem' by Lewis about reading The Love Song of J ALfred Prufrock and it just shows how stupid he was about modern poetry.

C.S Lewis
I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening - any evening - would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn't able.
     A Confession

This 1929 satire is not Lewis's last word on modernism, as Wilson very well knows: 

C.S Lewis
To read the old poetry involved learning a slightly different language; to read the new involves the unmaking of your mind, the abandonment of all the logical and narrative connections which you use in reading prose or in conversation. You must achieve a trance-like condition in which images, associations, and sounds operate without these. Thus the common ground between poetry and any other use of words is reduced almost to zero. In that way poetry is now more quintessentially poetical than ever before; 'purer' in the negative sense. It not only does (like all good poetry) what prose can't do: it deliberately refrains from doing anything that prose can do.
     An Experiment in Criticism

Modern poetry is such that the cognoscenti who explicate it can read the same piece in utterly different ways. We can no longer assume all but one of these readings, or else all, to be 'wrong'. The poem, clearly, is like a score and the readings like performances. Different renderings are admissible. The question is not which is the 'right' one but which is the best. The explicators are more like conductors of an orchestra than members of an audience.

In music we have pieces which demand more talent in the performer than in the composer. Why should there not come a period when the art of writing poetry stands lower than the art of reading it? Of course rival readings would then cease to be "right" or "wrong" and become more and less brilliant "performances".
     De Descriptione Temporum

I do not see in any of these the slightest parallel to the state of affairs disclosed by a recent symposium on Mr. Eliot's Cooking Egg. Here we find seven adults (two of them Cambridge men) whose lives have been specially devoted to the study of poetry discussing a very short poem which has been before the world for thirty-odd years; and there is not the slightest agreement among them as to what, in any sense of the word, it means. I am not in the least concerned to decide whether this state of affairs is a good thing, or a bad thing. I merely assert that it is a new thing.

if this sort of thing interests you then you could always buy my book on C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and related subjects....

Monday, November 04, 2013

Whoot, whoot!


NEWSFLASH: The book will also contain rejigged and repurposed versions of the DVD reviews I did for Sci Fi Now -- they helpfully plug some of the gaps in my Whoblogging (mostly around Tennant's third season) and mean that the Viewer's Complete Tale will really be the Viewer's COMPLETE Tale.

£2050 UNLOCKED -- Bookplate by folkbuddy Clarrie
£2150 UNLOCKED -- Internal illustrations by folkbuddy Clarrie
£2200 UNLOCKED-- Facsimiles of rare Rilstone Whovian juvenilia.
£2400 -- Cover by Whovian artist 2ndFADE
NEW £2500 -- Andrew will perform "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" on his ukulele

So basically...if you haven't pledged for the book yet, its looking like a nicer and nicer thing every minute...

Sunday, November 03, 2013

There are more stretch goals!

£2050 UNLOCKED -- Bookplate by folkbuddy Clarrie
£2150 UNLOCKED -- Internal illustrations by folkbuddy Clarrie
£2200 -- Facsimiles of rare Rilstone Whovian juvenilia.
£2400 -- Cover by Whovian artist 2ndFADE

So basically...if you haven't pledged for the book yet, its looking like a nicer and nicer thing every minute...

And there may just possibly be last minute announcement still to come.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Year One

This is what I had to say all those years ago, when Doctor Who had just returned to our screens.

If you want me to carry on writing about Doctor Who then please, please back my kickstarter (and get a huge shiny collection of 400 pages of Whovian analysis, old and new, to put on your shelf next to Das Kapital.)






Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pink Yeti

I would not care to read that book again.
It so exactly mingled with the mood
Of those impressionable years that now
I might be disillusioned.
         John Betjeman

I remember when Tomb of the Cybermen was lost. 

I also remember when Tomb of the Cybermen was found. 

I remember being surprised — disappointed, even — that it was released on VHS almost immediately it was rediscovered. Knowing it existed was one thing. Actually watching it was a step too far. Watching it on my little TV, sitting on my threadbare sofa, drinking instant coffee from my chipped Winnie-the-Pooh mug, aware that at any moment one of my flat mates might walk in on me was almost — I don’t know — a desecration. 

Ordinary people can now watch Tomb of the Cybermen. 

People who have not been through the purgatory of thinking that they will never see the greatest Doctor Who story of all can watch Tomb of the Cybermen. People for whom Tomb of the Cybermen is just a very old black and white television programme. 

