Thursday, October 10, 2013

On the Watching of Old Episodes

Thought lost since 2006, this review of a VHS tape of old Hartnell episodes, was discovered in a folder on my hard-drive, along with a letter to the insuance company about my flat in Bollington and some stats for a Pendragon character. It has been painstakingly restored and is republished for free because I am evil and selfish and hate you all.

Fraisier:      Noel, surely you realize that Star Trek is just a TV show.
Noel:          Well, Brideshead Revisited is just a TV show.
Frasier:        You're angry, so I'm going to ignore that.

Doctor Who began in 1963: between, as the fellow said, the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP. When I started watching the programme in the middle-seventies the fans regarded Tom Baker very much as an impostor, and William Hartnell as the real thing. Since, for about twenty years after their first transmission, no Bill Hartnell episodes had been seen by anyone outside of the BBC archives, these old stories took on the aura of the most lost and golden of lost golden ages. When, in 1981, the BBC re-showed the first ever story as part of a retrospective, I took the older fans at their word. 'Unearthly Child' is a superb piece of television; so I naturally assumed that every other black-and-white story must have been just as good.

I suspect that the first-generation fans had convinced themselves of this as well. There are, in fact, two different programmes called Doctor Who: 'Doctor Who One' was a rather serious, magical programme about Time Travel and the wonders of the universe which existed in the collective memory of fans who had grown up with it. 'Doctor Who Two' was the sometimes fun but often silly kids TV show that the BBC had actually transmitted. It consisted, from a very early stage, of quarreling alien races, hopeless companions, and chases along corridors. ('The Space Museum' involves chases along corridors and practically nothing else.) Naturally, our faith in Doctor Who One can't survive the widespread availability of videos of the original TV episodes.

Unfortunately, the BBC has undertaken to make every surviving Doctor Who story available on VHS, prior to deleting the whole line and replacing it with DVD. The three-tape "First Doctor Boxed Set" represents the final batch of black-and-white episodes: 'The Gunfighters', 'The Sensorites' and 'The Time Meddler'. The words "barrel", "bottom" and "scraping" come to mind.

It isn't really fair to watch these stories straight through, in a darkened room, on a large TV screen, and judge them as if they were works of 'art' intended for posterity--any more than it is fair to judge The Beatles Live at the BBC alongside the polished studio albums. They were designed to be watched once and then discarded, after all. This isn't TV drama; it's just the fossilized echo of a Saturday tea-time nearly forty years ago.

The restoration team has done such a good job of cleaning the footage that it took me several minutes to stop gawking at the unnatural sharpness of the video and actually pay attention to the story. Old TV means rough and blurry; this genuinely looked as if it had been filmed yesterday. And this, in the long-run, makes it look much older than it is. One looks at the flairs in the Tomorrow People or the mini-skirts in Star Trek and says 'It's the 60s' or 'It’s the 70s'. As I watched 'The Sensorites', the main thought which intruded into my head was, 'This is set on a strange alien planet where women and teenaged girls wear one-piece knee-length dresses and men keep their jackets on!'

I think that the reputation of these old stories depends on the extent to which they can be made consistent with the 'Doctor Who One' mythology. 'The Sensorites' was reasonably well regarded among fans, because, on paper, it fitted in with the wondrous magical series which they thought they remembered. It has elements of 'gothic horror' (humans trapped by telepathic aliens on a space ship) and elements of 'serious sci-fi' (the aliens have a reasonably well drawn culture, and individual personalities.) The Sensorites themselves looked good in the still photographs, and crop up in the first Doctor Who annual, allowing the story to grow into a lost classic in the collective memory of fandom.

The real thing turns out to be all but un-watch-able. It has a few moments of 'historical' interest, such as when the Doctor and Susan briefly reminisce about their mysterious home planet and the reasons for their wandering--but this is perfunctory. (Not nearly as good as the genuinely tear-jerking moment in 'Tomb of the Cybermen' when Doctor Patrick confides to Victoria about his dead family.) The aliens are tolerably well done. Provided you aren't surprised by the fact that they are not really aliens but actually actors wearing masks then you have to admit that they are rather nice, well made masks, and that the actors try quite hard to put the characterization across. It is quite brave in 1964 to have a substantial supporting cast made up of non-human characters. Star Trek never really tried it.

I was looking forward to the appearance of Peter Glaze, the fat comedian who made a catch phrase of 'Doh!' half a century before Homer Simpson did, but under the masks, I couldn't tell which one he was.

The trouble with the story is that it is boring, boring, boring and boring, with a small dose of patronizing for good measure. It turns on the Doctor losing the key to the TARDIS, and having to become involved in a minor intrigue on an alien planet to get it back. Yeah, so the Sensorites are feuding about whether trade with the human is going to interfere with their traditional way of life or not. Hard to care a great deal. There is a small moment of interest in the final episode when the writer, who has clearly run out of things to happen, in desperation comes up with some insane human castaways. But most of the story is an unbearable exercise in exposition in which plot twists which were not very interesting to begin with are spelled out to the kids in words of one syllable.

There is a plague, which is only affecting the lower caste Sensorites. Our heroes are at tea with one of the nobles. The noble insists they try some of the water from the special spring which only the noble caste uses. Ian makes a big thing out of being thirsty, and takes a swig of the lower-caste water. He comes down with the plague. The Doctor spends half an episode wondering why the only crew-member affected by the plague is Ian. I'm sure even eight-year olds in 1965 were yelling 'It's the bleeding water, you dopey old git' at him.

'The Gunfighters', on the other hand, turns out to be an awful lot of fun. It has been universally reviled by Doctor Who fans because there is no way that it can possibly be made consistent with the idea of Doctor Who One. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, silly. It has jokey titles ('A Holiday for the Doctor') and a non-existent story-line ('The TARDIS arrives at the OK Coral just before the Gunfight. Er…that's it, really.') It is not historical drama. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a time-travel story showing what would happen if some modern people were landed in nineteenth-century America. It's not one of those mythical 'stories-to-get-kids-interested-in-history' that some people persist in believing in. It's not even really a Western. It's nothing more or less that an excuse for a bunch of grown ups to play cowboys and Indians for 98 minutes.

