Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Last Jedi: first impressions.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a mess. 

The atmosphere at 4AM in Screen 7 of the Cabots Circus Showcase was subdued. Not Phantom Menace subdued ("I piss on the evil of that film”) but still subdued. We had almost definitely seen something mostly very good; but there was a lingering sense of disappointment. Of having been cheated. 

I kept hearing expressions like “mad” and “crazy”. 

Some people are already comparing this film with the Empire Strikes Back. It’s the middle volume of the trilogy, don’t you know. And it’s about the Rebels, strike that, Resistance falling back and trying not to be annihilated, and an ice planet, and walkers, and the main character spends most of the film isolated from the action and learning the ways of the Force from an incredibly irritating Jedi Master. 

Sad thing is; I agree with them. The last time I felt this way was in the Leicester Square Odeon one afternoon in 1980. Yes, the walkers were great, and yes, the green muppet Jedi was great, and yes, the fight on the bridge was great, and yes, the Bounty Hunters, and yes the big reveal at the end, so why am I feeling this overwhelming sense of disappointment? 

I have always been an apologist for the Prequels. No, there is no need to list their deficits again; I know them and I largely agree with you. But I can see what Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are doing and I think it is largely what they ought to have been doing even though I wish that they had been doing it better. 

I am not sure what The Last Jedi was trying to do. I am far from sure that whatever it was trying to do was what the eighth Star Wars movie ought to have been doing. But I am in no doubt at all that it did it very well. 

I assume that there must be someone who signs off on new Star Wars movies — if not George Lucas any more than some Franchise Runner? It cannot surely be that in a universe this size and a franchise this expensive very big decisions about which major characters live and which major characters die and who turns out to be who’s cousin are decided on a case by case basis by whoever happens to be producing this episode? 

Surely the final fate of Luke Skywalker —  and wild horses would not make me reveal what his final fate is, although irritating sparkly goats might persuade me to hint that it is not actually anything terribly interesting — surely the final fate of Luke Skywalker is decided by someone with an over-arching plan? Someone who knows where the Saga is headed? Surely after forty years and nine movies it doesn’t come down to someone called Johnson deciding, about six months ago, what might make a cool scene?

The Last Jedi doesn’t feel like a sequel to The Force Awakens: it feels like a repudiation of it: as if Rian Johnson has his own quite different vision of what a Star Wars film should be and takes on J.J Abrams’ characters only reluctantly.

The Force Awakens ends with Rey offering Anakin’s lightsaber — by now a literal holy relic — to Luke. The question left hanging is “will he take it, or not.” The Last Jedi begins with Luke taking the lightsaber.., and throwing it in the sea. (It is rescued by penguins. They are not referred to as Porgs anywhere in the film, but then, neither were the Ewoks.) This raises a laugh from the audience. It doesn’t feel to me as if Abrams set up a joke and Johnson delivered the punchline two years later. It feels to me as if Abrams left the story at a great big dramatic crux and Johnson chose to undercut it. 

There is nothing wrong with a Star Wars movie making the audience laugh. But this humour is too meta-textual: too dependent on shifts of register and gentle pushes at the fourth wall. This feels quite wrong. For Luke to have discovered a small cache of foundational Jedi texts is one thing; for him to realize that these dry old manuscripts do not contain the truth he is seeking is another; but for a character — I won’t tell you who, but they were a major supporting character in the old films and we weren’t necessarily expecting them to crop up here — to say “Page-turners they are not” is something else again. 

It’s the wrong sort of humour. Ewoks and Gungans to this undercutting of the material prefer I do. 

And, at risk of being incredibly geeky: anyone who has ever played the Star Wars RPG knows that there is no paper in the Star Wars universe. This is not, of course, a very big deal: but if you are always being reminded that bar-tenders use portable computers to tell you what your bill is and that messages are sent by hologram, not carrier pigeon, then you can’t forget that this is an alien galaxy, very different from our own. (Of course, Luke could have explained to Rey that these are strange ancient things called books made of a substance called paper. But he didn’t.) 

When Finn and a new character whose name I didn’t catch run off on what can only be described as a side quest to an alien casino we see aliens being served drinks in martini glasses and tea in cups and saucers. Is that the best we can come up with to indicate wealth and sophistication – Martini and Tea? Back in ‘76 one of the cool things about Star Wars was the blue milk. Milk just happens to be blue and no-one comments and nothing follows because we aren’t in Kansas any more. 

Does Johnson basically not get Star Wars? Did the keeper of the holocron never take him to one side and quietly explain it to him? 

The Force Awakens was criticized for being a little too safe and conservative, so it is perhaps unfair to criticize The Last Jedi for veering a little too far towards the unexpected. But we have reasonable expectations about what should happen in a Star Wars movie — obligatory scenes — and leaving those scenes out seems borderline sinful. If you’ve cast Mark Hamil and Carrie Fisher in the same movie than for George’s sake give them some screen time together. If a Major Character got killed off in the last film, then spend some time showing us how it affected his big furry companion. (Until next years ill-advised Han Solo movie comes out we aren’t going to know if the “Wookie Life Debt” thing is canon: but I would like it not to have been quite so much taken for granted that now Han is dead Chewie automatically stays with the rebel humans.) 

I suppose the original sin was committed in the opening seconds of Episode VII. What we want — what we need — is to see Luke in the Obi Wan Kenobi role: as the wise old man accompanying the kids on their adventures. But Abrams decision to make him the McGuffin of the first movie pretty much guarantees that he can’t be anything other than the Yoda of this one. He’s detached from the action, having very little dialogue with anyone apart from Rey. His major plot arc (which I don’t buy for one second) takes place in a few isolated flashbacks, which have the distinct look of having been added at quite a late stage in the proceedings. 

I know I am going to get punched for saying this: but I kept thinking of the Lone Ranger. This is not quite as rude as it may sound: I didn’t hate the Lone Ranger nearly as much as you presumably did. But both movies have the same feeling of vast, expansive splurging; of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks; of arguments between creatives and studios that were never quite resolved; of changes of direction part way through; the absence of a singular vision of what kind of a movie this is meant to be. Several times characters are on the point of laying down their lives nobly to save their friends when they unexpectedly get rescued, or turn out to be less dead then we thought, in ways that don’t give the impression that our hero has affected a dramatic hairsbreadth cliffhanger escape, so much as the impression that one writer wanted to kill them off and another writer overruled him at the last moment. 

We know what we want from a new Star Wars movie. We want the chance to play Star Wars one more time — to pretend to pilot and X-Wing, to pretend to be in the Rebel Alliance, to see all the great big ships crash together and explode. But we also want it to be the next chapter of the Saga, the unfolding of some more of the history of the Skywalker clan, revelations about who is who’s father which raise even deeper questions. What does the title mean? Who is the last Jedi? And why? But while it’s doing those things, it also has to be a good film: a film which hangs together and makes structural sense. 

