Posts Tagged With: news

Thoughts on the EU referendum


We interrupt our normal scheduled broadcasts to deal with the elephant in the room. Here’s my take on things.


1. What follows isn’t a perfect extended metaphor – as Gareth pointed out, “It says ‘why is this stupid thing a referendum in the first place?’, but most people who think that are Remain, since not having a referendum allows remaining.”

2. I’m not a political commentator and don’t pretend to be. I’m just tired of the whole thing. I know where my loyalty lies – purely from my own perceptions of what constitutes common sense – but I’d really rather not have to do this, particularly when it’s ripped the country more or less in half. I don’t advocate Brexit but nor do I fear change: I accept that at some point (not now) leaving the EU may turn out to be the best option. But I’d rather it was decided by people who actually know what they’re talking about, which is not (from what I’ve seen) most of the country.

3. Yes, I will be voting on Thursday. You’ve kind of forced my hand really, haven’t you?

The Jones family needed a new car. Their old one, they decided, was getting past its sell-by date. It was still roadworthy, but it needed quite a bit of attention these days, and it was only a matter of time before it would need replacing.

Mum and Dad had talked for a while about what sort of car they should get. They’d asked friends for their views and Dad had looked in some magazines and had a brief search on the internet, but they hadn’t yet found the time to go to a dealership to have a proper look. All the while, the kids were whining. “When can we get the new car, Dad?” “What sort of car is it going to be?” “C’mon, Dad. All our friends laugh at us. Can’t we get a new car tomorrow?”

That was when Dad had his bright idea.

Illustration for the eureka moment.

“We’ll let the kids choose the car!” he said.

Mum wasn’t sure. “I’m not convinced by that,” she told him. “I love our kids to bits, but they’re not exactly experts. Why don’t we get an idea for the sort of car they want and then see if it fits in with what works best for the family?”
But Dad was shaking his head vigorously. “No, no,” he said. “It’s a great idea. They choose the car, the pressure’s off us. And it’s what they want. They’ll be thrilled that we’ve given them what they want! Everyone wins!”
“What if they have their hearts set on something we really don’t want?”
“We’ll overrule them.”
“That won’t make them happy.”
“I won’t tell them, then. Not until the decision is made.”
“Don’t you think they’ll be cross when they find that out?”
“Oh, only for a while.”

Mum still wasn’t sure. But when Dad had made his mind up there was no stopping him. And so one Saturday afternoon, the family – Mr and Mrs Jones, and their children, Simon and Celia, were off to the local dealer. Mum had said that they might want to consider doing a bit of online research first, but Dad thought that was overkill. “Just ask your friends what they think,” he said. “That’ll help you decide.”

They hadn’t even got to the ring road when the trouble started.

“A blue one.”
“No, a red one.”

Simon wanted blue. Celia wanted red. Simon thought red was too close to pink, which was a girl’s colour. Celia thought this was a ridiculous argument. So for that matter did Dad, but he didn’t say anything, purely because he wanted to remain impartial.


They got to the dealer and were momentarily overwhelmed by choice. There were big cars and small cars and long ones and short ones. There were cars for families, cars for couples, sports cars and saloons. There were vehicles for the town and big, gas-guzzling off-road vehicles for the country, most of which would probably end up being driven round the town on the school run.

For a moment, the Jones family were wrapped in a congenial bubble of attentive silence. It was broken by Celia.

“That one!” she shouted.

The car was big and dark green and cost about as much as the annual GDP of Luxembourg. Mum hated it.

“It’s a bit…well, big, isn’t it?”
“But it’s got so much space!”
“Darling, it’s got space for seven people. I don’t think we’ll need that. Your Dad’s had a vasectomy.”
“But we can fold the seats down and go camping in it!”
“Celia,” Mum reasoned, “We all hate camping.”
“We might not, though, if it’s easier.”

Simon, meanwhile, had his eye on a flashy sports number on the other side of the lot. It was bright yellow and had mechanical doors.
“This one,” he said to his father.


His father raised an eyebrow. “It’s only got two seats. What happens if we want to go somewhere as a family?”
“We can take it in turns to take the bus.”
“What if there isn’t a bus?”
“We can get two of them, then.”
“I’m not sure you’re really thinking this through,” said his father. “What about something a bit bigger?”

Simon headed over to the family car section, stamping his feet moodily. Meanwhile, Celia was looking at an estate.

“What about this one?”
“Well, it’s a Renault,” said Mum, “and they’re not always the most reliable of beasts.”
“But I like it. I like the name. It sounds foreign and exciting.”
“But you don’t really know anything about them,” said Mum, who was reasonably well-versed in the reliability or otherwise of Renaults.
“It feels right, though,” Celia insisted. “It feels like this is the right car for us.”
“I realise that, darling,” Mum said. “But we have to go on more than a feeling.”
“So you’re saying that my gut instinct is wrong?”
“No, just-”
“Forget it,” said Celia, folding her arms sulkily. “I get it, all right?”
“Celia,” Mum said, “I think you’re getting a bit cross, and I can understand that, but you haven’t considered the fact that I might know more about this than you do.”
“Well, why’d you ask me to choose then?”
“I didn’t,” said Mum, sighing a little.


