Sunday, 27 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Witch's Familiar

Another one watch review.

Well that was quite something! There was so much to enjoy. It was high time the daleks had a decent two parter. This one felt satisfying. It was scary. It challenged many conceptions. It had fun moments. There were moments of horror, some new developments and plenty of excitement. Let's take a few of the elements and examine them.

Not since 1973's Frontier in Space has the Master appeared alongside the daleks and even then it was only briefly. Both were in The Five Doctors, but the dalek was only really a stand alone cameo in that adventure. This time Missy had lots of screen time with the daleks and she was wonderful. In turns charming, irreverent, devious and just plain bonkers, her every moment on screen was a delight to watch. Michelle Gomez has breathed new life into the character. I didn't feel that the revived series ever quite got the Master right, but that's all changed now. She fits the role perfectly and there's no doubt in my mind that this is the same character that Roger Delgado first brought to the screen.

Missy had some wonderful moments: throwing Clara into a hole to find out how deep it was; turning her back to call Clara's bluff about killing her; poking Davros in his eye, to name but three. She also had the most deliciously devious and downright evil moment, but I'll avoid spoilering the whole episode.

Julian Bleach's portrayal is brilliant. My only complaint is that he isn't Terry Molloy, although he's every bit as good. He had me believing in Davros' remorse and his manipulation of the Doctor. He was chilling and very watchable. The moment when his real eyes opened for the first time was compelling. This was like the moment a dalek was first shown going upstairs. The shock and awe was punctured somewhat later in the evening when I read Sid Trotter's tweet:

Davros being able to open his eyes means he'll get his benefits cut. Trust me.

Clara had her work cut out dealing with Missy in this episode. She started tied up and suspended from a rope and frankly things didn't get much better for her. When hiding inside a dalek casing we learn for the first time that the casing doesn't let its occupant express certain feelings. This is different to the experience Ian had in the first dalek story when he was able to talk without software restraints. Perhaps the casings have changed since then? Had Clara found herself in one of the sixties dalek cases, would this have been the case. too? Again, Twitter provided a plausible explanation:

"Say 'you are different from me.'" "EXTERMINATE!" OMG the Daleks are #DailyMail readers. #DoctorWho

The daleks themselves, while looking wonderful, had little to do but watch the story between the Doctor and Davros unfold. This wasn't a huge issue in the time alloted, but had it gone on much longer we might have fallen into the problems that some of the eighties dalek stories displayed; that the daleks were diminished by their creator. This story was more about Davros than his creations, but they still manage to appear in the series without him, which I think was the major problem the series ran into back in the eighties. 

The Doctor using Davros' chair was a delight. In fact Capaldi's performance was sparkling. He gave little away, but we saw more light and shade than I felt he showed during all the last season. He's settled into the role and it shows. The longer hair suits his doctor as do the variations in his costume. 

I enjoyed the theme of the fine line between being a friend and an enemy. Missy, Clara and Davros are all important to the Doctor and they go back a long way. While there was a little bit of timey-wimeyness in the plot it wasn't simply being clever for the sake of it, which is a criticism that I'd level at some of Steven Moffat's work. This plot had plenty of heart and it was based on character. It was nearly perfect.

OK, just to show that I can find something to pick at, I didn't like the episode titles. They didn't seem to relate to the story on anything more than a tangential level. But as they came attached to the best dalek story since Dalek, I'll live with them.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


I like blackberries.

I've liked them all my life. I don't remember but I've been told that when my mum used to take me out in a pushchair when I was about 18 months old I used to nag her for blackberries whenever we passed some brambles, which was frequently! Iwant talking many real words at that time, but I would shout out "Nat nar! Nat nar!" I'd get all covered in blackberry juice and look a right mess. One of mum's posher friends used to criticise her parenting because of it. 

One day mum was sick of being told off for wheeling a messy child around that she told her friend to see if she could do any better. Off we went and we returned half an hour later with me in the worst state of every been in. "What happened?" My mum demanded.

Her friend looked sheepish. "Well there were some nat nars," she said.

I remember mum making blackberry and apple jelly at home. I loved her blackberry and apple jelly. It was deep purple and spread deliciously on home made bread. Sometimes she'd boil it slightly too long and it would come out a bit like toffee. Even though that meant it harder to spread it somehow made it even better. It was chewy!

Whenever mum made blackberry and apple jelly she up ended chairs on the kitchen table and tied cloths to each leg making a big straining bag that she used to strain the fruit. It was always exciting when I saw upside down chairs on the table because it meant that jelly was coming. Did I mention that I loved blackberry and apple jelly?