Few of the supporting cast can actually manage American accents, so we have sheriffs and gunslingers who sound cockney and Australian, sometimes simultaneously. Although the sets are good, there aren't enough extras to make the town look populated. It’s a bit of a drawback when trying to make a western to find out that you can only afford one very brief shot with horses in it.

And then there is the matter of That Bloody Song. Someone decided that, if Doctor Who was going to arrive in the Wild West, then there would jolly well be a ballad. There is wonderful bathos when a song at the level of--

So pick him up gentle
And carry him slow
He's gone kind of mental
Under Earp's heavy blow.

--fades into the familiar Ron Grainger theme and the swirly lines, reminding you that, yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, this actually has been Doctor Who you've been watching.

But that said, the story rolls along at an entertaining pace. It may not make much sense, but it is full of stuff. Stephen gets captured by a lynch mob. The Doctor is (inevitably) mistaken for Doc Holiday. He acts as mediator between the Earps and the Clantons. Stephen and Vicki are forced at gunpoint to do a musical act in the Last Chance Saloon. (Cue: 'Next Episode -- Don't Shoot the Pianist.') The Doctor is surprised that Doc Holiday is going to pull his teeth without anesthetic Stephen wanders around a 'real' Wild West town in a cowboy suit such as you could buy in any Fancy Dress hire shop. The Doctor consistently refers to the sheriff as Mr Werp. At the end of the story, the Doctor accuses Vicki of having fallen prey to every wild west movie cliché in the book. He understood what was going on, if no-one else did.

When I first saw a second season Hartnell story, I found it disconcerting that Peter Purves had taken over Ian's role as Grown Up Male TARDIS passenger. Watching stories like 'The Gunfighters', it seems the most natural thing in the world. "This week, I'll be telling you what happened when I visited the last remnants of the human race on board a generation star-ship. But first, here's Val to show you how to make a fluid link out of an old thermometer and some sticky-backed plastic."

Doctor Who never was about Time Travel. With the whole universe of Time and Space to explore, the TARDIS keeps dumping us in English school-book historical settings, where we can meet Famous Historical Characters. Within the first three seasons, we'd seen the Doctor and his companions playing at being Cavemen, Knights, Romans, Greeks, Cowboys, Pirates and travelers with Marco Polo. The heroes spend long enough in these settings to become naturalized: Ian wears a suit of armour and gets knighted by Richard the Lion-heart; Barbara and Vicki dress up in togas. In this respect, the Doctor has a great deal in common with that other archetypal British swashbuckling hero, MrBen. (Mr Ben never witnesses the Bartholomew Day's massacre or an Aztec human sacrifice; and come to that the Doctor never becomes a clown or a cook; but in other respects, the overlap is striking. )

This is why 'The Time Meddler' though it lacks the seriousness of the early stories, might stand for the archetypal Hartnell yarn. The BBC actors look desperately awkward in their Viking costumes; and the fight scenes are an embarrassment; but Peter Butterworth's naughty, interfering but basically harmless Time Traveler is a wonderful opposite number for the pompous First Doctor. He should surely have become a regular fixture in the series. It was always hard to believe that the godlike Time Lords of later mythos had anything whatsoever to do with the Doctors; but the Doctor and the Monk have a schoolboy-ish rapport which makes us instantly believe they are part of the same world. Surely there was a whole universe of Time Traveling tricksters for us to discover? The climax to episode 3, when Stephen and Vicki stumble into the Monk's very own TARDIS, stands as my second favourite of all Doctor Whocliffhangers. (*)

Where 'Gunfighters' at least allows the cast to play at cowboys, the historical setting for 'Time Meddler' has become a complete irrelevance; simply a backdrop in which the Monk can carry out his mischief and the Doctor can stop him. But the historical setting which is being ignored is, of course, the one which more than any other signifies 'History' to generations of British Schoolchildren. The TARDIS seems to choose landing spots, not because they are important, but because they are Memorable. It was inevitable that the TARDIS should eventually take us to 1066; it had arguably never taken us anywhere except 1066 and All That.

The first time we see Susan in 'Unearthly Child', she is reading a book about the French Revolution. The last story of the first season ends with her, her grandfather and her two favourite teachers wandering around a knock-off Scarlet Pimpernel thriller set during, yes, the French Revolution. If the series had ended there (and maybe it should have done) we might have been tempted to think that the whole 'adventure in space and time' was nothing more than a day-dream created by an over-imaginative school girl.

'Susan, listen to me. Can't you see that all this is an illusion? It's a game that you and your grandfather are playing, if you like. But you can't expect us to believe it.'

But very sadly, we started to.

(*) 1: The Dying Dalek's tentacle emerging from the Thal cloak. =3 "I am the servant of Sutek, he needs no other" =3 "So, we play the contest again, Time Lord" 5: "I've made a terrible mistake. I thought I'd locked the enemy out. Instead, I've locked him in."

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Ian Levine’s Twitter account is increasingly puzzling.

He was quite disapointed that the Tuesday press conference got put back to Thursday. “SELFISH FUCKING BBC”, he explained. Now that it has been officially confirmed that “a number” of lost Doctor Who episodes have indeed been found his remarks have become even more cryptic.

One thing I can tell you. If we have ANY hope of seeing any more, each and every fan needs to download those iTunes episodes on Friday...or whenever they become available. If people wait, or try to get them for free, or stick them on YouTube, it will kill any chance of...more. EACH AND EVERY Doctor Who fan needs to download those episodes on Friday. Something like fifteen quid to secure Doctor Who's...treasures - we must stop anyone who tries to illegally abuse this. Please everyone do your bit. We have never had this chance before REMEMBER EVERYBODY !!!!! THE FATE OF THE OTHER MISSING EPISODES IS IN YOUR HANDS.