The Last Jedi unequivocally succeeds in the first area. It’s the most visually exciting Star Wars movie we’ve so far seen. Po Dameron is basically what happens when Luke Skywalker and Han Solo get smashed together: the charming rogue whose also a hot young fighter pilot. The opening scene, in which Po takes on a Star Destroyer with a single X-Wing is fun in the way that the Death Star Run was fun in 1977. (It also feels like the kind of stunt which a player character with too many Force Points might have pulled.) 

I would say that the film pretty much crashes and burns in the second department. The Force Awakens left us with a series of big, interesting questions; and fans have spent two years coming up with more or less interesting answers for them. Johnson doesn’t merely fail to answer the questions – he seems actively uninterested in them. No, madam: I do not in fact think that The Last Jedi ought to have included long disputations about the fuel to speed ratio of the Millennium Falcon. There are, indeed, some things which are of interest to fans but of no interest to the general viewer. But I do think questions like “Who is Snoke? Why is he so powerful?” would occur both to fans and to people who have never owned a single Star Wars action figure.

As to the question of whether it is a good film or not… Well, I come back to where I started. The Last Jedi is a mess. Some of the material is good (the Great Big Space Battles) some of it is rather disappointing the entire Luke/Rey plot) and some of it – the whole Casino sequence – makes you drop your jaw and ask “Did I go to sleep and wake up in an entirely different movie?” I think that there is so much action and plot movement and aliens and jokes that the non-action-figure-purchasing community will like it very much indeed. But I think that a very large number of fans – people with an element of buy-in to the Star Wars milieu – are going to say “Yes...but wait a minute… what?” 

We have asked the question “What is the difference between fan fiction and any other kind of fiction?” several times in the past. In the end, it is (I am truly sorry) a question of canon. You are quite free to imagine in your head what should have happened to Luke Skywalker after The Return of the Jedi; and I am quite free to imagine it in mine. But what the Last Jedi imagines happens to Luke Skywalker after Return of the Jedi will now effect every Star Wars film comic book and novel for as long as they carry on making Star Wars films, comic books and novels. And it doesn’t seem to realize this; or spot why it matters. 

I think that history may show that The Last Jedi has damaged the integrity of the Star Wars saga much more irrevocably than Phantom Menace ever did.

Like what I have to say?

Pledge $1 an essay. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Some Slave Traders Were Very Fine People, Apparently.

New readers start here:

The Bristol Post has given three column of its letters page over to a carefully researched essay by three academics, enumerating Edward Colston's investments in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and his profits from it, in great detail.

I refuse to be brow-beaten into submission and belittled, just because my views are different to university academics. I have a right to express my view... I suspect Roger Ball and Mark Steeds have a totally different mind set and agenda...Lets not forget that Marx, Trotsky and Lenin were all academics. Also Maclean, Burgess, Philby, Blunt and Caincross were all Cambridge University academics...
David Whittern.

I now realize those attacking the Colston name are just creating urban myth, where half truths and outright misinformation, if repeated enough, becomes accepted as fact, which it is not. There are those of a certain political persuasion who are very adept at creating these myths, and use the media very effectively. This is very much like social media fake news. Edward Colston's name has been much maligned by those with a particular agenda. Clearly our Georgian and Victorian forefathers knew much more of the truth of his conversion and good works. (*)
Also David Whittern

Notwithstanding his connections with the slave trade, my recent letters on the subject have always supported keeping Colston's name (warts and all) as an integral facet of what it means to be a dyed-in-the-wool Bristolian.
R L Smith

...Without sounding flippant I nominate "The Colston Hall" [as a new name] -- for that is what the venue will be forever known to me and thousands of other real Bristolians. It irks me that right-on, politically correct, middle-class softies who, after studying at the University, like it so much here that they decide to make Bristol their home, then start wanting to change our history. I can't remember a time when I didn't know of Colston...but I have never wanted to whitewash him out of our history (pun intended). Name one city that doesn't have a murky past? What next, is the Hatchet to be demolished because naughty pirates used to drink there? {**} My point is, I an proud to be Bristol born and bred and I have never wanted to leave, and this may sound infantile, but if you don't like it here, then clear off to Shoreditch with the other dreamers.
Name and address supplied.

(*)The idea that Colston was, like Newton, a Christian convert who was ashamed of having been a slaver forms no part of the Victorian Colston cult, and seems to have been invented by apologists since the Great Hall Kerfuffle -- i.e in the last eight months.

(**) It is true that there has been a pub on the site of the Hatchet since 1606, and the current owners claim that Blackbeard drank there -- although since nothing is known of Blackbeard's life before his alliance with Hornigold in 1716, it's hard to know where they get this information from. If Edward Teach really was a former customer of the Hatchet, he was a good deal more than naughty. Need it be added that no-one is proposing the demolition of Colston Hall.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Stand Down

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Last Star Wars Article

Where do we go when we watch Star Wars?

We know where we go when we watch Doctor Who. No such place ever actually existed, but everyone claims to have been there. It was a very long time ago: everything was black and white. We were very small: small enough to fit into the interstices between walls and furniture. TVs were very big. Pieces of furniture in shared family spaces, not electronic toys in our private rooms. “Putting on the TV” was a positive choice. The pictures were both real and not real. We wanted to look at them and hide from them at the same time. Middle-class. Suburban. Domestic. Ubiquitous. Safe.

Modern Doctor Who has written about that space almost obsessively, but it has never remotely taken us there. 

Yoda voice: That is why it fails.

Where do we go when we watch Star Wars?

There are AT-AT Walkers: new AT-AT Walkers that walk on their knuckles and something in the background that might be a floating galleon but might only be an Imperial Shuttle.

The Walkers arrived in Empire Strikes Back. They were a replacement for the Death Star. Never quite as magical. But magical just the same.

There are white alien goats on a snowy background. I suppose if there are Walkers there has to be Snow. First films have Sand and Second films have Snow. The third film will go back to Jakku, you mark my words.

The Millennium Falcon is being chased through a fiery red cave by TIE Fighters; which makes us think of the wrecked Star Destroyer from part VII and the Death Star superstructure from part VI and the space worm from part V and coming out of hyperspace near Alderaan in part IV. This will come very near the beginning of the film, as a warm up, to tell us that Star Wars has started again and the toys are all intact.

There is Chewbacca on the flight deck, as if he was escaping from Mos Eisley, except that Han has been replaced by a Penguin. Every saga has a Jar Jar. Every trilogy has an Ewok. We complained about George's silliness but we missed it when it wasn't there. The Penguin will have a very small part. He may only appear in this one scene. Everyone will always have heard of him and he will even eventually have his own comic, but all he will actually do is shout “It’s a trap!”

There is battle with big space ships and TIE fighters and X-Wings and a stirring speech about lighting the flame that will become the spark that will burn the fascists down although we all know that the fascists won’t burn down until the last ten minutes of Episode IX. There is Po Dameron looking resolute and Finn fighting the shiny gold lady Stormtrooper officer with a a big glowy laser-chainsaw. This will happen at the end. Po and Finn will be blowing things up resolutely while the Proper Plot happens somewhere else.