Simon came over. “I’ve found it,” he announced. “I think we should get that one.” And he pointed at a large four-wheel-drive jeep.
“It runs on diesel,” said Dad, who had been looking at the information card in the window. “Diesel tends to be quite expensive round here. Also it’s got a lot of mileage for a vehicle this age.”
“Yeah, but it’s cheap,” said Simon.
“Cheap doesn’t always mean good,” Dad explained.
“But we’ll have more money to do other things,” said Simon. “You can give us more pocket money if you’ve spent less on the car.”
“Ooh!” said Celia. “That means we can buy more things! There are loads of new magazines out that I’m interested in. I can get a subscription.”
“Yeah, and I can get – ”

Dad shook his head, trying not to make eye contact with Mum, who was staring at him very hard. He told himself that he’d made the right decision, letting the kids choose. Having them fantasise about money was preferable to having them fight, at least.

Unfortunately, that was what happened next.

“DVD player!”
“MP3 player!”

It didn’t take a genius to work out why Simon and Celia were arguing, which was lucky for Dad. Mum sighed and rubbed her temples, which had started to throb. People were staring. Dad took both his children by the collar. “Listen, you two,” he said, in a venomous hiss. “You’re embarrassing yourselves, and me.”
“And me,” Mum added, slightly put out.
“And your mother,” Dad added hastily. “Now will you please make a decision?”

Both children were pointing at different vehicles, both prohibitively expensive and entirely unsuitable for a family car. One was a two-door GTI, brand new. The other was a hearse.

Dad sighed.
“I don’t think you’re really thinking this through,” he said. “I don’t think you’re making the decision for the family; you’re making it for yourselves. You mean well but you don’t really know cars. You don’t really know how much money we have to spend or how much we’re likely to need.”
“We sort of know,” said Simon.
“You don’t really know, though,” said Dad. “You just think you do.”
“But we want to help!” said Celia. “It’s our car as well, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is,” Dad said. “But maybe the best way to have you help would have been for me to find out what you like and then make the decision in conjunction with your mother, rather than letting you make the choice. That’s our job, after all. Sometimes we have to decide these things ourselves.”
“So you’re saying our opinion doesn’t count?” asked Simon, hotly.
“No,” said Mum. “We’re saying that we know things you don’t, and understand things you don’t. That doesn’t mean we always get it right, but we can look at this properly. You two aren’t really trying to find the best car for the family anymore, are you? You’re just arguing about who’s right. That’s really what this is about.”

Celia said nothing. Simon shuffled his feet.

“Maybe,” said Dad, “I made a mistake in telling you that you could choose.”

Mum raised an eyebrow. It was a look that clearly said Now you’re getting it, doofus.

Sunset on the eve of the Autumnal Equinox, Sept 21, 2012, with the Sun setting due west at the end of westbound Highway 1 to Banff, Alberta. This is a frame from a 315-frame time-lapse movie.

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Pigs. You couldn’t move for them yesterday. The revelation that Prime Minister David Cameron may (as we go to press) or may not have inserted his genitals into the mouth of a dead pig during a societal initiation set the internet on fire. The press had a ball. Twitter almost imploded. It was a good day to bury bad news, which was presumably the entire point.

Certainly it doesn’t come as a total surprise. It’s the sort of thing fraternities do. That it allegedly happened to Cameron is not in itself important – we all do stupid things when we’re young, and it has no bearing on his ability or otherwise to run the country. If nothing else it’s a good chance for the left to get its own back after all the Corbyn-baiting that’s been going on over the past few weeks (one particularly amusing image I saw yesterday features an exchange between the two at the Battle of Britain memorial service – Cameron is asking “Why weren’t you singing?”, to which Corbyn responds “I felt safer with my mouth shut”). At the same time, it’s telling when the general reaction is not one of revulsion and disgust, but a series of knowing winks. Or, as a friend of mine put it, “What does it say about you when someone says ‘that man fucked a pig’ and half of the country goes ‘Yeah. I figure he probably did…’?”

Anyway. This doesn’t translate easily into Doctor Who – the hastily concocted image at the top aside, of course. If I really wanted to I could do something with the space pig that appears halfway through ‘Aliens of London’ but I’m really more inclined to delve deeper into history – at the extended version of Peter Davison’s appearance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for instance.

Certainly when the story broke my first instinct, bizarrely, was to recall an early sequence in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, in which this doesn’t quite happen:

Phillip: Say, Terrance, what did the Spanish priest say to the Iranian gynecologist?
Terrance: I don’t know, Phillip. What?
[Phillip farts on Terrance’s face, and both get into hysterics over it]
Terrance: You’re such a pigfucker, Phillip!
Phillip: No, Terrance, that’s the British Prime Minister!
Terrance: Oh yeah! [farts]

Still. It’s not the first time a reckless, irresponsible blue Muppet got one of his extremities caught up in a pig.


You see what I mean.