I remember seeing a batch of old Doctor Who episodes at the National Film Theater in London. Someone wrote a letter to one of the fanzines, said the compère (Jeremy Bentham or someone of that sort) saying that it was all very nice for the BBC to have recovered parts 5 and 10 of the Daleks Master Plan but that wasn’t much use if we were never going to get to see them. Aha, he said, but tonight you are going to see them. 

And see them we did, with proper awe, up there on the big screen. I remember feeling sort of elated and sort of scared and sort of surprised that characters who I had read about for almost the whole of my conscious existence — Mavic Chen and the Meddling Monk — were there. On the screen. Characters played by actors. In what could only be described as an episode of Doctor Who. 

The problem was not that these stories were lost. It was more tantalizing than that. They existed, in a box in TV Center, but we would never get to see them because the actors union (not unreasonably, according to its lights, by the standards of the time, not knowing then what we know now) thought that endless repeats of ancient TV would put real-life actors out of work, and because the BBC (not unreasonably, according to its lights) didn’t think anyone was that interested in old black and white television anyway. (Everyone agrees that television was better in the olden days, and everyone wishes they would bring back Fanny Craddock and the Dennis Potter’s Wheel but everyone hates repeats.)  So between about 1963 and about 1981, characters like “Susan” and “Jamie” and “Zoe” and monsters like the Cybermen and the Yeti existed only in the collective memory and the collective imagination of fandom. Old fans remembered. Young fans fed off the memories of old fans. That was the natural order of things.

I wasn’t a great reader of the Target novels but I was a great devourer of Doctor Who Appreciation Society literature — Story Information Files (STINFOs), typed synopses of old stories you could buy for the cost of the photocopying. (Photocopying is a constant, like the speed of light. Wherever you are in the world, and whenever you lived, it is always exactly 5p a sheet.) I can remember sitting with a calculator trying to work out what it would cost to get the whole lot. Those early reference documents did not always tell you a great deal about the tone or genre of an episode: it was important that the Doctor had visited the Trojan War and that he had been present at the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, but not that the former story was very much a spoof and the latter story was a pretty serious and rather un-Who-like drama. “Sara Kingdom” and “Brett Vyon” and "The Monk" were the intersection of several sets of bullet points; the only companion ever to be killed; the person played by the Brigadier before he became the Brigadier; the first Time Lord apart from the Doctor ever to appear in the programme. 

It’s a bit like hearing that the physical remains of Richard Plantagenet might (or might not) have been dug up in a car-park. A collection of dates and principle events, yes; a set of lines made up by Shakespeare, obviously; but a bloke? With a skeleton? Not so much. As Protestants, we are supposed to think of the veneration of holy relics as graven images and taking other gods before God, or at the very least, something over-excitable Italians do and sensible Anglicans do not. Not that Richard the Third was a saint. I feel the same way about the photos of the dead Lenin and the dead Jesse James, embalmed and frozen. You mean they used to be people? 

Alas, poor Yorick. 

I remember Longleat, and the big excitement about Longleat was that there would be Old Episodes. In fact, when Longleat was first announced, it was said that they would be showing all the extant episodes, one after the other, for the whole of the weekend. Which made some of us think — is it going to be possible to attach ourselves to a viewing tent for 72 hours and just never leave? All of Doctor Who, in one go, finally. I remember about the same time one of those art house cinemas in London announcing that it was going to start with episode 1 of Flash Gordon and then show episode 2 of Flash Gordon and carry on through the night for as long as there was at least one awake person who wanted to see Flash Gordon. I saw all three Star Wars films in one go, twice. It’s what we did before boxed sets.

In the event, they had a set programme of viewings — Dalek Invasion Earth, Terror of the Autons, buggered if I can remember what else, I am sure I must have watched it. I still think that the scene in which Barbara pushes Dortmun through the deserted streets of London in his wheelchair is one of the most dramatic in the canon. But perhaps you had to be in a tent, in a safari park, with John Leeson reading out parish notices on the tannoy, to get the full impact. I think that was only the second Hartnell story I saw. I saw it with an audience, and they let members of the general public into Longleat, people who didn’t know that they were in the presence of something sacred and holy that I had waited all my life to see, and some of them laughed — laughed — when the Doctor threatens to smack Susan’s bottom which is NOT FUNNY, okay? 