I love blackberrying. It's like finding glistening jewels in the hedgerows. I can't go blackberrying too seriously these days, but I do dip in when I'm walking Lola around the yard where Jo keeps her horse. It's got readily accessible hedge rows that other people haven't got to and I don't have to walk far to get to them. Lola is remarkably patient with me as I get engrossed in plucking berries. She used to help by picking berries herself with her mouth. She's stopped doing that now. I think she might have cut her mouth a little in the past. Now she lies down and watches. 

There's something about collecting free food from the hedgerows that I love. I especially like popping the odd blackberry into my mouth. It's for sampling purposes of course. Quality control is so important.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Sties in our eyes

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The UK press has been demonstrating this over the last week by printing vast amounts of utter rubbish about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It's got to the point where you can tell if a story isn't true because it appeared in the papers. After a week of the nastiest smears imaginable about the leader of the opposition a frankly unbelievably gross story emerges about the Prime Minister.

The source is a new book by Lord Ashcroft who used to be deputy chair of the Tory party and was a major donor, but had been passed over for any government position by Cameron. Revenge? Almost certainly. But to what aim? To promote Boris? Or Osborne? It's really hard to tell.

The allegation, as far as I can tell from Twitter as I haven't gone to any source document (who does these days?), is that, during the 80s, as part of an initiation into an exclusive dining club, David Cameron inserted his penis into a dead pig's head. Whether the head was cooked or not, I don't know. Details are sketchy. Respectable media, if there is any left, has avoided the story. Profligate Tory tweeters like Louise Mensch have tried a mixture of denial and telling us that this is normal "lads will be lads" behaviour. I'm bemused.

If this was a dining club then presumably there are other former members. It's highly likely that they will also be MPs or working in the media or in the major corporations. Did they also undergo this particular initiation? Or was the stunt particular to Cameron? Could this be an illustration that the establishment contains many people who have a different moral code to the general population? Is it that out of touch?

That's assuming it happened at all. Just because the PM is not entirely pleasant, it's no reason to assume the worse. Apparently there is a reliable witness but reliable witnesses have been known to lie, especially if it's worth their while. I'm torn between juvenile sniggering, feeling a bit grossed out and feeling quite sorry for Cameron. The problem with this kind of smear, should it be a smear, is that it's very difficult to deny without being tarnished by it anyway.

Meanwhile Twitter has descended into a mire of pork based puns and juvenile jokes. It's hard not to engage once the inner child is awakened. Many predict that this is the end of Cameron's career. I hope that's not the case. I'd like to see the back of him and his government, but because of what it's doing here and now and not because of alleged private acts from the past. To be honest I'm utterly bemused by the whole affair.

I just made a minor change because I was wrong about Ashcroft's position in the Tory party. Initially I said that he used to be chair. He was deputy chair.

I've also just read that in addition to there being a reliable witness there is apparently photographic proof. However, it's highly unlikely that anyone possessing such a photo would produce it. I've seen legal theorising on Twitter today that suggests that the alleged act isn't illegal but possessing a photo of it might well be. It's almost certain that publishing such an image breaks decency laws, so we're still left with here say and rumour as the basis for the allegation. Hmmm. This post by Rob Fahey gives more consideration to this kind of behaviour by rich and powerful individuals.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice

This is a one watch review. I may have missed bits. It's based on my first impression as a viewer and so I've not analysed any scenes or shots in detail. In my view too much dissection makes Doctor Who lose its appeal.

This was an ambitious cinematic time and space opera that was designed to dazzle the viewer with its breadth and scope. The central conceit was based upon a single line in 1975's Genesis of the Daleks and pretty much everything else was window dressing, although it was very pretty and very clever window dressing.

The idea of jumping about time and space gave us a somewhat breathless sense of urgency without taking us into much emotional depth, but the speed with which the story bounced about the cosmos and through time gave the sense of a simple joy ride. I felt the stand out performances came from the female regulars. Both Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez knocked it out of the park. They're a fascinating pairing and I'd love to see more of them. How about a spin off with Clara unwillingly exploring the universe with Missy? It seems like such delicious fun.

We got more of an insight into the Doctor's relationship with Missy/The Master. When directly challenged about it being love, Missy protests that friendship goes so much deeper than that. I loved her suggestion that setting traps was her form of flirting. Yet, just to ensure we don't think of her as too warm and cuddly she callously despatched two UNIT operatives as if she were swatting flies. That she and the Doctor appeared to be teamed up against the surprise antagonist had her protesting about who really makes the better mortal enemy, which was a beautiful demonstration of the relationship between love and hate and how the two have a lot in common.