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Look to your left

An opening: if you’ve been following the UK news this last week you won’t have failed to notice the DWP scandal that saw the Government release leaflets about benefit sanctions that featured false testimonials. Said leaflets were awash with remorseful tales from chagrined claimants who’d been shown the error of their ways by a wise, thoughtful ‘work coach’ who is absolutely not disillusioned, incompetent or under desperate pressure to fulfill sanction targets. Unfortunately the testimonials were fake, and the photos of ‘Zac’ and ‘Sarah’ were stock. “They have now been removed,” the DWP assures us, “to avoid confusion”.

In recent days, and as a damage control exercise, events have taken a more bizarre turn.

This isn’t the place for debate about the DWP – suffice to say I spent a few years working for them and saw for myself how the organisation recruits from the bottom of the barrel and how it is dispirited, overly bureaucratic and afraid of its own shadow, and that was before we elected a Tory government. In any event the Left is loving this, if only because it gets to dump on Iain Duncan Smith, and also because it diverts attention away from the political in-fighting that’s going on during its election campaign. (The Labour party is hardly unique in this regard – Louise Mensch’s aborted smear campaign is proof enough – but it is amusing watching Andy Burnham threaten to challenge the result only to get smacked down by Harriet Harman.)

The last time they had a leadership campaign, of course, we wound up with Ed “Don’t call me Dave” Miliband, whom I’ve always contested looks rather like Richard David-Caine from Swashbuckle – sentiments only re-affirmed since he recently grew a beard.


Here’s the thing. Miliband is ideologically very different to Tony Blair, his most recent-but-one predecessor, but one thing that strikes you when you look at the body language and the rhetoric is how much he’s obviously been groomed in the same manner by the party’s spin doctors. In fact, you could say that spinning him in this manner was part of his political undoing: Labour under-performed in the last election, particularly considering the exit poll, the result costing Miliband his leadership of the party.

Bringing the conversation back to Doctor Who, we may thus infer from this that Ed Miliband is Anthony Ainley to Tony Blair’s Roger Delgado. However good Ainley was, he will always be remembered as “someone who was told to play it like Delgado”, and this is to his detriment as a performer. There are some great Master moments during the 1980s, but half the time Ainley comes across as a rather camp Delgado impersonator, rather than someone who was allowed to develop the character in his own right. (This also makes Geoffrey Beevers Gordon Brown, which sort of works if you see him without makeup.)

The one to watch in this campaign, of course, is Jeremy Corbyn, who is in favour of nationalisation and higher taxes for the one per cent. People wiser about these sorts of things than I am tell me that his election would potentially obliterate the Labour party, “because people don’t want a socialist government”. I really don’t have a clue how true this is, and it’s for this reason that I don’t usually talk about politics on this blog. I leave that for people with greater interest and less cynicism, such as the friend of a friend who wrote this:

“He is eccentric and beardy, with distinctive slightly retro dress sense. He has traveled alone for a long time though is now looking for a companion. They say he’s going to take us back to 1983 with him, but he’s actually more interested in taking us to the future. He’s stood alone as a fighter for his beliefs and dropped from view during the nineties but has had a massive resurgence in popularity in recent times. He’s been pictured with people the world sees as villains but would prefer to talk to them rather than fight them. He believes that speaking honestly can be effective even to those robotic types who want to take over the world. His position on jelly babies is unclear but apart from that, Jeremy Corbyn is basically the Doctor.”

It’s a good argument, although it stumbles at the first hurdle with the mention of beards, because (‘Leisure Hive’ / ‘Day of the Moon’ / ‘Wedding of River Song’ aside) the Doctor himself is not beardy, with the exception of John Hurt, who plays someone who does not refer to himself as the Doctor. So I’m still on my Master analogy, although Gareth – when pressed – said that he looked a bit like Rorvik from ‘Warrior’s Gate’.


He does, sort of, although Rorvik’s a slave-driving (in a quite literal sense) despot, hopeless to the last, so perhaps that’s why I’m still not sure about the analogy – the Master may be despicable, but at least he’s got a winning personality. “Actually,” said Emily, “Jeremy Corbyn looks like a whole bunch of middle-aged men with short beards”.


They’re both right.

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Doctor in This Dress

I genuinely can’t work out whether this TARDIS is gold, white or blue.


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In loving memory

If you’re one of the thirty-four (thirty-four!) people who follow me on Twitter, you will have seen everything that follows last night. For the rest of you, this all started with Colleen McCulloch.

When I was a kid, my parents had two books on their shelves that I particularly remember. One was The Thorn Birds, which I gather is something of a classic, both on the page and on screen. The one I actually read was Tim, about a mentally retarded adult (can we still say that? I genuinely can’t keep up these days) and his burgeoning friendship with an older lady. It’s mostly inoffensive, although there is an incident with a sausage sandwich that I still can’t really think about without feeling nauseous. It was made into a film in 1979, starring a very young Mel Gibson, along with Piper Laurie, who did not dress up as a man or lock anyone in the cupboard while she prayed over them. The sausage sandwich scene is mercifully gone and the ending is changed, but it really is quite good.

