Saturday, June 08, 2013
Doctor Who The Master 50 Great Scenes – 39: Terror of the Autons
Counting down towards the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who with Fifty great scenes… The Doctor’s finished on the telly again, and who most wants him finished? With Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil released this week to complete a rival Time Lord’s adventures on DVD, it’s about time to follow Number 40’s “I’m the Doctor” with a hostile takeover:
“I am the Master.”And while sometimes I add a second Bonus Quotation here, something’s got into my head (a sort of drumming) and now there are rather more. More spoilers, as well. So, peoples of the Blogosphere: please attend carefully…
“I am many things.”
Springtime for the Master! If he ruled the world, every first day of Spring would be the blizzard (possibly of flying killer heads) that this year’s started out with. After not being at all well and getting out of the habit of writing this Fifty, it’s now the end of Spring, but cast your mind back to the beginning of the season and perhaps it’s just as well that I didn’t post this on the frozen 20th of March – despite it appropriately being a broadcast anniversary of the Axons. Even the alternative date for the start of Spring was still frosty, despite the 1st of April appropriately being a broadcast anniversary of some Sea Devils. And yet the Master’s been very much on my mind, not just nagging me to write but with his own two very special bank holidays – first Beltane, then the Master for one night only from in 1996 (or 1999). The Master, if you didn’t know, is almost the Doctor’s other half – an old friend who also left the Time Lords, but to rule the Universe, not just to see it, longing to make everyone else feel small. He became a jealous enemy across many of his and the Doctor’s lives, and a jack-in-the-box of irresistibly nasty fun across many of years of our television. I may have missed the daffodils, but his blooms last, so here’s something of the first plastic flowering of each Master, most of all the original. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Have a chair…
“This plastic has got unique properties, Mr McDermott. Allow me to demonstrate.”
The Master (Roger Delgado) is a suave, powerful presence with dark, hypnotic eyes and a deep, hypnotic voice. Usually wearing a dark, pointed beard and a dark, elegant suit – most often a round-collared black Nehru suit – he’s also to be found disguised in everything from self-aggrandising pseudonyms to flamboyant robes to the grubby overalls and rubbery face of a phone engineer. The personification of charm when he needs to be; smiling and playful, albeit with his own murderous sense of humour; given to savage flashes of anger. His ambition is to rule the Earth, or occasionally the galaxy, though with an underlying need for the Doctor’s attention – before he kills him in an amusing way. To overcome his status as a one-man band, he forms alliances with a variety of alien races to do is legwork… Always (over-)confident that he can dispose of them when they’re no longer of use, rather than the other way round.
Terror of the Autons is the Master’s first appearance, materialising in the first scene of Doctor Who’s Eighth Season and immediately dominating the show – and the petty ‘big man’ to whom he introduces himself. By the time the Doctor gets a look in, still less when a Time Lord belatedly turns up to warn him of the Master’s arrival, the new villain has already stolen the show (and much more besides). Aiming to create a new spearhead for the Nestene Consciousness and their power over plastic, he’s found Rex Farrel, a young plastics factory manager in a rather nasty fashionable suit eager to make his mark after years following his father’s orders. Unfortunately for him, his new big customer in a much more impressively cut dark suit and gold tie is “Colonel Masters”: meet the new boss; very much not the same as the old boss. But Mr Farrel Senior’s left James McDermott, his own bluff, practical production manager in a sober suit, to report back to him in case his son mucks about too much, and McDermott patronisingly tells Rex the company’s not going to dump all its old customers for a mystery man with no paperwork. McDermott calls up the old man; Rex calls in “Colonel Masters”…
Not liking a new face, McDermott begins with a tirade about changing the plastics mix and ruining a day’s production. The Master is polite, urbane, amused, and shows off a shiny black fat square cushion of material that isn’t to McDermott’s taste at all. But he doesn’t appreciate its unique properties – or the Master’s. At a click of his fingers, the square begins to expand and, to off-key synthesiser music, slithers into the form of a shiny black fat square armchair. Rex seems curiously blasé, but an unsettled McDermott licks dry lips and weakly asks if the new customer is a magician as well as a Colonel. The Master answers quietly, staying still, ominous, powerful, while McDermott fidgets and flails about, trying to assert himself and the company as he knows it. The Master moves to stand behind the inflated chair, arms astride it proprietorially, and strikes a warm, friendly tone:
“Look, why don’t you try it?”McDermott’s been eyeing the chair uneasily and prodding it like a first-time swimmer at the water’s edge – but the Master’s sudden whiplash of will is that of a villain who’s suddenly tired of the shaggy dog and wants to skip to the punchline. McDermott can’t help but sit. The moment he does, the chair starts to writhe again, wrapping itself around him and, rearing over his head, suffocating his screams within its thick, blobby synthetic mass and the thick, blobby synthesiser music.