The Proper Plot will be about Rey turning to the Dark Side, and Ren turning back to the Light. Or perhaps about Ren resisting the light side and Rey resisting the Dark. That is the Proper Plot of every Star Wars movie except Star Wars. Someone is tempted by the Dark. Someone is tempted by the Light. Indeed, that is the plot of every possible movie. (I think Joseph Campbell said that.)


We always knew that this moment would come. Not when he lit the torch at his Father funeral pyre but from the very first moment in the cave. I-was-once-a-Jedi-knight-the-same-as-your-father. There would always come a moment when stroppy James Dean teenage Luke Skywalker would be old. We need him to be old because we need him to be a Jedi Knight and Jedi Knights are old. Alec Guinness is the only and all Jedi Knights just as happens Leonard Nimoy is the only and all Vulcans.

The moment we imagined, when Luke Skywalker is a Jedi like Obi Wan and he is teaching other Jedi (including me, me, please, including me) — the moment when the Jedi actually Returned — has already happened and is already over, somewhere in the space between VI and VII. I suppose we should never see it, in the same way we should never have seen the Old Republic, because Luke Skywalker and the New Order of Jedi, is part of the happy-ever-after which was implied during the fireworks and the Ewoks. And it was not a happy ending. Of course it wasn’t a happy ending because everyone living happily ever after is how a story ends and there have to be more stories. So we get to see old Luke, but we don’t get to see Jedi Luke. We get to see Luke the Last Jedi.  


Episode VII finishes with Rey holding Luke’s lightsaber out to Luke, and us not knowing is Luke takes it or not. (Spoiler: No.) The Trailer finishes with Ren holding his hand out to Rey and us not knowing if she takes it or not. And that makes us think of Daddy Vader holding his hand out to Luke, which is why Great Big Hologram Leader Guy (who has got smaller) bellows “FULL…FILL…YOUR…DES…TIN…EE” in the trailer. (He is probably saying it to Kylo Ren, but he could just as well be saying it to Rey. Of course he might not say it at all. That sometimes happens with trailers.) This will happen in the middle of the movie. Rey will face a difficult time in her training when she is tempted by the Dark Side. Maybe she will break off her Jedi training with Luke because she sees a vision of Kylo torturing Po and Finn. Maybe when she is on the point of  turning to the Dark Side, Ren will say "No, Rey, I am your half-brother."

Ren has a shiny black Tie Fighter, just like Grandpa’s. As he whizzes around he looks for all the world like Anakin Skywalker in the cartoons. (But Anakin in the Cartoons is now the Real Anakin. Anakin in the Cartoons very nearly makes up for Anakin in the prequels. He is a, waddyacall, Redemptive Reading.) But he, Ray, can hear Snoke’s voice, just like Luke Skywalker heard Ben’s voice and it goes boom boom boom FULFILL YOUR DENSITY boom boom boom BECOME WHO YOU WERE MEANT TO BE boom boom boom. All films are always about becoming who you were meant to be. (I think Joseph Campbell said that.)  Carrie, god bless her is on the big ship (the same kind of ship that Mon Motha had) and Kylo is aiming his weapon at her. Luke’s big moment was to blow up the Death Star. Kylo's big moment is to kill Mum. (SPOILER: He has already killed Dad.) 

Maybe he will kill his Mum and go totally over to the Dark Side. Maybe he will not kill her an come back to the light. Maybe the Millennium Falcon will come over the hill at the last possible moment. 

One thinks of Locutus of Borg, possibly.

Luke says “I’VE SEEN RAW STRENGTH LIKE THIS ONLY ONCE BEFORE IT DIDN’T SCARE ME ENOUGH THEN IT DOES NOW” and Big Hologram Gollum Guy says “When I found you I saw RAW UNTAMED POWER”. I suppose Luke is talking to Rey about Kylo Ren and I suppose Snoke is talking to Kylo Ren about Ben Solo. I suppose Luke is going to refuse to train Rey in case he buggers it up and sends her to the Dark Side as well. Which will send Rey into the arms of Ren for help. Which will result in Ren’s ultimate redemption. 

Or else something completely different will happen.

To summarize: Rey and Ren are powerful Jedi and are going to be tempted in various ways and there is going to be a battle involving X-Wings and capital ships and walkers and a chase involving the Millennium Falcon.

Which is, I suppose, only like saying that this cowboy film will definitely have horses, a criminal, a sheriff, some native Americans and a big gun fight in a frontier town. Star Wars isn’t a saga. It’s a genre. (I said that.)


Where do we go when we watch Star Wars?

A flea-pit olden days 1970s cinema with fizzy orange juice and ice-cream. Or maybe some nuts. Or a big London movie house with posters and programmes and people selling knock-off merchandise outside? 

Or am I misremembering? Was Star Wars always something that we were watching again on DVD. Or VHS. Or just ITV?

The movie called Star Wars (there is only one movie called Star Wars) was great, and we have all seen it forty or fifty times and will see it another twenty, thirty forty times before we die. (I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.) But before there was a movie called Star Wars there were Star Wars toys. The original dolls were almost comically badly done: no-one even tried to model Mark Hamil’s face and the white plastic smock molded onto his body has only the most passing connection to the greying desert gear he wears in the movie. I almost wonder if the appeal of the figures wasn’t in the packaging: the shiny card with the Star Wars logo and a big colour picture of the iconic twin suns scene printed on it? The closet you could get to putting your hands on a bit of the film and keeping it? No-one could afford to buy them, obviously. We went on pilgrimages to toy shops to gaze at them enviously.

Isn’t that what the word “iconic” literally means? 

The idea of Luke Skywalker, the blond guy in white with a utility belt and glowy sword can somehow be contracted to three inches of barely articulated plastic and have endless battles with the idea of Darth Vader, a black masked villain with a cheap cellophane cape. How many millions of battles did Luke Skywalker have with Darth Vader on how many thousands of bedroom floors between 1977 and 1980? 

At least until their lightsabers snapped off.

We can now see that the action figures were insufficiently iconic: that they contained too much of the real Mark Hamil and the real Alec Guinness. Forbidden Planet will sell you brilliantly authentic replicas of Darth Vader costing hundreds of pounds but those are not for children to play with, they are for adults to put on the shelf and forget about. The real Star Wars; Star Wars stripped of all particularity and specificity, the pure idea of the Dark Side and the Light, is now surely the Lego figurine? (I am serious. Every child has seen thousands of Lego Stormtroopers before the Star Destroyer swallows up the Blockade Runner, and every child knows that Vader is Luke's father before they know who Vader and Luke are.) 

We can't watch Doctor Who again. We wouldn't physically fit behind that damn sofa. But perhaps we can crouch down on the bedroom floor one last time. There can't ever really be a new Star Wars story, and we wouldn't want there to be. (George Lucas never really understood this.) But we can take the Lego minifigs out of the box and play out our favorite scenes in a slightly different order. I'm pretty sure Joseph Campbell said that. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

White People's History, Update...

...A pub called The Colston Yard has changed its name to The Bristol Yard.....

...The snowflakes trying to obliterate the parts of history that they don't like.