Can anyone parse this? I believe I am correct in saying that every episode of Doctor Who in the BBC archives has been made available on VHS and DVD, with mostly excellent critical apparatus. Either it's commercially viable for the BBC to do this; or the BBC thinks that it’s worth doing even though it doesn't make them very much money. (The Lost in Time “orphan” episode collection can hardly have been a massive money spinner.) The problem has never been "The BBC won't let us see all the episodes it has got". It has always been “There are some episodes we can't see because the BBC hasn't got them." 

So in what way is Doctor Who’s fate compromised if, on Friday, I say “I don’t think I’ll download the complete Web of Fear today -- I’ll stick the DVD on my Amazon list for Christmas”? How is this different from me not having got around to buying "Reign of Terror" yet? If they published the incomplete "Ice Warriors"; why on earth would they sit on a complete "Web of Fear"?

It sounds very much like a conspiracy theory. The BBC have always known about these missing tapes, but they've been "hoarding" them, because they don't want anyone to see them. I don't know why. Possibly they reveal that Doctor Who was married to Susan Foreman and gave birth to the Merovingian dynasty. Or maybe the idea is that some big name fan has all the tapes, and the money from the downloads is going directly to him, and if he doesn't make enough, he'll take his secret stash back to Ethiopia?

Conspiracy minded Doctor Who fans have long believed in the existence of this Secret Stash. There would, at least, be a motivation for a fan having episodes but not sharing them: consider the prestige you would have at Doctor Who conventions if you had the copy of "Underwater Menace" that no-one else had. I certainly went to DWAS meetings in the 70s at which videos of black and white stories were shown, long before the BBC had officially released them, so the story had a certain narrative plausibility. Recently, a strange man on the internet claimed to have, or have access to, all the lost stories, but said he would only let you see them if you went onto his website and purchased photographs of ladies with no clothes on. (True.) Many prominent fans were said (quite wrongly) to be the owners of the Secret Stash; some of them are still quite vocal on the internet. It all seemed a bit Purloined Letter to me: the Secret Stash is only any use to you if you don't let anyone else see it; but once you've let someone else see it, it isn't secret any more. 

Recently recovered 1960s TV material would be on cine film, correct? And probably in pretty poor condition. You can't just take a 50 year old film and "release" it. Work would have to be done turning into modern downloadable format. Quite a lot of jiggery pokery has been done to the stories that are already on sale: a damaged tape eked out with other clips; a sound track from one source married to pictures from another. I seem to think that a whole scene was missing from the "War Machines", and the restoration team sort of faked it and pretended so you wouldn't notice. So it makes some sense that a big box of tapes were found in July, but next Thursday is the earliest date on which episodes can actually be released into the wild. And I don't imagine that they found a box clearly marked "Season 6, Story 5, Episodes 2-6". I imagine there's a big box with dusty Who tape muddle in with On the Buses and footage of Haile Selassie's coronoation. Maybe a little man in a white coat called up the BBC and said "Sorry, there's no way I can have 10th Planet Episode 4 cleaned up before Thursday" or "Cancel the press conference for Tom's sake, there's more here than we thought."

Of course, Ian Levine is a very important person indeed and has a perfect right to be to be told exactly what archive material the BBC has got its hands on the monment that they do. But for the rest of us -- well, it makes sense for the BBC to want to wait until they can show off their exciting, and very valuable, new find to the best possible advantage.

The love of a fan is very, very close to hate. People convince themselves that they know a movie star or a singer and are shocked and disappointed because the star doesn’t know them. There have been terrible cases of fans literally killing the thing they loved; and many more of people swearing to burn their collection of Swamp Thing because Alan Moore wasn’t sufficiently pleased when they told him they were his biggest fan.

I like Doctor Who very much indeed. But I have never, ever felt remotely tempted to behave as if my fannish love means that I somehow own it.

Please consider backing my Kickstarter Project: a £20 pledge gets you 400-450 pages of my Whovian writings, including brand new material never released on the internet, and encourages me to carry on writing. You know it makes sense.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Woot, woot, or possibly, vworp! vworp! thank you thank you to the "early adopters" of my project...10% of my funding goal in the first 3 days ain't bad at all.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Do You Mean, We?

I know six things about the Lone Ranger. That’s probably one more than you do.

1: He wears a mask.

2: He has faithful Indian companion named Tonto, who calls him "kemo sabe".

3: He shouts “Hi-ho, Silver!” to his horse.

4: He uses silver bullets.

5: His theme tune is the William Tell Overture.

6: He’s the Green Hornet's great-uncle.

And that’s literally it. I have no idea if he had a secret identity, a supporting cast or a back story. I assume that’s why the character was so durable -- three thousand radio episodes, and a TV show that ran for five seasons. He’s a peg on which to hang any cowboy story you feel like telling. No-one knows his name; he rides into town; he sticks up for the little guy against the big guy; and then rides out again. And that's it

But it turns out there's a narrative. I took the precaution of watching the first episode of the Clayton Moore TV show before writing this piece, and was surprised how much of it was carried over into Johnny Depp movie. I don't know if that shows a terminal lack of imagination on the part of 21st century screen writers, or a touching respect for foundational texts. Seven Texas Rangers ride into the badlands in pursuit of a baddie called Butch Cavendish. It turns out that they're being led into a trap, and Cavendish kills them all. But then it turns out that one of them is only mostly dead. A passing Indian, Tonto, nurses this Ranger back to health, and they decide that they'd better hunt down bad guys in general and Cavendish in particular. So much for the joke about why he's the "lone" Ranger if Tonto is always with him. 