Colleen McCulloch was therefore a household name, at least in our house, while I was growing up, and it was with some sadness that I learned of her death a couple of days ago.  I also learned of a few other things I didn’t know: she spent much of the latter years of her life on a Pacific island to escape the pressures of fame, had an early career in neuroscience, and refused to write a follow-up to The Thorn Birds (as well as hating its adaptation). Tributes came flooding in, and obituaries were warm and generous in their appraisals.

Except, it seems, for The Australian. They opened their obituary with this.


This is, I’m informed by more than one source, fairly typical of the Australian media, who frown upon successful women. I don’t have the time to research this properly, but irrespective of cultural norms there is absolutely no way you can justify such a monstrous opener. I have never held with the “Do not speak ill of the dead” maxim (are we really not allowed to tell the truth about Thatcher? Osama bin Laden? Hitler?) but this is just ridiculous. The article led to a sea of acidic responses from corresponding publications (which was predictable; there is nothing any media outlet likes more than having a pop at one of its rivals), and before we knew it, #myozobituary was trending on Twitter.

Anyway, having composed my own version of one of these (“Despite being arrogant, acne-ridden and obese, he nonetheless managed to manufacture enough sperm to sire four children”) I had an idea, and one thing sort of led to another.


  But why stop at the first? I didn’t, although one of these obituaries is not like the others. See if you can work out which.   

Second Doctor  


Third Doctor

  Fourth Doctor  

Fifth Doctor

  Sixth Doctor  


Seventh Doctor



I didn’t do any more; I think we’ve taken this to its logical breaking point.

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“Look at me, I’m wearing a vegetable”

That Doctor Who script scandal, explained.

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Top left, meet bottom right

Stella Creasy, as she appears in today’s Guardian. I assume this was an accident.


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Lords and Ladies

Q. A boy and his father get in a car accident and are rushed to hospital. The father goes to one room for surgery, and the boy is seen in another room. The doctor scheduled to perform the operation says “I can’t operate on this boy – this boy is my son.” How can this be?

A. The doctor is his mother.

When I was in my early twenties, I attended an annual event in Birmingham, organised by the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs. The gathering saw thousands of teenagers and their youth leaders, decked out in the organisation’s trademark green and yellow, walking through Birmingham (a poor substitute for London) for workshops, music events and ‘fun activities’. As a teenager I’d thought these weekends the greatest things on the planet. Now I found them tedious, although that was partly because the format had grown stale, and partly because the event had been scaled down considerably from what it was in its heydey.

One supposed ‘highlight’ of the weekend was the variety show at the NEC, attended by the (admittedly decent) youth orchestra and singers and a cast of hundreds, most of whom were admittedly reasonably talented. Shows had a theme, usually around social awareness of some sort. Basically it was an excuse for some contemporary musical numbers, skits that were ten years out of date and then awkwardly juxtaposed meditations about racism, followed by a random interpretive dance from the Midlands contingent. On this occasion, we saw (not for the first time) Commander Jane Bond, a long-haired teenage girl wearing glasses and a bowler hat over a pinstripe suit in what looked like cosplay before it was really fashionable. Jane Bond was given orders by MI6 to tackle the world’s most serious problems – unarmed, of course – which led to her dashing around the arena confronting tableaus of street violence, homelessness, drug abuse and, um, video piracy.

I will just let that sit for a minute.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? Well, because we’ve had about four days since the announcement that Matt Smith will be stepping down after the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and already I’ve read more blogs, opinion columns and hack pieces about “Why the next Doctor should be black / Asian / female / Kim Kardashian” than I’ve seen in three years combined. Everyone, it seems, has their views about why it would be a wonderful / groundbreaking / crap idea to mix up the formula. And here’s mine, but I’m going to keep it simple. This little missive will be in two parts, and I’ve put them both together, because I’m nice like that.


1. Why The Next Doctor Probably Shouldn’t Be A Woman

The point of my opening story about Jane Bond was that for various reasons it was a chronic misfire. The video piracy thing was part of it. As someone who has been known to rip-and-burn the odd disc myself (although solely for personal use) I resent being lumped in with a serial child molester or narcotics pusher. But it was more than that: it was the whole concept. I don’t want to dump on the MAYC, because subverting the gender of established male heroes is hardly new – nor is it remotely harmful. It’s just awkward. It was as if the writers figured there was no way a man could be sufficiently compassionate to bring about an end to the world’s problems, and thus it had to be a woman. I’m reading too much into this, I know, but in any case, why on earth would you take a cold-blooded killer like James Bond, make him female and then have him act completely against character for the sake of having a well-known ‘secret agent’ fulfil a dangerous and complicated mission? It wasn’t an ideological hangup as such; it just looked out of place.

The awkward truth is that the same might be said of casting a woman to play the Doctor. Before we go any further, let’s deal with the first elephant (and this is going to involve some anatomical talk, so please try not to snigger): it’s not that the Doctor can’t be female. I roll my eyes at the fans who insist that Time Lords cannot change their gender when they’re being reborn. It implies a consistency about regeneration (and, indeed, Time Lord DNA) that simply isn’t there. With obvious exceptions, we know next to nothing about Gallifreyan physiology because for the most part we simply don’t need to know. The writers just shoehorn in explanations when it suits them. The Fifth Doctor’s celery explanation is a case in point. So too is the endless (and quite pointless) debate about how many times a Time Lord can regenerate, or the question of whether the Doctor’s first regeneration actually counts as a regeneration or not. It’s a case of throwaway lines taken to a literal extreme and used to form whole new schools of thought. (And those of you who think this doesn’t really matter might do well to remember that much organised religion starts in the same way.)