I even remember an exhibition at the Science Museum. Not the special effects exhibition in about 1972 which had a TARDIS console and some monsters and badge saying "TARDIS COMMANDER" which I may still have and which is probably worth silly huge money; the exhibition about the history of television, from John Loki-Beer downwards with wall charts and interactive displays about photons. There were replicas of your typical English dining room from each decade from the 1930s to the 1970s, with a television set from each period in the corner, showing clips of typical TV shows from that decade — the Coronation of Muffin the Mule or Jim'll Fixit or whatever.  For the 60s there was a tiny little clip of the first couple of minutes of Episode I of the War Games and we went specially and stood and stared at it in wonder and let it loop over and over the first time Patrick Troughton had ever been a real person unless you count the Three Doctors and that was already a very long time ago. 

And, of course, above all, I remember Unearthly Child, shown at the first Doctor Who convention I ever went to, which was, I think, the second Doctor Who convention there ever was. And — I’ve written about this before — but the moment when Ian opens the door and says “but-it-was-only-a-police-box” and the moment when the TARDIS takes off and the programme itself appears to go completely bonkers for about three minutes is the moment when I became, irrevocably, a Doctor Who fan as opposed to a Tom Baker fan or a person who liked the Wombles, the Tomorrow People, Spider-Man and Doctor Who. 

And then video recorders transitioned from being strange, strange objects, owned by fabulously rich uncles and possibly the science department and became things which nearly everybody had one of. And there was a day when we first heard that someone had bought a copy of their favourite movie (Gone With the Wind, possibly) on what was quaintly called a pre-recorded tape for a fabulous amount of money, and we all said, however much you like the film, what would be the point of owning a copy of it, and gradually, there were shops which sold tapes and shops which rented tapes and you had to remember to rewind them. The first Doctor Who story was The Five Doctors, but then, quite early, they put out the original seven part Dalek story. From a strange, half remembered artefact hidden away in vault, to something which anyone could put on their shelf. 

Did it take the aura away? Did it take the magic away? Of course it did. Of course it did. Should we slightly regret the passing of those days and wonder if it wouldn’t be better is — just picking an example off the top of my head — Web of Fear stayed lost forever? 

There is no doubt that Jeremy Bentham had built up Tomb of the Cybermen to be some sort of transcendent classic; the best thing ever to appear on TV; on a level with Citizen Kane, if not the Ring Cycle. Once you actually see it, you discover that — however good — it is only a Doctor Who story, with silly cliffhangers and baddies who spik mit da zilly accent and men dressed up as monsters who menace pretty ladies in corridors.

Would it have been better to have seen that clip of the Cybermen defrosting and left it at that? Would it have been better to have read the novel; imagined the special effects in our mind; and never found out that at least one of the doors in the cybertomb seems to have been made out of cardboard and cooking foil? (It is not true to that the sets wobble. The sets do not wobble. The sets never wobbled. But cardboard and cooking foil to say nothing of bubble wrap and lava lamps; yes, quite often.) Would it have been better to have just had the factual bullet points to store away in your personal Who Canon: Twenty Third Century, cyber tomb discovered on Telos, cyber leader has new kind of handlebars on his ears? 

The people who I have the most sympathy for are the ones who were born in 1955; who were terrified to death by the One And Only showing of Web Planet when they were twelve and are afraid that seeing it again might spoil it all.

I remember the Tomorrow People. The Tomorrow People was a rather serious, scary TV show; in which older children got into genuinely frightening adventures in a complicated science fictional universe. A few years ago I watched a DVD of the first story. Only the first story. In the intervening years, everything had got smaller. The mature young people, so much older than me, were little kids who read out their lines in a style which made Matthew Waterhouse look like Ralph Richardson; scary alien robots looked as if they came out of Christmas crackers. Everyone had absurd 70s haircuts and jeans; and occasionally earnest discussions about war and peace and English education made you want to crawl under a chair with embarrassment. The title sequence is still superb; but someone had come and coloured it in; and the garish shininess was much less spooky than the atmospheric shades of grey. Something was also lost when the Clangers went from documentary grey to sherbet fountain pink. 

“Spoil” is an interesting word. I know that I was scared and moved by the Tomorrow People when I was eight. But seeing it again may force me to change “The was this scary moving TV show called the Tomorrow People” to “When I was small, even something as ridiculous and amateurish as the Tomorrow People scared and moved me”. I suppose that’s the fear: you thought that Web of Fear had a warm, magical glow; and it will turn out that everything had a warm, magical glow because you were pointing a torch at everything. It is, I suppose, a good argument for only doing everything for the first time. 