....All the P C do gooders wanting the name Colston remove well you can not change history

....Pathetic - you can't erase history, you should learn from it and make sure it never happens again....And the Colston Hall will AlWAYS be the Colston Hall to me because it's part of my history!

''''Edward Colston did not start slavery. It was started by African tribes capturing and selling other Africans.

.....The PC Brigade win again. Pity some people have no guts to stick it out.

....This is the slow but sure erosion of white peoples' history in within the city and nation, the same thing is happening in America with their monuments, it won't ever be satisfied until it is completely erased....

....but Colston Girls School has decided to leave the name as it is.

....As we live in a democracy, why not let the people of Bristol decide whether we change the name of the Colston Hall,,,,no hold on a moment, the powers that be would realise that the vast majority of true Bristolians would want it to stay as it is,,,,THE COLSTON HALL

....Changing a name and trying to airbrush history is easy, righting modern day wrongs and the suffering of those currently living is much harder.

....Fantastic news!!! the Lefty in charge of the Colston Hall is still pressing ahead though, forcing their will on us like any true Libtard!

....Excellent news - should not be hiding the past - all this politically correct nonsense is highly frustrating. Colston Hall take note !!

.....These "do-gooders" trying to re-write history are getting into dangerous waters

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Which Side Are You On?

Alas, Colston is now in disrepute in this crazy time of asinine politically correctness…for being a successful slave trader. People forget that in his day slave trading was perfectly respectable like buying and selling motor cars today! However, Colston was also a philanthropist who helped a lot of people, and gave great sums of money to the city of Bristol. How about Jardine Matheson of Hong Kong selling Opium to China in the days of “gunboat diplomacy” then??? Do you want to close down Jardine Matheson???

.....The asinine politically correct Libtards fail to take into account that Colston Hall was built almost 150 years after Colton’s death, and was actually named after its address, which is Colston Street. I for one, to be brutally frank am not into political correctness aka hypocrisy. To me it is a load of Balderdash! I digress…so..

.... I decided to make an enquiry to Bristol Cathedral and got a reply from their very politically correct Press Officer…Wendy Matthews (*)

....Mark [owner of a coffee shop in Bristol] please make the Colston Bun! It will be a best seller! You can call it Bristol Bun to be politically correct…wahahahah!

All quotes from "The Search For The Colston Bun" by The Travelling Gourmet

(*)i.e female

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What of Magna Carter? Did she die in vain?

"(Bristol Music Trust) acknowledge that not everybody agrees with (changing the name of Colston Hall). Well that's very magnanimous of them, isn't it? But it doesn't begin to remotely acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of Bristolians are totally and completely against any name change. I know of literally nobody who is in favour of it. 

The trust is insulting generations of Bristolians by instructing us to begin viewing Colston in a totally different way from the one we have all grown up with. 

The Colston Hall is part of Bristol's historic fabric. We've lived happily with it for centuries. We have no problem with it. The tiny majority that do, presumably not Bristolians should obviously clear off and go and live somewhere else...

There is therefore only one that the decision to change the name of the Colston Hall can be reversed, and that's by replacing the present Bristol Music Trust with a board of true blue Bristolians who value their city's heritage and will forbid any change...#

Bristol, speak up! Make your voices heard by the council and put a stop to this preposterous nonsense once and for all. 

if you don't then I'm afraid you deserve everything you get." 


Edward Colston did much to improve the lives of those living in Bristol in those very different times (no welfare state) and...he shouldn't be judged by today's standards.... 

No reasonable person could condone slavery, but you can't change history by changing a name....

(Slaves) were captured by their fellow countrymen and sold in chains, hundreds at a time, for money or trade goods. Without these slavemasters as they were called, there would have been no slave trade. So who was to blame?

P Collins

Thursday, September 28, 2017

At-Bristol is going to be re-branded as We The Curious.
It has been called At-Bristol for hundreds of years. "At" is a beloved and popular preposition. True, it did once come at the end of a sentence, but we cannot judge prepositions by modern grammatical standards.
Who's idea is this politically correct pandering to definite articles and first person plurals? It is a plot by curious people, or "Communities" as I suppose we have to call them nowadays to stop us using good old Anglo Saxon words like "at".

From now on we will all have to drink Flwethecurious Whites in coffee shops and teach children that "The Cwethecurious Swethecurious on the Mwethecurious"? Make no mistake, the PC Brigade will not stop until they have banned us from saying With, From and Upon.
I once heard the chairman of the board saying that his train left "at" two clock. Hypocrite!
Can these people prove that they and their parents unto the third generation were born in Bristol and never left the city limits? If so what right do they have to change the name of a beloved millennia old (or at least Millennium Square) institution?
At-Bristol will always be At-Bristol to red blooded born and bred Bristolians. If you don't like it, you should go back to Iraq.
Will no-one think of the children?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

people of a certain age might remember that episode of Grange Hill where Pogo got the cane for running a "homework service" i.e doing school work that other kids could pass of as their own and charging them money for it. 

the headmistress described it as a "thoroughly nasty business".

you may not ply your trade in the boys toilets or behind the cycle sheds, and you may demand fifty quid a time rather than a bag of sweets from the tuck shop, but if you make your living writing university style essays and selling them to students to pass off as their own, then you're still engaged in a thoroughly nasty business. 

so if you work for one of these disgusting companies can you please stop using the comments section of my blog to swindle gullible and dishonest people out of their cash. 

it really isn't any more convincing if you say "Gee [Andrew] I am a big fan of [Doctor Who] although I have never watched it and I really like what you say about it" before the "come and look at my website" part. 

i can't call in the deputy head to whack across the knuckles but I can systematically delete all your nasty little messages. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ecologically Friendly South American Natives

Having read so much about changing the names of the Colston Hall, Colston Street and Colston Avenue, as an 85 year old Bristolian I grew up with these names. If those people who want these changes let them look into the slavery. Colston and Wills did these so called slaves a good deed.... [continues]
     V Howthing

Factions for rewriting history have no validity. History is data recording and concerning the past. It cannot be changed at the whim of one person or faction. It is permanent -- that is -- forever.
      Daved E Horkin

The people of Bristol should have a say in the matter and not just a few people who don't like Edward Colston. If you don't like Bristol and our history then leave and find somewhere else that might accept your views because Bristolians don't.
   Andy Gards

It's about time we British stood up to these people [gypsies]. And it's about time they were told to take their rubbish with them. It's about time to get the Army in to sort out these travelers and get them to pay for parking and clean up the mess they leave.
      R King

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything before the "but" is bollocks...

Yes, the Slave Trade was awful, an I am as much in agreement with that as any of the minority of people living in Bristol, who want the name of Colston Hall changed. However...

P. Collins

Who are these name changers? Are they Bristolians, born and bed here of Bristol families, educated in Bristol Schools, worked hard to buy their own houses, and pay council tax? How dare they come here from other cities and countries and tell us what to do?

also P. Collins

Friday, July 21, 2017

Eyes Down...