Stuff I thought was probably late-in-the day over-interpretation (like the idea that the Lone Ranger’s mask is made out of his dead brother’s jacket) turn out to go back to the TV show, if not to the original wireless version. The one substantive change is that the original Lone Ranger was a creature of the Westward expansion, whose every adventure contributed to the development of this great country of ours; the movie version (like Jack Sparrow) represents the last hi-ho of a dying age, starting his adventures just as the coast-to-coast railway is taming the wild West once and for all.

This summer’s misbegotten Man of Steel was so heavy with invented back-story that I wondered why they had even bothered stamping the Superman branding on it. Poor Henry Cavill hardly got to play at being Superman at all: he's mostly a pawn in a manichean struggle between God, voiced by Jor El, and Satan, ghosted by Zod. But the bit about ickle baby Kal being shot into space when his planet blows up remained in place, as if that was the inviolable core that makes it a Superman movie. The Lone Ranger movie makes the killing of Dan Read (our hero’s brother) and the other rangers a cog in a huge conspiracy in which an evil rail-road magnate is in league with a psychotic cannibal who may or may not be Wendigo in order to get possession of a secret Indian silver mine which would enable him to buy all the shares and thus....I admit I got a bit lost. Ever since Jack Nicholson turned out to be both the crimer who shot Brucie’s mummy and daddy and the crazy grinning guy with green hair, superhero movies have worked a bit too hard to tie everything together into single all-encompassing plots. (Did Sandman turn out to be the burglar who shot Uncle Ben? I think I wasn’t paying attention.)

But this time around the backstory avoids smothering the Lone Ranger and Tonto. They may be embedded in a CGI and pop-corn remake of "Once Upon a Time in the West" but they are still basically a whiter than white white guy in a mask and a wise Indian scout who ride along trails and fight bad guys. Every conceivable buckle is swashed. Horses race trains (repeatedly); heroes leap from burning buildings into hails of bullets; the pair rob a bank (for good and adequate reasons) and are buried up to their neck in a scorpion invested desert. Logic and physics are completely abandoned for a climax involving trains, horses, firing squads and exploding bridges. And a ladder. (With the theme tune blasting out in the background, or course. Who was it who said that an intellectual is a person who could hear the William Tell overture and not think of the Lone Ranger?)

God knows, it's a flawed movie. It runs for two and half hours and feels like five, although it is far from obvious how you could make it shorter and retain its encyclopaedic scope. Uneven in tone doesn’t even begin to cover it. Parody of the Lone Ranger? Affectionately camp reworking? Pastiche? Serious engagement with an American icon? The final minutes include a very wholesome tribute the TV show, with everyone thanking the Lone Ranger and asking him to stay around before he rides of into the sunset. No-one says “Who was that masked man?” but you feel that someone might have done. (Like "Play it again Sam" and "Beam me up Scotty", it's a very famous quotation that no-one ever actually said.) But then we cut to him wondering whether to call himself “The Lone Avenger” or “The Masked Rider” which is straight out of Black Adder. I'm not quite what the the point is of making us sit through three hours of John Reid's personal journey from inept goody two shoes to fully fledged hero, only to portray him as an oaf in the final seconds. It really does feel like a cut and paste job between four or five different scripts.

When you don’t have pictures, you need verbal signals to tell the audience what is going on. Radio Superman used to say “Up, up....and away” to signify that he was flying; radio Lone Ranger similarly said “Hi-ho silver...away!” to warn of an impending chase sequence. The TV series used spoken voice overs (quite effectively, based on my extensive survey of one and half episodes) to make the pictures more dramatic, but kept the “Hi-ho silver” catch phrase, must famously in the opening credits. When Armie Hammer delivers the line, Johnny Deep wearily replies "Never do that again." That joke arrived approximately 60 years too late.

The burlesque may be mostly unfunny, but the Lone Ranger’s basic goodness is left intact -- this is the character about whom all those jokes about cowboys walking into saloons and ordering glasses of milk were originally made. We're nearly always laughing with him, hardly ever at him. We are never asked to find the idea of goodness funny, as we were in those cynical Mummy films. We’re nearly always on the hero's side. Johnny Depp’s Tonto is a lot less over the top than I expected him to be.

Don Quixote is the story of the friendship between a man who is clever but insane and a man who is sane but stupid. Together, they just about make up one hero. This most Quixotic of movies gives us a hero who is good and brave but completely inept; and pairs him with a companion who is wise and clever but crazy and cynical. Tonto honestly believes that the Lone Ranger, having died and risen again, is the legendary spirit walker who can’t be killed and whose gun never misses. Both sides are arguably frauds: Tonto is making up Indian mythology on the spot (his own tribe regard him as a crackpot) and the Ranger is a lawyer thrust into the role of hero by accident. The idea that these two half competents together make one superhero works better than it probably ought to. The relationship is unpredictable enough and funny enough to very nearly hold this monster of a movie together.

The whole film is wrapped in a frame in which a little boy in a Lone Ranger suit encounters the elderly Tonto in a 1933 Wild West Show. Why? Why, oh why? As if the thing wasn't long enough and confusing enough already? Perhaps it's intended to place it all in some kind of historical context: the Lone Ranger folk tale emerged at a time when the Wild West was still very nearly contemporary -- as close to the first radio listeners as the 1950s are to us. Perhaps it wants to make the point that the Lone Ranger is an iconic figure of whom you ought to have heard, for the benefit of the 90% of the audience who looked at the posters and said “The Lone what?” Perhaps the frame is an apology for the preposterousness of the action: maybe what we’re watching is a tall story, made up by Tonto. Maybe one of the dozens of discarded scripts was going to be reveal a realistic, “historical” Lone Ranger who lay behind the myth. Or maybe someone involved just really liked the Princess Bride. 

