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What?

As I believe I said last time, it wasn’t bad. I’m not prepared to say it was actually good but it wasn’t bad. Or at least not very bad and certainly not apocalyptically bad as I was rather afraid it might be. There, that will teach me to be more optimistic in future. (Spoiler: Oh, no it won’t.)

The faults lay in Chris Chibnall’s tendency to throw everything he could conceive of into the story and then treat the resulting mess as a special treat. He found time to include the horrid sight of the Master boogeying to the sound of Rah-Rah Rasputin but not to explain what ‘Forced Regeneration’ was and why it was so horrible. (The Master impersonating, replacing or just being Rasputin was a lovely idea: the boogeying was not.) There was a powerful Cosmic Thingumajig in the shape of a cute little girl sometimes and a giant electric dandelion seed at other times. That could have been the core of an interesting episode in itself but here it was just a side issue in the incoherent core narrative.

The major pleasure of the episode was the sheer amount of fan service it managed to put into it, cameos for five former Doctors in the main story (plus one more after the regeneration). Oh and I forgot about the appearance of the lady who was playing the Other Doctor, the Fugitive Doctor at the start of the last season. The BBC seems now to be explaining her as ‘one of the Doctor’s future selves’ which manages to make even less sense than Chris Chibnall’s explanation.

But it was the number of former companions that made the episode the joyous mess of fan pandering that it was. (I’m not complaining! I am clearly one of the target audience for this.) Not only Tegan and Ace (and Kate Stewart who was a fan favourite but not technically a companion) in the main story but by the end we had the first meeting of what we can only call Companions Anonymous with the addition of Graham, Dan, Mel, Jo and (for goodness sake!) Ian Chesterton from the first few seaons. Oh, I soaked it all up and enjoyed the nostalgia and soap opera stuff much more than the manic plot

(Reviewing the cast list at the end of the show I can see I forgot about Space Pilot Vinder who I didn’t think was special enough to revive him for this one appearance but maybe people other than me saw his appeal, )

The thing that puzzles me is why David Tennant gets to do the anniversay episodes. Is this saying that they don’t quite trust the new chap to do right by that historic occasion? It was done neatly, I will admit. I was just thinking: “Regenerating into a new set of clothes? Never done that before…” before I realised that we weren’t going to see the new chap just yet. (I’d been assuming that Tennant’s return was going to be another example of the Doctor’s incarnations meeting.)

And the thing that annoys me is that we aren’t going to get to Tennant D. as the Fourteenth Doctor until November next year. Seeth. It’s almost as if the BBC doesn’t want to make the series.

So this is what that feels like

If you’re British you must have wondered for years what it was going to feel like when she finally laid down her burden. And now here it is.

As with watching my mother’s death, the sheer repetitive strain of her last yeas took away a lot of the grief I felt was going to wsh over me. All that is left, as with my mother, is to say thank you and goodbye.

I already see the things that I anticipated would happen. Over optimistic republicans hoping that this means finally seeing some movement towards a ‘more rational’ constitution. I think that, like the Brexiteers who assumed that the EU would collapse without Britain holding it together, they are doomed to be disappointed.

Americans are popping up, asking to have things explained to them, often extremely unlikely hypothetical situations as in KING RALPH.

At least the Internet pundits who were spreading rumours that we would never have a King Charles III ‘because it was unlucky’ are termporarily embarrased .

I am not going to watch the Prime Minister’s statement because whether she does it well or ill it’sgoing to cause me pain.

I’ve thought a fair bit about how I feel about constitutional monarchy in the years waiting for this moment. And I’ve come to the conclusion that though I rather like a neutral, religio-political figurehead as the person the people look to as someone they can revere as an embodiment of the nation I am quite opposed to hereditary monarchy.

Because what hereditary monarchy does is rather like what the citizens of Omelas do in Ursula Le Guin’s short story.

Whilst they torture a small child to ensure the continuity of their perfect city, we British gently torment a whole family, twisting them out of shape in order to ensure we will always have someone dedicated to tradition, to duty, to the best aspects of the nation. Or at least someone capable of projecting such a persona to the general populace.

It’s true they get to do this in a most luxurious prison, with all the flattery they can eat. But nonetheless it bends them out of shape. Look at the care lined face of our new King if you doubt me. There’s a man who has been sacrificed to duty from an early age.

I’d go for an elective monarchy myself, perhaps restricted to the descendants of the Electress Sophia as at present and only decide who the new monarch is when the old one is safely buried. This is a Reform Movement that I am perhaps the only member of but I mean it quite sincerely.