...removing any traces of the slave trade from Bristol might require half the city to be pulled down, and not just the plaques of signs with Colston's name on it....
Nigel Currie

Until recently, until a lot of publicity was given by the Bristol Post to a very small but vociferous minority of mainly non-Bristolians, the majority was not even aware of Colston's link to slavery...
C Stephens

All these do-gooders who want to change the name of the Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol an other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution and are usually under 18 years of age.
Wendy Fryer

If the name of Colston Hall has to change, the suggestion to change it to the "Corstan Hall" [after Jean Corstan MP] is a good one...It has absolutely no connection with the slave trade, so should not offend those minority groups who are trying to change it, whilst happily living here in this great city. These people should shut up or move somewhere else
P Collins

What a great suggest naming one of the new trains after Edward Colston. What a great way to remember a truly great Bristolian who, ok, was linked with the slave trade, but...
Mr G Briggs

Sunday, July 02, 2017

10:12 The Doctor Falls

Oh Steven Moffat.

Oh, Steven Moffat.

You were so nearly there. So nearly there.

I watched The Doctor Falls with my Doctor Who watching head on, I promise. Not with my “I have to make smart remarks about this on the blog” head on. But within ten minutes, the little voice inside my head was saying: "This. This is what New Who was meant to have been like. Always."

It was clear from the beginning that I was watching a piece of television that fundamentally took itself seriously. A bit of television in which the actors were were playing characters and no-one had got around to saying “but you can ham it up if you like because it’s only some shit about robots on a spaceship.” If you were one of those hypothetical people who didn’t know what Doctor Who was, you wouldn’t have definitely known your weren’t watching a new Scandinavian police drama, or Daphne Du Maurier adaptation. Not until the robots came on. It was just TV drama, like any other TV drama, telling a story, as well as it could. 

I spotted no smirk; no “don’t worry kids they are only silly robots” moment. 

The episode was fundamentally interested in Bill’s predicament at having been turned into a cyborg; and the Doctor’s need to do the right thing. If you had Never Watched Doctor Who Before then the horror of the human who has been turned into a robot was absolutely clear from context. And you could tell that the old, wise man had really loved the young woman who had been cyborgized, and was trying to let her down gently. 

But no-one has really never watched Doctor Who before; everyone in the world knows that the Doctor and the Cybermen are old enemies, almost as old as television itself. That's one of the bits of raw material that the story has to work with, just like, I don't know "rich people are moving into the lower class areas of London" is one of the bits of raw material that Eastenders has to work with. Jokes and in-references were there for those of who have watched the old episodes, but they were funny in themselves and not (I suppose) confusing or distracting to people who didn’t get them. When the Doctor shouts "Voga", you can tell that he is (like a soldier) shouting the name of a previous battle against the Cybermen. But I happen to know that it's a reference to Revenge of the Cybermen. That's as it should be. 

The resolution of 50 years of continuity angst about whether Cybermen come from Mondas, or Telos or a parallel earth and why the design keeps changing is genuinely clever. Wherever there are humans, they eventually evolve into Cybermen; parallel evolution. 

Of course, there is a problem with treating the Master as a serious character in a serious drama. Fairly obviously, he isn't. We first met him in the days of Adam West and John Steed. The Radio Times explicitly presented him as a comic book villain. Depth is one thing he can't ever have. He believes in a cruel God who made him in his own image: evil for the sake of being evil. John Simm plays it with camp self knowledge but never descends into camp absurdity. (The ludicrousness of Last of the Time Lords is entirely avoided.) I suppose, in a sense, he and Missy are the “comic relief”, the boo-hiss pantomime villain to be set against the existential horror of the Cybermen. But you can really feel the evil. The Evil Capitalist in the One With the Fish says that the Doctor’s speeches would inspire anyone with a shred of human decency. Here, the Doctor makes a genuinely inspirational speech and the Master casually says that he wasn’t listening. It’s the kind of moment where you actually want to punch him. 

I am not sure whether the handling of Bill’s transformation was very brave or very cowardly: I would like to have had more scenes embracing the absurdity of Bill’s lines coming from the Cybermouth. I suppose this was the whole reason that the Hartnell-era Cybermen were brought back: because we can believe that there is some of Bill left under the gauze mask better than we could believe there was some of Bill left under the silver CGI cyber-helmet. The conceit that we see BIll as herself, while everyone else sees her as a Cyberman is not entirely original. I kpet thinking of that episode of Frasier where the attractive young gym teacher he is dating turns into the abusive coach from his childhood. But it works. And it assumes that the audience is intelligent enough to discern what is going on.

Most of us probably thought that Missy had not reformed, but was pretending to be good to fool the Doctor. A few of us may have thought that she had genuinely stopped being evil, and that she was going to be the Doctor's friend or companion for a few seasons — at least until some future producer comes up with “What if Missy turned evil?” as an idea. The actual resolution — Missy kills her previous incarnation, to ensure that she comes into being, but he kills her, because she really has turned good — was not one I had predicted. Comic books have mostly stopped pretending that a this months story is the definitive, final, one-lives-one-dies confrontation between Batman and the Joker or Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. Readers know that however thoroughly the villain is killed, a few months down the line, the status quo will have to be restored. If Harold Saxon didn’t stay dead after the funeral pyre ending of Last of the Time Lords, she is not going to stay dead after being zapped by her past self. But for the minute I’ll pretend that I believe she's dead and enjoy the elegant finality of the scene. 

The Doctor’s last stand, farewell to Nardole, dozens of exploding Cybermen. I liked absolutely everything about the first fifty three minutes and seven seconds of the episode. 

And then, as exclusively predicted in this channel, someone activates the My Little Pony magic lilac love ray and makes Bill becoming a Cyberman didn’t happen. 

If at the very last moment the Water Nymph had popped up and held Bill’s cyberhand, just for a second, dropping a teeny weeny little hint that Billy Potts body is a rusting in the grave but maybe her soul is going to go dripping on  I wouldn’t have minded. Not that much. But Moffat doesn't know when to stop. He can't leave things alone. Never have one good bye seen if six will do. We had to go through definitely revivified ethereal Bill and a definitely physically present Heather physically moving the Doc back to the TARDIS and floating off round the universe with silly music playing much too loudly in the background and although it only lasted for a few minutes I. Just. Wanted. It. To. Stop. 

The puddle monster absorbed Heather’s physical body; Bill’s physical shape has somehow been extracted from the dead Cyberman and turned into magic lilac pony water — despite that fact that most of her remains have been long-since destroyed. What is the magic puddle meant to have done? (Moffat is a little vague about minds and bodies and hardware and software: we found out in Death and Heaven that it if you upload someone's mind to a computer it becomes possible to retrieve their physical form.) 

I hope that this is the last we see of Bill and that we won’t have to  see her corpse endlessly violated in the way that  Wonderful Clara's was — killed and unkilled on a weekly basis. Clara was never really a character, so it didn’t matter so much, but Bill was enough of a person that I’d like her to be allowed to rest in peace and not be reincarnated as an onion to make us cry over and over again. 