There’s definitely some weird shit going on: when Tonto pours peanut shells over the graves of the murdered Texas Rangers in the “historical” segment, the little boys “modern” carnival peanut bag blows across the screen; Tonto is first seen as a waxwork in the exhibition, but then, without explanation, he comes to life. I would bet pence that the original idea was for the little boy in the Ranger suit to have been looking at museum tableaux of the Wild West and then imagining, or dreaming the story, with himself as the hero. Remember the poignant ending of the original Secret of Monkey Island RPG? (1)

All through this summer, and every summer, we’ve had bigger and louder space movies until even those of us who love Marvel Comics with all our hearts are wishing we could just take off the 3D glasses and calm the hell down. The Lone Ranger is having a dang good go at being something better and more interesting than that. It’s a big meaty mythological movie which acknowledges that the guy in the white hat who carries six-guns but doesn’t kill anybody is basically ridiculous. That's what the frame is about, I suppose: it's telling us that this is fantasy wild west; peep show wild west, pop corn wild west, frankly rather racially patronising wild west, the wild west as imagined by a child of ten -- but that at some level, the material is so iconic that it has to stand as some kind of aetiological myth about America. 

It doesn’t work, of course. I lost track of the plot several mcguffins down; and the action is so relentless and over the top that a law of diminishing returns sets in quite quickly. (My heart sank particularly when we arrived at Helena Bonham Carter’s brothel.) On the other hand, the revelation of what the railway boss was planning to do with Tonto’s silver genuinely impressed me, and I can’t deny letting out a (very quiet) whoop of excitement when the Lone Ranger throws the silver bullet to his nephew. I wish that these heroes could be allowed to exist in something like their trashy pulpy context; part of what made Superman and the Lone Ranger and, er, Doctor Who seem so epic is that they appeared in an endless sequence of small adventures; saving America one homesteader at a time, every week for twenty years. An eighty year old radio show is very flimsy material to build a multi trillion dollar epic out of. But where Star Trek and Man of Steel and the Hobbit seem to hate their source material, the Lone Ranger seems to be created by people who love the masked rider of the plains and want to honour his memory. It's much better than I expected it to be, and very much better than it had any need to be.

(1) There’s a very odd moment when the boy interrupts the narrative to say that Tonto is getting the story wrong and that Dan Reid, not John Reid was the Lone Ranger. Tonto claims that “kemo sabe” means “wrong brother”. At first, I thought that this was some kind of continuity easter egg for advances Rangerologist. In the TV version, we are told that Daniel Reid is one of the murdered Rangers, and that he is the brother of the hero, but we pointedly don’t see the surviving Ranger’s face or find out what his first name is, although he had been called John on the wireless. But there doesn’t seem to have been any version in which he was called Dan.

Friday, August 09, 2013

In civilized life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: ‘I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.’ Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken. -- The Screwtape Letters

Thursday, August 08, 2013

C.S Lewis or Winnie the Pooh?

The following quotations are widely disseminated on the interwebs.

Some of them are attributed to the Cambridge Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, where some of them are attributed to a Bear of Very Little Brain.
Can you spot which are which?

And for extra points, can you work out their actual sources?

"You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream."

"You're braver than you believe, and stronger then you seem, and smarter than you think."

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

"Life is too deep for words, so don't try to describe it, just live it."

"The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed."

"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."

"Resolutions are real things. They are things that, when you make them, you hope they will make you a better person in the future"

"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different."

"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"

"We are what we believe we are."

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!"

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why we call it the present."

"Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours."

I wrote a book about C.S Lewis, you know, although admittedly, so did everybody else. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

Hello I Must Be Going (5)

Go back and watch the final seconds of Name of the Doctor.

It's rather good.

We see the Mysterious Figure, from behind.
Clara asks who he is.
The Doctor says that "he is me"; but then says that although he is me, he is not the Doctor. 

Clara faints.
We hear the Mysterious Figure's voice, saying that what he did, he did without choice, in the name of sanity, and that some day soon, you too will have to make a choice, young Warlock. (I may have made some of that up.)
The Doctor says "not in the name of the Doctor".
The Doctor turns his back on the Mysterious Figure, and (after the Doctor has gone) the Figure turns around, and looks at us.
We see his face for a second—old, beardy, rather weather beaten: a hermit, or and old old soldier, possibly from World War I.
And at that precise moment an on-screen caption tells us about the actor. "Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor" it says. At the same moment we meet the character we are told about the actor playing the character

We've always had a certain amount of interest in The Making of Doctor Who, haven't we? Geeky men making sound effects involving piano wires and Vaseline; anecdotes involving eye-patches and trousers. But this is the first time the meta-narrative has folded into the main narrative to this extent.

Not "Gosh, there's an extra Doctor" but "Gosh, it's the one from the Elephant Man and Alien."

Shortly after Matt Smith's departure was leaked to the press, Stephen Moffat issued a press release.

"Of course, this isn't the end of the story, because now the search begins. Somewhere out there right now - all unknowing, just going about their business - is someone who's about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again! "

A search begins?

A life is going to change?

Is that all it is? Is that really what Doctor Who has become? Another version of the bloody X-Factor?

It isn't about whether a science fictional character with an odd life cycle is going to regenerate into a female form, and what effect that will have on the fictional character's life. It's about whether girls get their fair turn at "being" the Doctor. It isn't about what the personality of the new Doctor will be, it's a back stage soap opera about how joining in the magical special nauseating Doctor Who Family is going to change an actor's life.

And that, in the end, is why I have become disengaged from Doctor Who.

It's not about the stories any more.

It never was.

This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (4)

Please understand I respect and admire the frailer sex
And I honour them every bit as much as the next
        Jake Thackray

Actually, the prospect of a lady Doctor doesn't bother me at all. It's the endless discussion about whether or not there should be a lady Doctor that I find so dispiriting.