Oh, dear the Tories will be expressing their loyalty all over the shop and enjoying being able to mock better people than them on the opposition benches if they even just say: “Well, do we really want to be carrying on with this rigmarole?”

It’s just as well my tee-shirts are all black: I don’t have a proper suit of mourning nor even a black armband.

There will be nothing but tributes and royal history on the BBC for a while, possibly until the funeral is done. There will be a new face and voice doing the Christmas message and presumably sometime next year (COVID permitting) a coronation. The image of the Archbishop of Canterbury in mask and full episcopal fig briefly entertains me.

And so to bed, knowing at last what the death of the Queen feels like.

Rwandan Whispers

I woke up to a BBC interview with Boris whose headline was:

PM: I will not undergo psychological transformation after poll defeat

​Was anybody expecting him to? Perhaps it’s one of the effects of him being in Rwanda. We all shout “You can bugger off now Boris! Bugger right off!”

And in the middele of a Commonwealth conference he hears: “You must undergo a psychological transformation, Prime Minister.”

I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m against transformation, pyschological, spiritual or even physical. But I feel that it’s best pursued when out of office. Once his time is his own again he can seek the road to Damascus or sit under a bo-tree until he achieves enlightenment. Or take an OU degree or take up squash. Just bugger off first, Prime Minister.

I’m detecting, by the way, a more and more intense fawning tone to the BBC’s news coverage nowadays. Greater and greater care not to upset the PM as he approaches his tragedic (and absurd) climax. Rather than gathering around like jackals waiting for the Great White Elephant to fall over, their reporters turn up with fresh towels, a jug of freshly made Pyms and a sympathetic ear. Call me a cynic but even Lord Reith wouldn’t have been sticking up for a PM this far gone.

I wonder what I meant by that

There’s this idea called confirmation bias. Meaning (I think) that we notice more the facts, statements and opinions that tend to confirm what we already know.

Which led to me observing how many philosophers go to great lengths and write huge books to demonstrate the things they believed at the begining.

(Old joke: A mathematics professor comes into the lecture hall and writes a statement in symbolic logic on the board. He turns to the students and says: “Ladies and gentlemen, I think that you will agree with me that this statement is obvious. Therefore…” And there he paused, looked at the board for a moment and asked to be excused. Half an hour later he came back, wild-eyed with a note book covered with scrawls. “Yes, yes! I was right: it is obvious!”)

It’s particularly noticeable in conservative political thinkers who want to prove that they are not only right but have been all this time and will be into the foreseeable future and in theologians who want to show the same for the beliefs they have held since childhood.

It’s astonishing how many people think that their particular tribe is the triumph of all human endeavour and that everyone else ought to become like them as soon as possible.

‘Progressives’, those whose hearts and homelands are in the future are no better. They tend to slip into cliches and ‘things that everybody knows’. Their TTEK are different from the reactionaries but they are no less traditional in their nature.

What I’m coming round to asking my vast acquaintance is: was there ever a philosopher who surprised himself by what he found himself thinking? Examples would be welcome but most philosophers seem to come to what they write and say already knowing what it is they want to show to be true.

Me included, insofar as I am a serious thinker at all.

By the way, I note that my preference for Number Fourteen where not followed. Never mind, I’ll give the new fella a fair trial though I won’t watch the thing he was best known for before, SEX EDUCATION, not because of any smuttiness (I follow Tom Lehrer’s philosophy with regard to that) but because the fact that it Americanised its depiction of British education causes my head to ache and my blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels.

The Joy of Outrage

I haven’t posted anything about the Easter DR WHO special for two reasons.

The first was that Eastercon wiped me out a bit. I’m going to have to take more care about taking advantage of the facilities for aging and unfit persons if I’m going to make conventions fun in the future. I’m thinking a shopping trolley for All My Stuff because carrying a shoulder bag sent the entire weight of the planet directly to my back. Or maybe one of the walkers that my mum had in her old age because they provide a place to sit down. The chairs in convention function rooms are not designed for comfort: the chairs in the bars are.

The second was that I didn’t have a lot to say. It was a perfectly adequate piece of co-production, producing a cross between a DR WHO episode and a 1980s Chinese Martial arts movie. There was flash, bang and wallop. There was fan service and a revived monster-of-the-week. It wasn’t bad.

Which isn’t to say that it was actually good but at this stage in Chris Chibnall’s tenure I’m prepared to settle for Not Bad. I am, let it be clearly understood, dreading his final program. He still wants to do the Grand Reboot that he has been hinting at and I am fearful he will wipe the series continuity just to show he can and leave things in a terrible mess.