Does this happen in other fandoms? Are there people who think that if you were overwhelmed by the Choral Symphony when you were fourteen, you should never listen to the Choral Symphony again? There are certainly people who think that you should only listen to Sgt Pepper on a scratchy, dusty, mono vinyl.

Time changes texts. Wallpaper that you didn’t even notice in 1970 becomes literally the only thing you can see in 2013 — “oh my god did even little old ladies decorate their houses like hippies back then”. Hamlet didn’t sound evocatively grand and olde worlde when Shakespeare wrote it — it sounded daringly contemporary. The meaning of Web of Fear will forever be bound up with its having been shown once and then not seen for nearly fifty years; just as the meaning of Amock Time is bound up with our sense that in the 1970s and 80s, television consisted of nothing but endless bloody Star Trek reruns. 

If you are a little boy, hunched over the STINFO files, regarding the Cybermark Services loose-leaf part-work as holy writ, then there is perhaps no question. Doctor Who episodes, like Doctor Who annuals and TARGET novels, are basically a source of information about the Doctor Who universe. I remember seeing Dead Planet for the first time (also at the N.F.T, I think) in a state of heightened awareness, trying to take in every detail, because I had previously read about Skaro and now I was observing it first hand. The point about seeing the tentacle at the end of episode two or possibly three was not that was a fantastically dramatic cliffhanger — it was that I was getting a hint, maybe my only hint, about what the Daleks creature actually looked like. 

I remember seeing Tomb of the Cybermen for the first time, and the experience was only slightly disappointing, and part of that disappointment was “I will never be able to see it for the first time again.” (This is why some fans want to have parties and conventions and bottle of champagne for Day of the Doctor, so the moment of the 50th Anniversary will always be important in their head; while others are almost inclined to go to a concert on Saturday night and slink back and watch it quietly by myself, not because we don’t think the 50th Anniversary is important but because we do.) I was surprised that the opening scene of the explorers and the space ship and the quarry seemed quite gritty and serious, like proper TV drama, more like Blake's 7 than Doctor Who, and I admit that if Blake's 7 was my touchstone for proper TV drama there was probably not much hope for me. And the big scenes in the Cybertomb did and do pack a punch: there seems to have been a point in Season 6 where the Doctor Who crew had nailed the Great Big Set Piece, whether it was Dalek factories or a million cyberboots tramping over the moon. The defrosting of the cyberpeople felt big in a way that Doctor Who hadn’t felt before and rarely felt again. On the other hand, I sat through episode 1 and 2, the slow exploration of the Tomb, the slow exposition of not very interesting puzzles, and thinking was THIS the context in which all those great clips happened? And I still don’t see what’s so great about Michael Kilgariff as the Cybercontroller, apart from his being tall. In the end, it’s the atmosphere which carries the story: the skull like face of the Cyberleader with the frost still on him; the Cyber-Symbol on the doors. The Old Fans told us that the Cyber-rats were the most terrifying thing ever; but they weren’t. 

One thinks of Mr C.S Lewis’s idea of “plot” being only ever a net in which you try to catch an idea or an atmosphere. There were and have been other stories about scary silver robots with handlebars on their heads; this is the one that seemed to catch the idea of the cybermen.

But what I took away from the story was the scene I didn’t even know was in it: the Doctor comforting Victoria, whose father died in the previous story (killed by “those horrible Dalek creatures), and opening up to her about his own family, in a way that he rarely had to any other companion. So much of it is a character piece — the Doctor being kind to Victoria; the Doctor taking the mickey out of Jamie; and indeed the Doctor’s big scene with Eric Clegg ("Oh, so you are completely mad, I just wanted to make sure”). The Troughton Era, by which we really mean the Troughton/Hines era is about the chemistry between those two actors, on that stage, at that time, recorded for us, to watch us often as we like. In particular, it’s about Patrick Troughton, over a period of three years, figuring out who the Doctor is and setting down the template which his nine successors have pretty much stuck to. And I didn't even know that was there. It isn't the sort of thing which shows up in summaries and bullet points and fan histories of the Cybermen, jolly though they can sometimes be. But it is very nearly the whole of what Old Who (Real Who) was – indeed of what Television was, for half a century. 

Your memory of being scared by the yeti was never real; and even if it was you can’t get it back; the actors acting was and you can. 

So, in short. I’m waiting for the DVD and a remake of the Clangers is the worst idea I’ve ever heard.