No, I’d be fine with the concept of a gender swap. Besides that bit in the Comic Relief special (17:50, if you can be bothered to skip past all the ads), Big Finish have already covered it in some detail in ‘Exile’, which broadcast as part of the ‘Unbound’ series. It charts an alternative history whereby the Second Doctor, awaiting trial following the events of ‘The War Games’, commits suicide – a process that sees him regenerate into Arabella Weir and get a job in a supermarket. David Tennant turns up playing a Time Lord, and the previous incarnation of the Doctor is played by Nicholas Briggs, who also wrote the thing (and who does have a tendency to steal the most interesting / noteworthy stories for his own commissions, as well as monopolising all the monster parts).


The main problem with ‘Exile’, Gareth assures me, is not its central concept but that it simply isn’t very good. And I can’t help thinking we’d go down the same route with a female Doctor, and in a funny sort of way it’s precisely because this alternative universe never happened. Because I’ve been examining the history of the show and I’d say that there were two immense sea changes for Doctor Who over the years. The most recent was obviously the 2005 reboot, with its advances in filming methods and post production (resulting in a more cinematic look) and higher-quality effects (let’s just ignore the Slitheen), single-episode stories and an entirely different approach that arguably created as many problems as it attempted to solve.

But try and imagine watching back in 1970. For certain, the Hartnell / Troughton change probably shook you. You get used to a pompous old man and you’re suddenly faced with a slightly less pompous younger man with a Beatles haircut who plays the recorder. Then, just when you get used to him, he gets exiled! To Earth! With a non-functioning TARDIS! And a new haircut! And – goodness me – a family! AND IT’S IN COLOUR! Well, sort of. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t take long for certain elements – the Doctor’s alienness, the hum of the TARDIS, the planet-hopping – to return, but it must have been quite a transition if you were there to see it.


And it strikes me that this point – not 1981, not 2005, and certainly not now – would have been the ideal moment to bring in a female Doctor. Because the show was fairly established, but it was being shaken up. And doing a gender switch might have killed it, but it would have been one of a big list of changes, and thus less fuss would have been made. The problem, you see, is that the longer things carry on the way they are the harder it is to change them, simply because such a transformation looks increasingly gimmicky. It no longer becomes about who the character is, but solely about who’s playing him.

The fact of the matter is that the Doctor’s been a white British male for so long it’s very difficult to truly imagine him as anything else. You’re doing it now, aren’t you? You’ve got your eyes closed and you’re imagining Lenny Henry or Miranda Hart or Sanjeev Baskar or someone, anyone, who’s going to go against type. But doesn’t that run the risk of casting an actor because they’re different, rather than because they’re the right person? If you’re going to re-cast a show in this manner, go the whole hog. Go for an exclusively minority roll call. Otherwise you have a Doctor who stands out in the crowd, which is something he spent most of series seven trying to undo. In years to come you’ll have guides that list Pertwee as ‘The Dandy Doctor’, Tom Baker as ‘The Alien Doctor’ and Idris Elba as ‘The Black Doctor’.


A while ago, I (very briefly) entertained the possibility of an incarnation that carried a disability. You might have a Doctor who only had one arm, or who needed to walk with a crutch, or one who was deaf. How might this change the dynamic of the show, the Doctor’s dependence on his companion(s) and how the character is perceived by its disabled audience? But it’s a stupid idea, and this is why: the regeneration would ‘fix’ things. You’d have a Doctor who couldn’t walk who was now able to do just that, and that only highlights disability in a negative, something-to-be cured way, rather than something that must sometimes be dealt with for the rest of one’s life.

So, too, do you run the risk of alienating one or both sides of the audience by appointing a woman or someone of different ethnic persuasion. It opens the floodgates to a sea of stunt casting, something that must be outdone every time the current Doctor decides to jump ship and concentrate on the stage or break out in Hollywood or claim they want to avoid typecasting when the truth is they didn’t like the management. I don’t mind in the least that Doctor Who feels the need these days to fulfil a quota of racial representation. Nor do I mind the tendency to have strong female companions – that a series has occasionally become almost entirely about them is to the programme’s detriment, but god knows we had enough of Bonnie Langford screaming in the 1980s, and given the choice I’d rather have Rose. (Actually, given the choice I’d rather listen to ‘The One Doctor’, just one of many audio dramas featuring Langford, who is quite wonderful, particularly when she’s putting up shelves with Christopher Biggins.)

One of these has, to the best of my knowledge, never been in Doctor Who. There's still time.

(As it turns out, this photo is loaded with Who-related connections. Have a look at this.

Cheers, Gareth.)