But my wishy-washy and easy-going attitude has not been dupilicated on the Internet or at least not on the subset of it that I watch. Rage, rage against the total betrayal of their favourite (?) show no longer being as good as it once was. (Look, I remember Kandyman and that was when I was cheering because they were giving Sylvester McCoy better scripts than Colin Baker.) It’s not just the Doctor, the bile and invective about PICARD is just as ludicrous.

Is it age hitting the generation that was young in the 80s? Is it just the maddening effect of the Intertubes? Is it people channeling their other disappointments into fannish issues? I cannot tell but I don’t like it.

Or is it just that they like the feeling? Does being angry give them a charge which the rest of their life isn’t providing? I must admit that I’m getting more disagreeable as I get older. I sat in some of the panel items at the Eastercon and while some of my wrath must be ascribed to the pains in my back, my hips and my knees there was also a strain of thinking “This person is young and therefore wrong!” Or it could be that there has been a noticeable drop in the ability of panelists to come up with coherent and interesting material at short notice. An increase in sententiousness and poor sentence structure. A tendency to open their mouths and speak without knowing where the sentence is going to end.

Bah, I say, and likewise humbug. I’m going to have to be careful: outrage and judgementalism is a terrible drug.

I am also dreading RTD’s decision about the next Doctor (which is being played impressively close to the chest so far). I want the next Doctor to also be female, just to show that it can be done better. Well, yes having the heads of some of the nay-sayers explode is attractive to me but it’s really a side issue. I even have a candidate: Aisling Bea.

I know, I know but two previous Doctors have appeared in the show before being regenerated into the title character and we know that Romana managed to copy someone’s appearance. It’s perfectly rational and canon. Trust me on this.

I don’t (for once) envy the DR WHO showrunner. I must be getting old.

Not ga-ga, no. I’ve always been this way

What way, you ask? Well, self-absorbed and not noticing other people to my disadvantage. Terrible at making connections and very forgetful.
(I keep using that excuse as evidence for more advanced Old Gentleman’s Forgetfulness piles up. It comforts me.)
I listened today to my friend Roger’s film criticism podcast RIBBON OF MEMES in which he and his friend Nick provide two aging privileged white guys insight into films that have described as ‘masterpieces’. (That’s not me being nasty: it’s more or less how they describe their project.)

The latest film to wilt beneath their judgement is RESERVOIR DOGS and I was going to post a comment on the site, pontificating (mistakenly as it turns out) on the derivative nature of the script and on how impressed I had been with Tim Roth who previously I had only seen as the skinhead in MADE IN BRITAIN. And I thought, what had he done between the two films? I looked him up on IMDB and oh, yes I had forgotten about ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN (but I think I only saw it after RESERVOIR DOGS) and oh

And there it was. He was in RETURN TO WATERLOO, a musical written by Ray Davies of the Kinks, about a man who gets on a commuter train and goes mad (or maybe already has gone mad and maybe he’s killed someone) on the way to Waterloo station.

And so, of course, was I.

Now, I haven’t thought about RETURN TO WATERLOO in years. There was a commuter who was in the seat beside me, played by Christopher Godwin who I saw and cheered for some years later when he got a small bit in the Yellow Pages ‘Fly Fishing by J.R.Hartley’ commercial. Good for you, Chris! And it looks like he has had a decent career.

But isn’t it odd that I managed to remember Chris and forgot all about Tim Roth who went on to be A Pretty Big Star. We shared those two weeks of shuttling along the rails of Network South East and surviving on whatever the caterers could manage to get to us. Learning a lot about shooting in odd locations.

I’m not even sure that by the time I saw him RESERVOIR DOGS seven years later I’d retained any mental note of him. Harumph.

Well, if I get one of those Redo afterlives either I go to a completely different profession or if I do try to make it as an actor at least keep call lists and other reminders so I can recall who it is I’ve worked with. Because I don’t make note of it naturally and I’ve never been any good at networking, at all, at all.

Kenneth Colley was the lead and I was more deeply struck with how he made something out of the nothing that the script made his character. I remembered him, not that I ever worked with him again.

This has been number-umpty-ump in a series about missed opportunities and my fading mental faculties.

Reality transcends satire. Maybe.

There’s an American left-wing vlogger I have fallen into following called Beau of The Fifth Column.

His latest piece is about what is rumoured to be an accidentally released Russian opinion piece which was supposed to be released after Putin’s armies had conquered and pacified Ukraine. It got take back and denied but nothing is lost on the Internet and it’s up both in the original Russian and in English translation. Go and have a read of whichever you’re most competent in. The English version is housed at a Ukraine government site, which may make it a bit suspect in some people’s eyes.