I didn’t properly get the coda about the Doctor. I understood that he was prepared to die to save the Mondasian colonists because it was the right thing to do, but I don’t know where the not wanting to regenerate idea suddenly came from. David Bradley was good enough at doing Hartnell’s lines in the docudrama but I could honestly have missed that fact that the person who shambles on at the end was meant to be the First Doctor. 

Maybe there’s a fabulous idea for a two-Doctor Christmas special with a light touch and witty repartee between the First and Last Doctors, just like there was between the Two Masters. Or maybe Moffat is going to bow out with a terribly ill-judged attempt to overwrite Doctor Who mythology from the ground up. 

“How did you find me?”

“I left you my tears, remember.”

Oh, Steven, Steven, Steven. What were you thinking of?

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Controversial Appendix. (Please don't mail bomb me.)

A person on the internet says that it is typical of Stephen Moffat’s gender-politics that, quote, “the boy master has to come back to show the girl master how to master properly.”

Corollary #1: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, we all not be able to do any more multi-Doctor stories, because it will imply that the Thirteenth Doctrix needs a man to help her out. 

Corollary #2: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, all subsequent Doctrices will have to be feminine, because a female-to-male regeneration will be a tacit admission that boys are better than girls.

Corollary #3: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, all discussion about Doctor Who will have to be suspended: anyone who thinks that the Doctrix is a bit Peter Davison and not at all Matt Smith will be assumed to be saying that boys are better than girls and episodes will only be criticize-able in terms of what they reveal about the incoming producers gender politics.

The Doctor can change his physical form: this is a natural part of his life cycle. Each form is very different, but all the forms have irreducible characteristics in common. This wasn’t always the case; but it has been an established part of Doctor Who, and of the person-in-the-street’s perception of Doctor Who since at least 1981. In the new version of the show, the present form perceives regenerating as actual death, but all his memories and experiences are preserved in the new form. 

It doesn’t follow that the Doctor can turn into absolutely everything. There are lots of things he couldn’t be. He couldn’t be cruel or cowardly. He couldn’t be stupid. He couldn’t be a man of action who punches first and asks questions later. He couldn’t really be young. Matt Smith was young, but Matt Smith’s Doctor was very, very old. He can be Northern or Scottish and I assume Welsh, but he can’t cease to be British. This is not a matter of canon. There is no logical reason why a Time Lord should adopt a particular planet and then only be able to regenerate into a form which comes from a particular part of that planet. We’re talking about how the TV series works. 

I think that the Doctor is irreducibly a boffin. I think that being a boffin is slightly different from being a geek or a nerd or a techie. It carries an implication of being old; being unfashionable; and being the guy who can cobble together a computer which very nearly works, as opposed to the guy who makes the great scientific breakthrough. (The TARDIS is very much a boffin’s spaceship. It is fantastically advanced, but it seems a bit jerry-rigged and isn’t quite reliable.) 

Doctor Who can definitely evolve: Tom Baker said in 1977 that the Doctor simply can’t become interested in romance because he simply doesn’t have those kinds of emotions. The first time he flirted, with that heart surgeon in the American one, and with that French lady in the second season, we all freaked out. But then we stopped freaking out and it became the new normal. We also freaked out about the Doctor being half Time-Lord on his father’s side, but we ignored that and it went away.

If the Doctor ceased to be a boffin, would that break the show? Or would it interesting shake things up and become the new normal? Would it really cosmically speaking matter is the guy in the TARDIS was cool and stylish and brave but needed someone else to explain the science to him — provided the brave unscientific time traveler fetched up on interesting locations and had exciting adventures there? 

The question is: is “boffin” a male stereotype? And if boffin is a male stereotype, does it follow that the Doctor has to be male. 

It took me a while to come around to to Missy because I thought her characterization was way over the top. I think that what works about her is her ironical, tricksterish, playful evil — owing something to John Simm, but very little to Roger Delgado. This may surprise you, but I thought that the opening scene where she plays with the term “Doctor Who” worked really well. Not (yawn!) because it means there is some canonical grounds for saying that the main character really is called Doctor Who and that Frankenstein really was the name of the monster, but because it showed Missy transgressing the boundaries of the script, understanding the rules of the show and deliberately breaking them, talking about “assistants” and “companions” and understanding that Bill and Nardole are “exposition and comic relief”. She knows she’s in a TV show. And that’s a very interesting way of playing the Doctor’s ultimate foe. 

The point of Missy is not “what would the Master be like if she was a woman”. The point of Missy is that she’s a very interesting piece of utterly over-the-top characterization. I don’t know if her particular style of camp had to be played by a female, but it is now very hard to imagine it being played by anyone apart from Michelle Gomez.

So, my tentative conclusion is that a female Doctor would be a really, really bad idea, but might still be really, really good for the programme, and even if it was really, really bad for the programme it might still be the right thing to do.

It is not true to say that the Time Lords no longer care about gender and gender stereotypes. Tom Baker would have looked very odd indeed in one of Romana’s frocks.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

10.11 World Enough and Time

During the wilderness years, the faithful would sometimes sit round their great log fires and wonder what a 21st century version of Doctor Who might look like. 

“Maybe not 25 minute episodes” we said “Maybe short seasons of 100 minute movies, like Inspector Morse.” 

I think this episode proves that we were right. Pacing has been the ruin of many a good story; this story is superior to pretty much everything else in the season because it gets the pacing right. I don’t think Eastern European Guy (”very fast bottom”) would have worked if we had been trying to gallop to the climax in 45 minutes. I don’t think the idea of the different sections of the ship running at different speeds would have nearly so interesting if we hadn’t had to wait around to find out what was going on. And obviously the cliffhanger ending had to be a cliffhanger ending; it would have been a bit ho-hum as a premise. If I had one thing to say to incoming producer Chris Chibnall, it would be “More two part stories.” 

Even that’s a bit retro, of course. We are now in the era of 10 hours boxed sets and binge watching. 

OK, we’ve seen most of it before. Moffat really does only have a very limited number of ideas, which he shakes up and assembles in different orders. The Doctor and his companion caught in different time streams - check; a spaceship comprising different time-zones - check; characters watching other characters on TV screens - check; giant spaceship with retro city in the hold - check; nasty surgeons turning people into [SPOILERS} Cybermen - check; companion turned into Cyberman - check; Cyberman weeping beneath the mask - check. I think we are beyond saying “We have seen some of this before.” It’s more a case of saying “This is what Doctor Who is now comprised of”. Some TV shows go on for decades with only one or two ideas, in fairness. 

I don’t know if a Black Hole would really behave like it does in the episode. I thought that the point of them was that nothing, not even really really really big spaceships — and this was Doctor Who outdoing Red Dwarf outdoing Star Wars outdoing 2001 big — could escape their gravity well? But it doesn’t matter — a Black Hole is allowed to do whatever the writer says it does, provided it carries on doing it consistently. (”For the present purposes, your honour, a Black Hole is that astronomical phenomenon that can trap, but not consume, a really, really, really big spaceship and which causes time to pass at a faster speed on the lower levels than on the bridge.) I will only start to complain if it turns out that the Black Hole’s gravity can be reversed by the power of love, or is caused my midichlorians, or something. 