But casting a woman is going to be all about stirring up the bloggers and maintaining interest in the show, or bringing in a different ‘dynamic’ that simply doesn’t need to be there. We’ve already done the regeneration from a female perspective, both in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ (in which Romana behaves as if she’s trying on outfits before a dinner party) and in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ (in which Alex Kingston is frankly embarrassing to watch). The BBC can’t write straightforward drama anymore; it has to be ‘about’ something, and while it’s fair to say that many of the best 1970s Who stories featured a healthy dose of satire or social commentary (‘The Sunmakers’, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’) there were also plenty of stories that were fun in their own right, and that did nothing more than spin a decent yarn.

CBeebies has a programme called Balamory. It’s about a bunch of slightly childlike adults who live on a remote Scottish island, and it’s brilliant, because it features a girl in a wheelchair who is a vibrant, useful member of the community, with a disability that is never mentioned. There is no episode that deals with Penny’s inability to climb stairs or reach something on a high shelf. Instead, she just gets on with things normally, and the wheelchair is entirely incidental. When it comes to Doctor Who I wish I could place at least some trust in the powers that be, but I can’t help thinking that the casting of a ‘different’ Doctor is too great a temptation for the production team to resist. There will be all sorts of running gags about genitalia, or the inability to run in a ballgown in the episodes where they’re at a party (you know, the sort of story where Smith would wear his tails, Tennant his dinner jacket and Eccleston would straighten up the neck of his jumper). Black Doctors will have their authority questioned by those who would have trusted Pertwee or McCoy, and there will be episodes that deal with segregation and being ‘unique’ or ‘alone’. It needn’t be like this, of course, but given the way the writing has gone in recent years that’s the way it will go, and no matter how much you think I’m grasping at straws here, I think you know that as well as I do.

It should be said that if it came to it, the ability of a ‘different’ performer to portray the character effectively is absolutely not in question. I reject the argument put forward by the Daily Mail that the only convincing role model for young boys is a man. I’ve got no doubts that you could have a strong black / Asian / female Doctor who ticks all the boxes and who could be played brilliantly by a black / Asian / female actor, and who comes across as appropriately Doctorish. The problem you’d have as a woman is not crossing that line that has you shamelessly emulating one of the male incarnations and coming across like a butch lesbian reading of the character. Tamsin Greig could probably have done it, but that’s just a name I picked out of a hat, and I’m sure there are plenty of others. Incidentally, while we’re on that, can we please stop with the Helen Mirren rumours? I mean it happens every time and it’s mind-numbingly tedious. It’s based on one or two quips in interviews and the BBC wouldn’t dare. They’d never be able to control her at conventions, for one thing. It would be all about how the Daleks’ quest for total domination is actually a veiled critique of U.S. foreign policy, or how the Silurian stories echo the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Or perhaps that’s Vanessa Redgrave; I can’t remember which one is the outspoken one. In any event, if you’re still on this as a serious notion, you’re almost as naive as those people who genuinely thought that Amy Winehouse was in the frame to play the Doctor.


You see, Doctor Who is too steeped in history, and all this talk of a fresh start is futile – like it or not, we’re simply too far down the road now. We’ve had the show for fifty years. I’m fine with breaking with tradition, but I can’t help thinking that this isn’t about tradition. It’s about what works. It’s not that a female Doctor could never have worked, it’s that it couldn’t work now. Which leads me neatly to…

2. Why The Next Doctor Probably Won’t Be A Woman

Why? Oh, because…well, see above. Look, Moffat knows all this. Despite the ‘mixed’ reaction to series seven and the whinge about the drop in episode rates, amidst the rumours of falling ratings, Doctor Who is still a cash cow, and the BBC know it. They’re not about to rock the boat. Bringing in a female Doctor is going to lose them half their audience – right or wrong – and it’s the last thing they want to do at what is a strategically questionable time for the show. There’s also the question of what you do with River Song, and the prospect of a lesbian relationship – although I confess I don’t mind that too much. (Certainly you couldn’t cast anyone, male or female, who is a less convincing partner than Smith, who – for all his qualities – has never gelled with Kingston.)

Whatever newspapers may say about the role being ‘up for grabs’, it’s almost certainly been cast already – I’d be surprised, indeed, if the regeneration scene hadn’t been filmed. We just need to sit and wait for the press release / controlled leak / careless tweet that gives away too much. I told Emily the other day that Ben Whishaw was in the frame, and she rolled her eyes at the notion – “I enjoyed him in Skyfall,” she said, “but he’s going to be exactly the same as the last two! That sort of clever, occasionally sneering academic type”.

Irrespective of the result, there will be the usual mixture of outrage, applause and photobombing on social media before the first official publicity shot is released. The community who don’t want the boat rocked (either for the reasons I’ve described above, or because they happen to be prejudiced) will be established as too protective of ‘their’ show by the media’s left, in much the same way that Neela Debnath has used her Independent column to rant about the racial undertones of the programme and its fans. But to suggest that the Doctor is now too established as a white Alpha Male is not sexist or racist. It’s simply where we are. The moment you subvert what has effectively become a part of mythology, the story becomes entirely about the subversion, rather than about anything the characters happen to be doing. Judy Corbalis’s The Wrestling Princess, which I can remember reading at the age of nine, is a case in point – while entertaining, the underlying point was that of stories that deliberately cast against type, and that always overshadowed anything interesting that the narrative had to say (and that was a shame, because there were several good jokes in there). Any stories with long-established archetypes will only remain fresh if you find a new way of telling the story that doesn’t feel like a publicity stunt. I don’t want a male Cinderella. Why do you want a female Doctor?