I don’t have enough knowledge of Russian as a language, Russian political theories, nor Russian journalism to be able to say if this is genuine or not. (And Beau you probably ought to put some disclaimers in your coverage of it.) But assuming it is genuine for now what strikes me is the close modelling of this bit of propaganda on the Nazi justification for their agression in the 1930s. We not only have the ‘people like us are being ruled by people not like us’ and the ‘people not like us are resisting the just rule of people like us’ but there’s also the ‘we must pay back those who humiliated us in 1918’ only updated to 1991.

Also striking is the way they tell other people that they are being manipulated against their own interests by the Big Evil of ‘the Anglo-Saxons’. Ah, those Anglo-Saxons! Oppressing people since the Battle of Badon Hill. (c 500 AD). The idea that Germany or Italy or Poland ought to feel perfectly contented with a resurgent Russian Empire and have absolutely nothing to fear… It’s a very tone deaf and Russocentric view of the cosmos.

This could be fake. It feels like parody or satire. But have you seen how the world is tending just at the moment? I reserve judgement on its authenticity.

My reaction to Vladimir Vladimirovich’s pronouncements. (A post I failed to make at the right time.)

I keep denying that a fancy education isn’t necessary to penetrate the rising idiocies of the age and it isn’t. Anyone with enough nous to resist buying from a door to door mop salesman, believing a time-share ‘consultant’ or signing a hire-purchase agreement has the basic level of cynicism needed to see Farage, Trump et al for what they are.

But a good education allows one to be dissect them with more  precision.

I was improving my mind while doing a bit of simulated rowing at the gym yesterday and listening to a podcast from IN OUR TIME. (Did I do my rant about how jealous I get of Baron Bragg of of Wigton in the County of Cumbria? Man has the best gig on broadcast media, I swear.) This one was about the Mytilenean Debate, two days during the Peloponnesian War during which the Athenian Assembly decided first to slaughter every man in the rebel city of Mytilene and sell all the women and children into slavery and on the next day to just kill the oligarchic leaders who had actually made the decision.

He’s getting a bit political in his choice of subjects in his old age, is our Melvyn. (1) Not only was this the perfect counter to arguments about how ‘undemocratic’ it would be to vote again and change a national decision before it had been carried out but there was a moment when the panel described Cleon (who spoke for the ‘kill them all’ faction) told the citizens not to believe those who spoke for the other side because they were doubtless corrupt having been bought off by… well, whoever Athenians were regarding as behind all their troubles just then. You can see the same technique repeated endlessly on social media about Brexit: I am deeply fed up with the success of the ‘they’re all bent’ and ‘they’re politicians: of course they’re lying’ memes.

So when I heard that President Putin was telling the world that ‘liberalism’ was a dead dog, I flashed back not only to Kruschev claiming that Communism was bound to start out performing capitalism  by the end of the 60s, to a whole horde of Americans proclaiming the end of history and the triumph  of the free market but also to a book I loved in the 1970s Wilson and Shea’s ILLUMINATUS! trilogy. And to the bit where they compare a right wing American pressure group talking about “Sex Education: Communist Trojan Horse in Our Schools.”  with a similar group in Atlantis, Condemning “Numbers: Nothingarian Squid-Trap in Our Schools.”

Then came the line that stuck in my memory: “The same drivel eternally.”

It makes me sad to think that the crude techniques

(1) Melvyn’s next program was about DOGGERLAND the country that once lay where the North Sea sandbanks are now. If that’s not a way to talk about climate change I’ll eat my  hat.

Questions of Decorum in the Writing of Sermons

I’m not observantly religious myself (though I play someone who is in my medieval society) so since the few times I attended Sunday services as a teenager (Methodists first and then Anglicans) I haven’t had much experience of sermons.

More and more experience of eulogies as time goes by. If I’m hovering around at my own funeral I’ll probably be critiquing the delivery and possibly the word choice as well.

But I have heard and do believe that you have to fit the length of your sermons to your audience and to the length of time you have to fill before their buttocks become numb or their bladders full.

And I’ve also heard that brievity is the soul of wit.

I think that both those sentiments should be pointed out to Chris Chibnal.