You might be okay with the idea of the Doctor being a woman; on the other hand you might think that that would be a step too far from the "Edwardian English Gentleman" persona. We could have an civilized chat about that. You might, for all I know, think that the Doctor ought to shed, once and for all, the nerdy image and become a tough edgy gangster who thinks with his fists. We could have a civilized chat about that, as well. But the question is in danger of being co-opted by a quite separate discussion about equality and gender; about rights and morals. The next Doctor ought to be woman; anyone who thinks that the next Doctor shouldn't be a woman obviously hates women. People who ought to know better are saying things like "It is not fair that my young daughter is going to go through life knowing that she can't ever be Doctor Who" or "Saying that girls can't be Doctor Who is like saying that they can't be doctors or engine drivers or in particular Church of England Bishops." Some people even said that it was like saying that gay people couldn't get married, although that was mainly because the Matt Smith story broke on the same day there was a more than usually fatuous debate in the House of Lords. 

No, Mrs Worthington, of course your daughter can't ever "be" the Doctor. The Doctor is a made up character in a story. If you do decide to put your daughter on the stage, then she will not be able to play the role of, for example, Harry Potter, any more than your son will be able to play the role of, for example, Hermione Grainger, because the one is a dude and the other is a dudette. But even supposing that your son does become an actor rather than a nurse or an air-steward, he will still not be able to "be" Harry. When we were very young, many of us imagined that acting was like playing soldiers and Dungeons & Dragons. You pretend to fly the TARDIS, and you pretend so hard that is is almost practically real until you take the costume off and go home for tea. Now we are six we understand that acting is a very skilled and exacting (and often quite boring) trade involving moving your eyebrow at exactly the right time towards exactly the right camera and getting your breathing exactly spot on and then doing it six more times exactly the same. Most of us couldn't do it and wouldn't want to. That is why actors get paid such a lot of money. If your actor becomes a daughter, then of course there are roles that she could play and roles that she could not play. And of course it would be a good thing if there were more and better roles for women actors; and of course it is a good thing that there are, although still not enough. But saying that the roles of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Superman ought to be taken by women so that little girls who don't yet understand what acting is can aspire to cast magic spells, travel in time and space and break the necks of supervillains is simply nonsensical. I submit that there is ontological conclusion going on between the process of regeneration and the process of auditioning

That's the answer to the Black Spider-Man question, by the way: more black superheroes, better black superheroes. Superheroes whose whole back story is tied up in the their African heritage; superheroes who live in New York and Cardiff and who just happen to have dark skin; everything in between. And then turn some of them into movies.


This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (3)

This particular night, an usher overheard an audience member say: "I'm enjoying it, but I can't work out how a black man could have a white daughter." Funny, that, I remember thinking: they didn't seem worried by the talking polar bear.
                       David Harewood, on playing Lord Asrail in "His Dark Materials."

So: what are we asking when we ask if Doctor Who could be a woman, or black, or a black woman?

We aren't asking whether he could have been a black woman in 1963: obviously, he could not have been. The Original Doctor was an archetype, and the Old Crazy Science Guy Archetype is an old grey haired white male. (Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is.) The BBC could have created a series involving time travel in which the main character wasn't an Old Crazy Science Guy—but that series would have been a different thing from Doctor Who.

We aren't asking whether a black man or a woman could pretend to be one of the white male Doctors: if we could recreate the Fourth Doctor in a flasback, but have Tom Baker played by Lenny Henry; if Dawn French should have been considered for the role of William Hartnell in the forthcoming film about the early days of the series. That would obviously make no sense at all. Don't know why I even mentioned it.

I think the question we are asking is closer to "Could a black man, or a woman, or a black woman do the Doctor's job".

The process of regeneration is pretty vague. Sometimes it seems to be conceived as a very radical form of cosmetic surgery; sometime it seems to be a kind of metamorphosis; sometimes it seems to be more like Hindu reincarnation. When the Time Lords turned Doctor Pat into Doctor Jon, they talked in terms of changing his physical appearance. When Doctor David turned into Doctor Matt, he seemed to be genuinely sadas if he was leaving something behind. When different versions of the Doctor meet up—most recently at the end of Name of the Doctor—they regard themselves as different people, not merely "myself when young". I therefore conclude that, in modern continuity at least, regenerating is more like "a new person taking over a job" than "a new actor playing the same character". "Could there be a black Doctor?" is much more like asking "Could an hispanic boy take over the job of Spider-Man?" than "Could a one-legged man play Tarzan?"

So all bets are off, and anyone can play the Doctor, regardless of age, hair colour or shoe size, right?

If you want to carry on believing in James Bond, you have to pretend that "James Bond" is a nom de guerre which has been used by a number of British spies and assassins over the years. The same individual can hardly have been expelled from Eton in 1932 and have pushed the present Queen out of a helicopter during the 2012 Olympic Games. But it doesn't follow that anyone could do the James Bond role—that it could be a scruffy Welshman who prefers Guinness to Martini or a celibate Frenchman who doesn't approve of gambling, or a wheelchair bound professor of espionagoloy. There's a sort of essence, involving smart suits, baccarat tables, fast cars, beautiful girlfriends and expensive cocktails that makes Bond Bond.

I submit that there has to be some essential quality somewhere that makes the Doctor the Doctor. I submit that that that essence of Doctorness is more important to Doctor Who than the essence of Bondness is to James Bond. Replace Daniel Craig with a Chinese martial artist and you still have fast cars, stunts, scripts and villains with ridiculous plots, clever gadgets, sick jokes. "That was obviously a James Bond film" you might say "Even though it didn't have James Bond in it." But Doctor Who, the character, is literally the only thread connecting all the disparate bits of TV that make up Doctor Who the TV series together. Doctor Who without Doctor Who in it is like Hamlet without the Hamlet; like Garfield without Garfield.

If Peter Davison had been a woman, it would have made very little difference, except possibly to Sandra Dickenson. Tom Baker correctly said that the Doctor didn't have romantic emotions—that was one of the things which made it an interesting role for an actor to play. The Tom Baker Doctor wasn't especially macho, and when he was joined by a Lady Time Lord, she wasn't particularly feminine. There was very little sexuality to the show: a little flirting when Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were romantically involved in real life, but no sense that it could ever go anywhere. If Tom had grinned and passed the torch to, say, Joanna Lumley, I think everything would have carried on as before :a fairly non-gendered character played by a man becoming a fairly non-gendered character played by a woman.