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Ignorance is bliss (with possible spoilers)

Oh, for heaven’s sake. OK, here’s the Daily Mail headline.


The entire story (which, by the way, features a colossal spoiler in one of its photos regarding the return of a particular character, so be careful) basically details the shoot of the 50th anniversary special, which features David Tennant playing some form or other of the Tenth Doctor. “It’s unclear how bosses will explain the presence of two Doctors on set,” opines the writer, “given they play the same person”.

I submitted a comment – unsurprisingly rejected – which suggested that for someone assigned to write a Doctor Who article, Ms Fitzmaurice was generally ignorant of both the laws of time travel and ‘The Three Doctors’, ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘The Two Doctors’ (as well as any number of spin-off items). God, even ‘Time Crash’ stood up scientifically (just about), even if it is overrated. The likely alternative (and I pointed this out as well) is that she knows exactly what she’s talking about but has purposely written a dodgy headline precisely to generate comments from self-confessed geeks – such as yours truly – and up the hit count. Neither approach, of course, may be considered responsible journalism.

I’m not the only person to have pointed this out, as the comments show, but the theories are already flying in thick and fast. These remarks appear to revolve principally around Tennant portraying the Human Doctor in the best-left-forgotten ‘Journey’s End’ storyline, and his escape into our universe from the parallel Earth, with Rose in tow. It could be, of course, that this is exactly what Moffat is planning, although I shudder to think what’ll happen if that’s what he does. For one thing it’ll be a bit of a damp squib given that it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the show. For another, I really, really don’t want to see any more of Rose snogging the Doctor. It would mean having to look at Billie Piper’s teeth.

No, seriously, you really didn't see this. Keep scrolling.

No, seriously, you really didn’t see this. Keep scrolling.

Outlandish conspiracy theories are endemic in online discussion, and with good reason: they’re actively encouraged. The problem with Doctor Who these days, you see, is that the fanboy contingent have become the production team. In other words, people who grew up loving the show are now working on it. In principle, I don’t have a problem with this. Tennant was a fan of the show, and he turned out fine, apart from the camera mugging. Douglas Adams had been watching since the first season many years before he took over as script editor. Matthew Waterhouse grew up loving the programme, and he – actually, I’m just going to leave that one dangling…

But here’s the thing. Years ago, they made the now legendary Snakes on a Plane. It was almost ready for release, and then word got out and there was a maelstrom of excitement on the internet, with a myriad twenty-somethings blogging from their parents’ basements about how much they hoped the film would contain X, or how much they hoped Samuel L. Jackson would say or do Y. So great was the buzz that the crew did five days of re-shoots to incorporate the wishes of the public. The resulting film was a disaster: a badly-written, incoherent mess not even worthy of tagging as ‘amassed a cult reputation’ in its future Wikipedia entry. Now, I’m never sure as to whether the input from the fans elevated the film from ‘utterly diabolical’ to only ‘fairly dreadful’, or whether they simply made it worse, but even the most worthy of inclusions was not enough to save Snakes on a Plane from being generally rubbish.

"I am tired of these motherfuckin' FANS rewriting this motherfuckin' MOVIE!"

“I am tired of these motherfuckin’ FANS rewriting this motherfuckin’ MOVIE!”

The moral of this little tale, of course, is that you don’t let the general public work on the scripts. Philip Pullman (I think) said “Writing is not a democracy”, and he was correct. It’s very easy for us to say what we want to have in the show. That’s exactly how ‘Doomsday’ got written: it was a fanboy’s wet dream, written by a fanboy. It was also dire. The question posed in the story is ‘What would happen if the Daleks met the Cybermen?’ and the answer, at least as far as Davies is concerned, is that they’d stand on opposite sides of a warehouse bellowing “EXTERMINATE!” and “DELETE!” (terminology which, by the way, has become the Cybermen’s new catchphrase despite the fact that it is essentially incompatible with their whole raison d’etre, which in turn is one of many reasons why it was NEVER USED ON THE SHOW BEFORE 2006). The whole sequence was “what the fans wanted”, and it was the televisual equivalent of an Atari 2600 playing Pong with itself, and about as exciting. What do the wishes of the fans matter? We know what we want, but we don’t know what we need. When it comes to what works for the show, we don’t know shit.

I include myself in this little number. I admit that half the reviews I submit to this blog spend much of their word count picking holes in the episode in question, particularly when it comes to New Who. Part of this is a reaction to Moffat’s clever-clever web of complications (in other words, he’s determined to show off, and I’m determined to prove that most of what he does is all flash and sparkle). But I don’t have any excuses for not actually being able to write any better than he does, except that I don’t get paid a five figure sum to show that I can. In other words, the writers are in a position of responsibility and if I can show that what they’ve done is unworthy of the show and its legacy, I’m damn well going to do it.