I do not think that the Cybermen, in this context, were either fanwankery or pornographic. A person who has seen clunky new Who CGI Cyberman will be able to look at this one and immediately say “Ah — an old fashioned, primitive, retro Cyberman.” That the old fashioned, primitive, retro Cyberman happens to be what the Cybermen looked like in 1966 is a little nod of the hat to the fans, and why not. I don’t know how you reconcile the Cybermen who evolved on Mondas and flew the planet around the universe sucking other planets energy with the Cybermen who were created by the Master on a colony ship on its way to Mondas. I don’t particularly care. I expect there will be a sort of an answer next week. If it is a sufficiently good answer then no-one will ever have watch Attack of the Cybermen again. 

It is a pity that the story was spoiled by, well, spoilers. The episode released the information about what was going on on the colony ship and Razor’s true identity rather subtly: we didn’t definitely know that the patients were being turned into Cybermen until the surgeon shows Bill the headpiece, about 35 minutes into the story. This should have been a really good surprise. Unfortunately, the BBC had been circulating publicity pictures of Peter Capaldi facing off against Hartnell era Cybermen since last year. And John Simm had appeared in two different trailers. The appearance of Missy’s previous incarnation is obviously intended to fall like a bolt from the blue and obviously doesn’t. 

The question about how much to reveal in the trailer or the blurb or the Radio Times listing is not unique to Doctor Who. Some people think that it would not have mattered if a certain 90s suspense movie had gone out under the title of “The One In Which Bruce Willis Turns Out To Have Been Dead All Along”; other people objected to “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” because it gave away the ending. Somewhere in between is a sensible middle ground. I am happy not to trust the mysterious count in a movie called “Guest of the Vampire”; but I’d just as soon not know exactly who committed the “Murder at the Vicarage” until the detective works it out. 

It’s a particular problem for Doctor Who, because Doctor Who is so insistently non linear. We see Missy pretending to be the Doctor, and then we see the Doctor explaining to Bill and Nardole his plan to allow Missy to pretend to be him for a while. We see Bill getting killed, and then we see Bill making the Doctor promise not to get her killed. And the very first thing we see in the episode is the Doctor regenerating which we assume must be flashing forward to the end of the story. So Moffat wants us to watch World Enough and Time in the knowledge that it ends with a Regeneration just as much as Thomas Hardy wants use to read “The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge” with a pretty good idea about who won’t make it to the end of the final chapter. But then we get a post-cred trailer that (we assume) zooms forward to the end of the story, and again shows us the Doctor (apparently) regenerating. But the pre-cred is “part of the story” and the post-cred isn’t. And we’ve already once this season been “shown the Doctor regenerating”, only to have both the characters and the cast saying “Ha ha! We fooled you!” 

This can’t possibly be a proper review, because we only have the first half of the story to talk about. I liked nearly everything about it: the ship, the atmosphere, the pseudo-science, the relationship between Bill and Razor and Missy and everyone, the scenes of the dying city. The whole thing. And if these really are the Cybermen and that really is the Master and Bill really has been Cyberized and the Doctor really is going to regenerate — or if none of these things are true and the explanation is more exciting and brilliant and surprising than the set up — then I’ll call this the best story ever. The best Peter Capaldi story ever, at any rate. 

But if the Doctor turns Bill back into a human with magic love rays from his sonic screwdriver, and if these aren’t the real Cybermen at all but just trick Harold Saxon is playing, or if, perchance, none of this has happened and we’re all still in a simulation being run by the meddling Monks — then I reserve the right to call “foul” and give up watching Doctor Who. 

Until Christmas, at any rate.



Moffat is going to pull another War Doctor stunt. The Doctor is indeed regenerating, but the person he is regenerating into isn’t the person who’ll be in the role in 2018, because that is for the incoming producer to decide. We’ll get a very short lived interim Doctor and the Christmas one will have both her and Capaldi in it. 

But there really will be a magical power of friendship reset button which will make Bill didn’t become a Cyberman at all. Because Moffat loves tears, but he really doesn’t like killing off characters, specially not pretty lady ones.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

10.10 Eaters of Light

Eaters of Light was an episode of Doctor Who. It passed the time amiably. There was nothing particularly wrong with it.

10.9 The Empress of Mars

Some Victorians find a crashed flying saucer. In it is a little green man; who says that if they help him, he will fly them back to Mars and let them mine for infinite wealth. He will even build them a mining machine. But he is tricking them; he really wants to defrost the Little Green Queen who is in suspended animation. This leads to a shooting war between the Martians and the Victorians. When it looks like the two groups are going to wipe each other out, one of the soldiers, who was once sentenced to death for desertion, surrenders to the Queen and invites her to kill him. This proves that huh mans are honourable (or something) and she calls the war off and sets about rebuilding her civilization. Almost immediately she gets a message from a far-away star system, saying that a fleet of interstellar space ships are coming to help them.

I wish I had come in in the middle of Empress of Mars. In fact, I wish in fact that I was a Doctor Who fan from the 1980s, coming out of suspended animation at about the half way point. Ice Warriors and Red Coats in a cave, mutually besieging each other’s base; guns going off and indistinguishable men with pith hats and mustaches crying “I am assuming command” at each other, while an Ice Queen rants things like “Sleep no more!” and “Rise my ice warriors.” No idea at all what's going on, but this is what I always hoped Doctor Who would -- just like it was before but ever so much more so. I am sure if I watch the whole episode and catch up with the last 30 years of Ice Warrior continuity it will all make perfect sense. 

But I would be working on a false assumption. I would be assuming that Doctor Who was like other TV: that scenes make sense in context; that scenes, indeed, have a context to make sense in. 


Battlestar Galactica created a new thing out of the wreckage of its source material. Star Wars continues to lovingly illuminate the margins of its holy texts. Cinema Star Trek is currently desecrating the corpse of its TV predecessor, but at least it’s doing so consciously and deliberately, out of some perverse parricidal hatred. The Clangers — and I will fight to the death anyone who says that the Clangers isn’t as venerable and worthy of respect as any of the above-named Big Geek Franchises — simply resumed after a pause of 43 years as if nothing had happened. I suppose you could say that it was redundant: you can’t add to perfection. On the other hand, the characters can now blink. 

What, after ten years, is Doctor Who's relationship to the series which from 1963 to 1989? What is Doctor Who for? A dozen years in, I still have no answer. I suppose "Doctor Who is a series set in a magical universe where, each week, someone has to volunteer to commit suicide in order to generate the Peace Rays necessary to defeat the baddies" might do for a definition. But it still seems paralyzed by the anxiety of influence.

I have committed myself to writing something about every week’s episode of Doctor Who, and that means that I have to think of something interesting to say each week. No one would be very pleased if I said “It was another episode of Doctor Who. It passed the time amiably. There was nothing particularly wrong with it.” 