The man made of snakes* was an interesting diversion. Despite reading his name in DWM it utterly escapes me now and in the spirit of a one watch review I'm not going to look it up. He had a Darth Maul vibe about him. It brought menace but no real sense of danger. He was an underling without much substance, but the effect where he dissolved into snakes was very nice. I hope we find out a bit more about him and how he appears to be some kind of gestalt democracy.

The daleks were wonderful. After Asylum promised a multitude of dalek types and failed to deliver it was great to see the 1960's daleks front and centre alongside the new series ones. It's touches like this that suggest to me the Steven Moffat does listen to fans and acts when he thinks it will benefit the series. It was pleasing to see that the hump backed daleks of Victory were nowhere to be seen. They were an unsuccessful design within a long line of well designed daleks. Seeing so many other types side by side demonstrated how much of a misstep that had been. It was also lovely to see elements of design and sound effects that really harked back to the creature's first appearance back in 1963.

I was disappointed to see a dalekized human used however. Since the appearance of human agents who suddenly sprout an eyestalk in Asylum of the Daleks I feel they haven't really worked. Apart from a neat visual effect what's the point of that eyestalk anyway? It looks silly.

That's a minor niggle really though as we had a very enjoyable romp through concepts that have been touched upon throughout the old and new series. Moffat has left enough narrative gaps for the regular viewer to be able to guess how the multiple cliff hangar could be resolved. I hope it's a little different to my own predictions which suggest a little time tampering or simply filling in a few gaps in the story to resolve the Doctor's dilemma.

Which brings me to the final cliff hangar. Did it not seem somewhat suddenly sprung upon us? How did it come about? There seemed to be a big jump in the narrative which jarred with me. I guess all will be revealed next week.

In all The Magician's Apprentice was an enjoyable watch and breath taking in several ways. We've been dazzled with a cinematic delight, but I hope the rest of the series will bring some smaller scale story telling and some more character based stuff. There was plenty of characterisation here, but it wasn't the main focus of the story, which was more about grabbing our attention visually and intellectually. I hope we'll see a little more heart in the coming episodes.

* Colony Sarf, of course! Twitter came to my rescue with the name. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I have Moderate/Severe ME

I've come to the realisation that my ME has worsened over the last year. I used to be able to have occasional planned days out, albeit with payback afterwards. Now I find the thought of going to visit my parents for the day unmanageable. Even travelling to Ipswich by train is becoming very difficult to do. Tiredness and problems maintaining concentration are kicking in quickly. If I have to do much walking I'm getting breathless and feeling chest pain and needing to sit down for around twenty minutes to recover. Even with breaks, lying down and resting I'm having payback days afterwards.

New symptoms include the chest pain and a burning sensation in my ankles and lower legs. I'm trying to manage this and the existing pain from continual headache and joints using mindfulness and breathing techniques. I used to use analgesics to help me get through the day but continual use isn't a good idea.

Most days I manage to leave the house just enough to walk the dog. She's getting elderly and a 15 minute round the block is enough for her. I usually sit quietly afterwards to recover for around half and hour. I generally don't go out otherwise. I do go out to Slimming World on a Wednesday. This is just round the corner and about  two minute walk. I also sing with the Rabble Chorus on a Thursday morning, which meets a street over from ours so is quite convenient. My friend John takes me swimming on a Friday evening. This ensures that I do get out and see people but I find it hard. I usually have to go to bed for the afternoon and several days a week I go back to bed in the morning too.

I don't enjoy being this useless. I'm worried about the decline in my activity. Examining the Health Advisory Service Document and its descriptors of Mild, Moderate and Severe ME on page 19, I see now that I match all the descriptors for Moderate and even dip into Severe in some elements, particularly those related to cognition. I'm not happy about this but it seems to be reality for now and I have been working on acceptance. It doesn't help that I have co-morbid depression which makes dealing with this hard. I'm trying not to view this as my fault. In a world where not working is a mortal sin, I find it hard not to feel intensely guilty.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ideals, Power and Purges

I am not a Labour Party Member. I was once. It would have to go some way to bring me back into the fold, although electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader might start it along that road. Given the events of the last week and the great Labour Purge of 2015 that seems unlikely. Even if I decided to renounce my Green Party membership and rejoin Labour I wouldn't be accepted and certainly wouldn't be eligible to vote in the leadership election because, having supported the greens I would be deemed to not support Labour's aims and values. I could write reams about the wisdom, or lack of, that this purge shows, how it probably doesn't match the letter of their rules, let alone the spirit of them and how excluding people who show a genuine interest is no way to foster an inclusive, progressive party. However, instead I'd like to consider the reason why such a decision might have been made.