Since then, we have, of course, discovered that Doctor Who is almost entirely about flirting. Tom Baker's remarks about the Doctor being asexual were hallucinated by a sexually dysfunctional fan-base. New Who is about a Doctor who falls in love, gets married, (sort of) and on whom all the female companions have crushes. That's the whole point of the show.

The last time we had this discussion, Russell T Davies remarked that if he cast a lady as the Doctor, parents up and down the land would have to field the question "Mummy, does the new Doctor have a willy?" I think he had a fair point, however badly he may have put it. New Who is adult enough that any Male to Female regeneration would have to be addressed in terms of transexuality and gender reassignment; it is enough of a children's programme that those subjects could probably not be handled, or not handled well. In the old days, we could happily have had a scene in which the Doctor indicated that he now had a female shape and that it made no difference; now we would have to deal with the fact that he is married to River Bloody Song and that Wonderful Clara either does or doesn't have a crush on him. The femininity of the Doctor would become what the series was about.

The race thing, on the other hand, is very nearly a non-issue. When the 1996 American TV reboot was under discussion, there were vague suggestions that the Doctor should be a stereotypical urban American black guy. And that the TARDIS should sing rap music. The name of Eddie Murphy was uttered. This would, of course, have been appalling. The Doctor's Englishness, or at any rate Britishness, is much more part of his essence than the shape of his genitals, which I hope and believe will never appear on screen. But there are plenty of ways, interesting ways, in which a character can be English and Asian or English and African at the same time. Yes, a version of Doctor Who in which every bloody story was about race, racial identity, prejudice and people treating you differently when your skin changes colour would be terribly, terribly, boring, but I think that could probably be avoided. Matt Smith is the youngest actor to play the role, and the whole series hasn't become about his youth.

"Edwardian English Gentleman With Dark Skin", "African English Edwardian Gentleman", "Asian English Edwardian Gentleman" are all perfectly imaginable. "Lady Edwardian English Gentleman" starts to set off warning bells, albeit quite quiet, tinkly ones.


This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (2)

"Now, Mr. Spigott, you, a one-legged man, are applying for the role of Tarzan -- a role which, traditionally, involves the use of a two-legged actor....And yet you, a unidexter, are applying for the role. A role for which two legs would seem to be the minimum requirement."
                                        Not Only...But Also
Could Spider-Man be black?
This is a meaningless question.
Spider-Man is a fictional character, with a background and a history. As a matter of fact, that character is a white, teenaged, male New Yorker, born around 1948. (Or "about 25 years ago" if you believe in Marvel Time, or "In 1986" if you prefer the Ultimate version.) I suppose there could be a storyline in which someone injects him with a magic potion and his skin went black. A good writer could write a good story based on that premise, and a bad writer could write a very bad one. 

But that isn't what you are asking, is it? You are asking "Could Spider-Man have been black?"
To which the answer is yes, of course he could have been. Steve Ditko and his very talented scripting assistant could perfectly well have told a story about an African American teenager who was bitten by a radioactive Spider and learned that with great power must also come etcetera etcetera etcetera. 

Would that have made a difference to the story? Yes: in the same way that it would have made a difference if Uncle Ben had been Peter Parker's natural father, or if it had been Aunt May who had been shot by the burglar. Change any part of the story and you change the story. I suppose that, in 1963, even in New York, it would have been relatively uncommon for people of colour to get science scholarships to major universities or work in photo-journalism. I imagine that the bullying of Peter Parker by Flash Thompson, or his hounding by J Jonah Jameson would have felt different if it had been white guys picking on a black guy. Could a story have been written along those lines? Yes, emphatically. Would it have been such a good story? Steve Ditko was a genius at the the top of his game working with the best dialogue-writer ever to work in comics, so yes, I imagine he would have produced a good story on any subject he felt like. Would Spider-Man have still been basically the same character? It depends what you mean by "the same". Is any character who can stick to walls and shoot webs essentially Spider-Man, or is it all the little details that made Spider-Man who he is?
If you take the former line—if it's the costume and the powers that maketh the hero, as opposed to the specs and the over protective aunty—then being Spider-Man is a job and that job could be done by someone other than Peter Parker—black, female, disabled, gay, a born-again Christian or an alien from the planet Zog. In the Ultimate universe, Peter Parker is currently spending a year dead for tax reasons and the "job" of Spider-Man is being performed by an Hispanic youth. It works fine.
But that isn't the question you are asking, either.
The question you are asking is "Could a black person pretend to be Spider-Man. In, like a movie or a TV series."
And the answer is—well, maybe.
Almost definitely.
If we were talking about legitimate theatre we wouldn't even be asking the question. Everyone—everyone except Quentin Letts—accepts colour-blind casting. If the director casts a black man as Macbeth, it wouldn't occur to us to think that Macbeth actually was a black man—that there were African noblemen in tenth century Scotland. Theatre is all about suspension of disbelief. The cut-out tree in the middle of the stage doesn't look like a tree; it's an instruction, saying "please imagine that this scene is taking place in the forest of Arden." Eke out our performance with your mind, as the fellow said. It's fairly common for female actors to play male roles. No-one claims that Richard II really was a woman or Juliet was really a man. We just pretend.
Movies are a bit different, because the whole fun of movies is that you don't have to use your imagination. What we see on the screen is what the pretend people on the screen can see. If a character looks black or female or disabled, then we take it for granted that they are black or female or disabled in the story.
So, the question you are asking is "Does it matter if the character we see on the screen doesn't look like the character we see on the page of the comic book?" Does it matter if Peter Parker has light skin in the comic and dark skin on the screen? Would it be okay for Mary-Jane, who has long red hair in the comic, to have short black hair on the screen? Can blonde comic-book Gwen become brunette movie Gwen? Does Prof X need to be bald? Could we cope with a ginger Lois Lane? Why do all the good examples I can think of involve hair? 