Because this was silly. It really was.

Because this was silly. It really was.

But this does not mean, in turn, that I can do any better. I consider myself reasonably adept at prose – I wouldn’t write in this way if I didn’t – but I know my limits. I can’t write Who, although that hasn’t stopped me having a go. I’m just not good enough. And if you’re reading this, statistically speaking it’s likely that you’re not good enough either. That’s a harsh truth, but that’s the way it is. By all means attempt it. You’ll never know until you try. You may surprise us all. But the ability to deconstruct an episode does not grant you the ability to restructure it. Put another way, if I showed you a precariously-built Lego tower, wobbly and uneven and full of foundational problems, you’d find it fairly easy to tear it down. But that doesn’t mean that you’d be able to rebuild it any better, at least not with the available bricks.

I don’t mean to discourage you; I really don’t. But I’ve read a great number of blogs and ‘submitted scripts’ and the fact is that relatively few of us have the ability to write successful, compelling television. The fan-fiction I’ve encountered is proof enough of that. Still, our ability to comment blinds us, and allows us to assume that we know better than the writers. Alternative versions of stories and novelisations is one part of it, but nowhere is this arrogance more prevalent than the mind-numbing conspiracy theories concerning what this or that may mean.

The Morbius Doctors is an obvious example. The now-famous sequence of a succession of figures in the Doctor’s head may be previous incarnations of him, but they’re most likely Morbius. There is an ambiguity of sorts – and Philip Hinchliffe himself has admitted that he meant to imply that Hartnell might not be the first – but this was in the days where you could do that sort of thing, and Occam’s Razor applies very strongly here. Despite the subsequent clarification in ‘The Five Doctors’, in which the First Doctor explains “Goodness me, there are five of me now!”, there is still a group of fans who believe that you can count the Morbius Doctors as prior incarnations of the Doctor himself rather than of Morbius. This would make Davison the Thirteenth – the apocryphal limit to which a Doctor can respawn – and that this, in turn, explains his closing remarks in ‘The Caves of Adrozani’, in which he says “I might regenerate…it feels different this time” (along with the subsequent circle of heads and “Die, Doctor!”). Of course, his consumption of a particularly deadly poison, one which caused a difficult and traumatic regeneration, is no explanation at all.


Bringing the series up to date, there were people who genuinely believed that when the Doctor was ostensibly murdered at Lake Silencio, that was it. No more Doctor Who. Moffat was putting a cap on things, the way that Rowling did at the end of The Deathly Hallows by ageing the characters almost twenty years and severely limiting the scope of any subsequent fan-fiction. We’d have two hundred years’ worth of Big Finish productions and that’s your lot. The fact that anyone thought the BBC would let him get away with this treatment of one of their biggest cash cows is frankly flabbergasting. It suggests we know far less about the nature of television than we think.


Someone else I was speaking with the other day has their own ideas as to what’s going on: they posited the idea of three Doctors running around in much the same way as there are two Doctors in parts of series five. Central to this theory is a supposed inconsistency in the Eleventh Doctor’s accent, as well as the fact that he’s being very vague about his age at the moment. I pointed out, in turn, that the Doctor’s age has been ambiguous for years – the Sixth was “900 years old”, the Seventh was “953” and the Eighth Doctor spent a hundred years with amnesia and a further six hundred living on a planet somewhere, although none of that’s canon. The multiple Doctors theory may yet turn out to be accurate, of course, but reaching it from this sort of starting point is an almost unfathomable stretch.


This one, however, is my current favourite.


Bits of it hold water. But then you have Oswin Oswald crash-landing, undergoing surgery and then somehow becoming the Dalek Emperor. Which, I’m sorry, makes about as much sense as the theory that Tinky Winky was a subversive advocate for homosexual behaviour designed to corrupt our children. Never mind the physical side of it, it totally undermines any sense of pathos we might have for Clara. She is utterly and irrevocably corrupted, becoming a genocidal mass murderer. Moffat isn’t going to do that to Clara. I have no idea what he’s planning (I’m still edging towards the Susan Foreman connection, particularly given her birthdate), but I can’t see the Bad Wolf thing playing out – and that’s even bearing in mind my habit of being wrong about this sort of thing.

Ultimately, of course, this discussion is probably harmless. It’s a terrific timewaster, but wild speculation is actively encouraged by Moffat, who leaves clues and red herrings all over the place for the rest of us to follow. Taken to an extreme, the people who spot the inconsistencies in these things are the people who ultimately go on to save the world. But we shouldn’t let that blind us to the truth: when it comes to the grand plan, we know far less than we think we do, and far less about how television is made than we’d like to believe. The internet has turned us all into self-proclaimed experts, and as someone who is relatively enlightened as to his own ignorance (and whose words on here you must never, ever take too seriously, even on those rare occasions that I’m right) I would like to plead for a bit of restraint. Admitting that we know nothing is an essential first step. And ultimately I am sure of nothing but this: that it is probably what the Doctor would have wanted.

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Spotted in Metro

My friend Charles commutes to London and noticed this in the free paper they give out across the rail network.


Apparently Daleks kidnapped someone at Westminster…

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