I have no hard evidence of the decision to weed out insurgents who might be likely to vote for Corbyn but it seems pretty evident that this is the reasoning behind the move. The parliamentary Labour Party and its central administration are completely at variance to the stance of Corbyn and his supporters and many grandees have stood up to practically beg people to vote for anyone but Corbyn. They say he is unelectable, inflexible and idealistic. Only by compromising is power attainable and only by gaining power can any good be done. What a depressing message! In order to do even the slightest bit of good, we're told, most values need to be put on the back burner or, better still, buried for good.

I understand the argument. It seemed to work for Labour in 1997, although it's hard to say for sure what the result of that election would have been had Labour clung to more of its core beliefs. As it is, the Blair government had a massive majority and yet failed to deliver on key election promises, including reversing rail privatisation. In government it, and the subsequent Labour administrations achieved some significant social gains, but it failed to curb big business and the finance sector which created the 2008 crisis - the great gift to the Tories which enabled the whole austerity narrative. Since drifting from power Labour has failed to robustly oppose many terrible policies imposed in the name of austerity, culminating in its disastrous abstention on the recent welfare bill. In order to appear credible, the party is now appearing very weak. I guess the focus groups tell its wonks a different story because I honestly can't understand why it would follow such a damaging path otherwise.

So why is Corbyn seen as such a threat? He proposes a Labour that believes in something and that stands up and explains its beliefs. Isn't that a good thing? It's not about being utterly uncompromising, just learning not to compromise on every single issue. Compromise on one or two things and you are flexible and realistic. Take that approach all the time and you're seen as a pushover. The press is primed to smear anyone who proposes progressive policies. That's because it's owned by big business. It's also primed to smear Labour more than the Tories for exactly the same reason. There's nothing Labour can do to get an easy ride in the media. So why choose a difficult ride and make multiple concessions when it could opt to be a bit braver and sound authentic into the bargain?

Gordon Brown likened Labour's recent defeat to having its heart broken. It's not a bad metaphor, only I'm not sure he prescribed the right medicine. When you're young and you have your heart broken, a very natural response is to avoid falling in love again. The problem is that without showing the vulnerability of getting close to a lover again you won't gain from the huge benefits of being in a loving relationship. You risk becoming cynical and guarded and may sleep around but never make a real connection. Power without principle is a lot like sex without love. It may fix an immediate urge, but many human needs are left unmet.

I can't vote in Labour's leadership election. If I could I'd want to take a chance on a leader who appears to have aims and values, rather than fall back on the cynicism that has diminished the party for over twenty years.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Two simple changes that would make politics fairer

There's a lot wrong with politics, period. Far more is wrong than I have time or space to discuss here. However, I think there are some simple changes that don't involve constitutional alterations or even legislation to effect. They would need strong campaigning for awareness and some pressure applied in the right places. However, we've seen the success of some well focused campaigns lately, so this may seem pie in the sky, but I think it's not beyond the realm of possibility. Two changes would help deal with the deluge of misinformation that make elections and referendums so unfair in this country.

Democracy only works when voters have access to accurate information. Current campaign methods and press interference mean that this really doesn't happen. It's probably not feasible to prevent distortions, smears and lies, but it may be possible to restrict their effects with some careful campaigns.

1. Political adverts must not depict a likeness of an opponent.
I'm arguing for voluntary standards for campaign posters, leaflets etc. Some recent campaigns have been so negative that posters only show opposing politicians, photoshopped or with negative messages. A voluntary ban on showing any likeness of a political opponent would prevent this tactic. You can't easily legislate for this, but with wide enough awareness it might be possible to get the parties to sign up to a voluntary code. A campaign that ensures public awareness of overt smearing or personal criticism would help reduce its effect anyway.
Simple message: Stop smearing opponents.

2. Newspaper front pages must not contain editorial comment or opinion
A harder one to influence, but again much wider awareness would help here. Our press is still pretty much out of control, but it does have nominal standards. The aim would be to use a strong message of "get opinion off the front page" to stop papers using this as a way to influence people other than their active readers. At the moment service stations, newsagents and corner shops provide free advertising space with newspaper displays. Paper shamelessly use this during elections with opinion based headlines and smear tactic images to influence passers by. By all means they can have their comment pieces inside the paper, but the front page should not be a banner advert to influence the world at large.
Simple message: Get your opinions off your front page.

I think these are changes that ordinary people who are concerned about democracy could help to influence. They just need simple, focused campaigning.