Ditko's Spider-Man was a science nerd, and "science-nerd" is a much more irreducible part of Spider-Man's fictional DNA than "white New York male". In the original comic, this nerdiness was represented by test tubes, microscopes, museum exhibitions and piles of books. In the movie, and in modern comic book versions, the chemistry equipment is replaced by computers, the internet, the internet and computers. Because that's what 21st century nerds play with. "Changing things" is, in this case, the only reasonable way of leaving them the same. Changing "radioactive Spider" to "genetically modified Spider" for the benefit of modern kids is no different from changing "spider" to "araigne" for the benefit of French kids. 

Peter Parker, as created by Steve Ditko, grew up in the 1950s. He called women "gals" and Russians "commies", wore a waistcoat on informal occasions and thought "I bet you're still wearing a Vote for Dewey badge" was a clever topical reference. Yet many of us seem to be able to accept that the young man who remembers the Beatles and lost friends in the Vietnam war is the "same persion" as the young man who was a teenager when the World Trade Center was destroyed; but somehow think that if his hair or his skin is the wrong colour he is just not Spider-Man. 
In 1963, Peter Parker's Aunt May was already a Very Old Lady, prone to have heart-attacks at the drop of a pin -- in her 70s, or even older. A New York lady who was born in the 1890s is very likely to have been an immigrant. I think everyone now agrees that Peter Parker was -- like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and the guy who wrote the words --  a second generation immigrant, say of Austrian or Czech  Jewish heritage. This is why Peter Parker is rejected by his peer group, and bullied by Flash Thompson. He's a foreigner; an outsider. 

It follows that movies which represent him as an all-American white kid are just as false as the ones where he plays with a microscope rather than a computer. If you want to set Spider-Man in the 21st century and remain remotely faithful to the original, you'd have to make him the kid of some refugees who came to America in the 1990s; non-religious himself, but greatly influenced by Uncle Ben's Somali Muslim or Punjabi Sikh heritage.

(I'm serious, by the way.) 

This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (1)

In the future, everyone will be Doctor Who, but only for fifteen episodes.

I have become disengaged from Doctor Who.
Don't worry, this is not going to be one of those "I swear on Uncle Ben's grave, never again shall I watch this travesty" essays. I am sure that fourteen months from now I shall still be going on and on about how Patterson Joseph is not as good as Matt Smith.
But right now, I don't care, although I care very much about not caring. It no longer matters, but it matters that it doesn't matter. I imagine that this is what divorce or loss of faith would feel like. It doesn't, I am happy to say, feel anything like grief.
Matt Smith was what was keeping me watching; and Matt Smith is going. So we will have months and months of speculation, and two massively over-hyped specials. Then we will have a new series, though not for a year, in which yet another new actor has yet another go at figuring out what the new show is all about, and then quits when we have barely had time to get used to him.


When we hear that a comic or a book or a TV show which we quite liked is going to be turned into a movie, we go through three stages.  

Stage 1: Faith
The new movie is going to be the Exact Same Thing as the book or comic we loved so much, with the pictures we made up in our head magically translated onto the big screen. "Will Benedict Cumberbatch be playing that extremely obscure character that only fans remember?" we say "I wonder how he will deliver that particularly special line we love so much?" The answer always turns out to be "No, of course he won't" and "They not only cut that line, but cut the whole chapter and replaced it with a fight scene." But we still go through the "Faith" stage next time around.

Stage 2: Revulsion 
This stage is often very brief; no more than a momentary flinch or shudder when we realize that, in fact, the movie is going to take a sledge hammer to the book or comic we love so much. Arwen is going to wield a sword. Lois is going to know Superman's secret identity from the beginning. The Doctor is going to be Rassilon’s illegitimate son and the TARDIS is going to be a rap singer. They are taking out Captain Kirk altogether and replacing him with James Dean. We sometimes get angry at this point and say that no-one should be allowed to touch the icons of our collective past. We used to say that bad remakes and disappointing prequels were like "someone raping our childhood" but in the light of what has happened to the whole of 1970s popular culture, that analogy no longer seems in particularly good taste.

Stage 3: Retrenchment  
Once we reach this stage, we claim it is the only reaction we ever had, or anyone could ever have. We never remotely expected the movie to be anything like the book. Anyone who did expect that is a colossal geek. Just because Tom Baker didn't play the Doctor as a US marine with an assault rifle it doesn't follow that no-one can play the Doctor as a US marine with an assault rifle. You have to put all thoughts of the original book, comic or TV show out of your head and ask "Was it or was it not a good movie?" And if you reply "No" then that also proves you are a colossal geek.
And, indeed, there are no hard and fast rules, about turning books into movies or anything else. Maybe you can re-imagine Hamlet as a ninja and make it work. People have successfully turned samurai into cowboys and back again. But if I am excited about the idea of a new Star Wars movie (and, with a hundred yards of reservations, I really am) then I'm excited because I want to see X-Wing Fighters, lightsabers and Luke Skywalker's kids. If I find they've cut out all the space ships and lightsabers and replaced them with bum-jokes and flirting then I have the right to become disengaged. "But was it a good movie in its own right?" is a non sequitur. I wasn't promised a good movie in it's own right. I was promised a sequel to Star Wars.


As we go through the triennial "could the Doctor be black" argument, many of us are getting are our retrenchment in first. Don't ask how an ethnic minority Doctor, or a female Doctor, or a female ethnic minority Doctor might be consistent with or inconsistent with what Doctor Who has been up to now. Ask only if it is a good TV series in it's own right.


This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Monday, June 24, 2013

i have a few more things to say about dr who followed possibly by things about superman movies, naughty 1970s tv personalities, winnie the pooh, spider man, weak internet analogies for communism, god, etc

but in the mean time please listen to me speaking words about music in my voice