I liked most of EVE OF THE DALEKS until the sermon the Doctor got handed two iterations before the end of this time loop adventure. The Daleks could have had a few more variant lines from their usual racial and personal superiority complex though I liked their new weapons which were definitely worth the investment. There was a good structure and I didn’t have a single fridge logic moment (though your Aunt Betty who hasn’t ever watched anything other than Coronation Street in fifty years might have some difficulty). There was plenty of comedy though speaking of Coronation Street I could have done with less slagging of the noble city of my birth, not that I’d want to spend New Years Eve in Central Manchester either. (Mind you, note to self, avoid the Rye Park in High Wycombe next New Years: it’s popular with drunken idiots with very loud fireworks.)

Anyway the problem with this one is that Chris Chibnall gave the Doctor a ‘rally the troops’ speech which was also a sermon about how people survive and go on and learn and grow. Most people don’t get a redo after dying several times though. I assume, anyway.

But he left this until the point where more than a couple of sentences wouldn’t have made sense because they were being tracked down by a growng number of Daleks and had a limited time to solve the puzzle, kill the Daleks and escape the doomed building. (They managed it: I don’t think that’s a spoiler.)

Chris needs to express his sometimes ponderous though worthy thoughts with wit, brevity and if at all possible some sign of poetry. He has two more specials to go. Let’s hope for the best.

When Yaz finally admitted her feelings about the Doctor (only to Dan but it’s something) I could hear the sound of the fists of a thousand fanfic ‘shippers’ punching the air and a mass ‘squee’ sound from somewhere. The Doctor is either in denial or afraid of her fast oncoming mortality or a bit of both.

That revelation does complicate the casting decisions of the new showrunner. Having another female Doctor (which strikes me as the wiser thing to do) or chosing to have a male doctor… Oh, my. What a complicated political mess. Probably the best thing (since a large bunch of Internet know-it-alls will hate you no matter what you do) is find the most talented actor you can and go with them.

Ravagers, Passengers, Mad Moles and Grand Serpents

Now, then what do we know?

Not as much as I would like.

Apparently the Ravagers were the central bad guys here. The Sontarans were trying to survive and triumph (incompetenly as usual) but we already knew that. Surprisingly, the Grand Serpent (who we didn’t really get an explanation for, much) was also being an opportunist. We never did learn what his long term scheme was. Was he really necessary? Why was he there? Just to fill up screen time? He’s now stacked somewhere he can be retrieved from if a future showrunner decides he’s worth reviving and being given a story of his own.

But the Ravagers we saw were just the minions and servants of something called Time who seems to have been the chief mover and shaker. We were told that they were seeking revenge, doing to the Doctor what she had done to the two of them. What that was is… unclear but there was a lot of gloating. The Doctor got called ‘First of the TIme Lords’ which looks like Chibnall wants to go back to the daft theory from the tie-in novels of the 80s in which the Doctor was a contemporary of Rassillon… But where is Rassillon in this continuity? I dunno?

Among the other things I don’t know:

Who was the guy in bed with the female Ravager back in the first episode?

Why did the Luparans feel they owed the humans a debt? Were they an uplift species?

We had a whole mess of destruction of space time and different times mixing together. Causality took a sharp kick in the ghoulies and lots of things didn’t make sense. Last time it happened on this scale the Doctor had to reboot reality. Why not this time? Is that a trick you can pull twice.

Did the clever Daleks and Cybermen all get wiped out by the Flux leaving only the gullible ones to fall for a transparent Sontaran trick?

Why was the lady in charge of Division destroying the Universe? What was all that about with Division? Why are they going around putting kill switches in the skulls of Luparans when just killing them outright would work better?

What happened to the Weeping Angel inside of what’s her name the psychic?

I have approximately 50,000 questions of this sort and rewatching will only increase their number.

Good things included: three Jodies for the price of one.

Jodie getting to be the Serious Doctor for once. (She could have done with more of that earlier in her tenure.)

The rickety house of the Doctor’s lost memories. That is far too nice a conceit not to get re-used when she finally fishes the Lost Watch out of storage.

The Professor’s final words but then I’m a sucker for an apposite quotation. I’d have been happier to see him as a continuing character than I would John Bishop as Dan. He hasn’t been as well served by the scripts as the Doctor or Yaz.

Bad things included the wasting of so many characters. The Mad Mole of Liverpool would have had a whole adventure of his own and a decent farewell speech if he hadn’t just been jammed into the insane multi-dimensional trifle that was the script here.

Back to Daleks on New Year’s Day. This isn’t over yet.

EDITED TO ADD:

You know what this felt like? Like Chris Chibnall throwing all the neat ideas he’d had about the Doctor and the Whoniverse that will now never get an episode of their own into one food processor and turning it on to blend. This isn’t what I would recommend.