Empress of Mars is a very good piece of Saturday night television: light, fun, stupid, entertaining. If Doctor Who were like this every week, I would be pretty happy with it; although, if Doctor Who were like this, I would probably not bother to write about it, particularly. I was perfectly happy with, say, Merlin, but I didn’t dedicate a whole lot of thinking time to it. Perhaps I am just overthinking Doctor Who. But that raises the question: what is the correct amount of thought to apply to it. Or, put another: what is the right amount of stupor in which to watch it? 


Metro Magazine ran a headline “Doctor Who fans delighted by classic cameo in Empress of Mars.” Maybe some of them were. But I would have gone with: "Doctor Who fans bewildered by pointless cameo in Empress of Mars.” 

There are two Patrick Troughton stories, one set in the Very Far Future, in which human scientists accidentally defrost some Ice Warriors during an Ice Age; and another one set in the Much Nearer Future where some Ice Warriors try to turn the Earth’s atmosphere into Martian atmosphere using bubble bath. There is also a Jon Pertwee story in which a group of alien ambassadors have a conference to see if a retro-medieval planet can join the Galactic Free Trade Zone. The latter story pulls off a quite nice little trick: the Doctor assumes that the Ice Warriors are militaristic fascists who have come to the conference in order to disrupt it; in fact, they have long since renounced war and want the conference to succeed. Why they do not call themselves Ice Pacifists is not explored. One of the other alien ambassadors has claws and a single gigantic eye. (It came a close second in the Doctor Who Alien That Looks Most Like A Man's Willy awards.) It is this Alpha Centuri who appears on the communication screen at the end of Empress of Mars to say “welcome to the universe” to the Ice Warriors. The voice was provided by one Ysanne Churchman who provided the voice in the original story nearly 50 years ago. She was also the voice of Grace Archer who was famously burned at the stake as a punishment for inventing commercial television. (Check this - Ed.)  This makes her, at 92, the oldest person ever to appear in Doctor Who. Like you, I said "But what about the lady who had a non-speaking part as the frozen queen in the Pirate Planet but wouldn't take her false teeth out", but she was only 76.

But why? Surely the point of the story is that the nice cowardly guy with the pith helmet has volunteered to stay behind and help the Green Martians rebuild their civilization. If a fleet of highly advanced aliens are going to come along and do it all for them, doesn't that rather takes the point away from his sacrifice? That is to say, if the message had come from Just Some Alien it would have been at best pointless and at worst detrimental to the story. But if the message comes from yer actual Alpha Centuri from Curse of Peladon, then I feel entitled to ask what follows: that the Ice Warriors in Curse of Peladon were a newly defrosted race who had more or less always been pacifists, and whose civilization had been rebuilt by the Galactic Federation? That there was a civilization on Mars, in contact with interstellar races, all through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? That the Alpha Centuri of the Pertwee era is at least hundreds of years hold and has a special relationship with the Ice Warriors since their inception?

This is not a continuity gripe. I am quite happy with the invention of new continuity or the contradiction of old continuity. By all means, please, shake up the etch-a-sketch and give us a completely new Ice Warrior continuity. I am not one of those who takes personal offense when it turns out that some beloved old Star Wars comics are no longer “canon”. 

But I do want characters and scenes and alien races to have contexts. I don't think "we thought it would be cool to have three lines spoken by someone from the 1970s" is a good reason for a thing to happen in a story.

Of course, if you doing a reboot of a beloved old franchise, you are going to drop in little tips of the hat to revered previous iterations. Getting Kirk Alyn to do a cameo in the very first Superman movie, say, or wheeling on Leonard Nimoy in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Star Trek remake. We sometimes call them Easter Eggs, little shiny things you can look for if you want to. 

The whole of this episode feels like one long Easter Egg. 

But perhaps it only feels like that to me. Perhaps this story is intended for people who have never heard of the Ice Warriors or Peladon or Alpha Centuri, or, for that matter Queen Victoria. Perhaps Doctor Who is now entirely opaque to Doctor Who fans, because all we see are allusions and references; it's position within the now ludicrously entangled web of Doctor Who. Perhaps we are supposed to be looking at the story (the story of how the man who somehow survived being hanged volunteered to commit suicide and magically melted the evil Ice Queen's heart) and hardly even noticing the Ice Warriors. You see Green Martians, I see Ice Warriors. You see a random alien whose presence makes no sense, I see Alpha Centuri from a story which went out when I was seven years old. Mark Gatiss said to himself  “Let’s do a reverse alien invasion story — where humans invade Mars. Let’s make the invaders comedy Victorians who say ‘by gum’ and ‘top hole’. And let’s have the Doctor broker some kind of peace.” And then, very much as an after thought said “I wonder if there have ever been warlike Green Martians in Doctor Who before? There have? Well, we might as well re-use those. No point in inventing new monsters for the sake of it."

Because the alternative is much more distressing. The alternative is that everyone is a Doctor Who fan now; and everyone is just excited because there are Ice Warriors and that the lady who voice Alpha Centuri is still alive. Being a Doctor Who fan is not about feeling attached to a character, or a setting, or a style of story, but to a collection of contextless, free floating symbols. 

This is a story folded in on itself; a mobius story; a story made up of allusions to other stories (which were themselves made up of allusions to other stories.) It Tomb of the Cybermen and the Hungry Earth and the Silurians and the Curse of the Mummy and pages and page of Mark Gatiss's doubtless meticulous research into Victorian cockney rhyming slang ("what a load of gammon"). It feels to much like an exercise in lining up all your Green Martian soldiers on one side of the table, and your Victorian toy soldiers on the other side of the table and playing at war, until one of the toy soldiers zaps the queen of Martians with Peace Rays and everyone makes friends. 

I enjoyed it very much indeed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Irrelevant Return of -- Captain Non Sequitur

All those do-gooders who want to change the name of Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol and other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution. Come on do-gooders - get this sorted out and not think about something that happened years ago.
            Wendy Fryer

See also: 

All those do-gooders who want children to look both ways before crossing the road should be more concerned about what is happening in the Bering Sea regarding the near extinction of the pacific walrus.

I realize that this is  all completely meaningless to Americans and anyone under the age of 45.

Before we had DVDs, the BBC sometimes put out sound recordings of TV shows on "records" -- vinyl LPs. I owned a vinyl LP which contained the sound track of two episodes of "Camberwick Green". Peter the Postman (who was a very busy man) on the A side, and the Window Cleaner on the B side. I can't remember what the Window Cleaner's catch phrase was, or whether he had a song, because frankly I didn't like the B side. People climbing up ladders (and I think falling off) was way beyond my comfort zone for Mild Peril. But I played Peter the Postman (who gathers up all the letters as quickly as he can) incessantly. On one of those old-fashioned record players that were still referred to as "gramophones"; with a sort of brown leatherish case so it looked like a very small suitcase with a loudspeaker, and settings that ran to 33, 45 and 78.

My mother tells me that the midwife or district nurse who came to check up on her just after my baby sister had been born used to moan that whenever she came to the house, "Peter the Postman is a very busy man..." was always playing in the background. I am two years older than my sister, so I must have been two years old.

That's all I wanted to say. Literally my earliest memory is of Brian Cant's voice.