“Well, you’ll never sell that, I’ll tell you that for nothing. Sure, it looks like – like a black pudding.”
“Try sitting in it.”
“It’s got a cold clammy feel to it. Now plastic should be warm and dry to the touch—”
“Sit down, man!”
The Master has instant presence, and you can’t tear your eyes from McDermott in the chair. But the third person in the room is in his own way just as fascinating – Rex has come entirely under the Master’s spell, but is shocked for a moment by the horrible death. The Master raises a hand to stop him stepping forward… And, everything over, Farrel is nonchalant again. More even than the Doctor’s companion, Rex is the personification of the viewer here, finding the thrilling new villain utterly compelling, briefly shocked by horror daring you to reject him, then back to watercooler-chat complicity as he steps to the intercom for a killingly funny businessman’s response:
“Sylvia? Will you check Mr McDermott’s entitlement on termination of employment, please?”Rex Farrel – and the rest of us – are already so far back in the Master’s thrall after all this showing off that when he hilariously affects humility at the waste of so much material for one simple death we’re with Rex in saying, no, no, that was an impressive one, honestly. And like Rex, we want to know what the Master means when he gives a playful smile and promises efficient death with just a few inches of plastic:
“The human body has a basic weakness. One which I shall exploit – to assist in the destruction of humanity.”I’ve written about the death at the plastics factory before – I didn’t see the Master’s showpiece scene on screen until more than twenty years after it was broadcast, but I saw it in my mind’s eye as a thrilled little boy reading one of the first books I ever bought, Terrance Dicks’ novelisation Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons, and not only does it grip you (and Mr McDermott) on TV, it’s just as gripping on the page. Though it makes Rex more sympathetic by taking away his punchline, permitting him more struggling shock and generally removing the impression that his appreciation of the patronising right-hand-man’s death is an eagerness to murder his father by proxy, it gives the Master a terrible gag that I’ve always loved. You can read what in my in-depth review of the novel here, complete with that very scene as my selection of choice (and a terrifying picture of little me). And if you keep watching the DVD, the Master gets another deft little punchline later along the way…
In both forms, this is the Master’s crucial establishing moment – it’s such an outrageously exaggerated swagger of a scene that you just know he’s going to be fun to watch if he’s prepared to put on such a show for an audience of
Each time the Master’s been reintroduced to the TV series – The Deadly Assassin, Logopolis, Last of the Time Lords, all below – Terror of the Autons has been the source text that the writers have looked to for inspiration, most of all Russell T Davies as John Simm takes over and, heretically, delivers for me the best interpretation of that original concept’s viciously playful streak. Roger Delgado is fantastic in this scene, but in other points of his first story he doesn’t yet seem as at ease, as in control, to simply be enjoying himself so much as he does growing into the part. So if you’re inspired by this selection to mount your own ‘The Seven Faces of the Master’ retrospective, while Robert Holmes’ Terror of the Autons is the definitive Master script, you might consider for slightly more compelling stories on screen and with Mr Delgado’s definitive Master performances either The Dæmons, in which he puts on a robe so resplendent it makes vaunting a blow-up chair seem almost introverted and then summons the Devil, or The Mind of Evil, out at last this week and making the whole of the Master’s adventures now available on DVD, in which he gets a big cigar, a big car and a big coat to play the part as a fabulously louche Bond villain.
Doctor Who The Master Quotation 1 – The Deadly Assassin
The Master (Peter Pratt) is a daring reinvention of the character, his charm, his humour, his looks, even his skin stripped away, though still boasting a deep, powerful voice. Rather than take the obvious option of simply making him a new regeneration like a new Doctor, Robert Holmes introduces the Master for the second time no longer as the Doctor’s ‘naughty brother’ but his dark side, all his narrow escapes having cost him every life and stretched him to the end of his thirteenth body – after which even a Time Lord must die. A rotting, ravaged ghoul wrapped in a tattered cowl, he’s still walking because he simply refuses to die… And because hate for the Doctor and the other Time Lords keeps him alive. This is The Master Unplugged, stripped to his essence, smouldering with pain and hatred and more impatient than any of his other lives. There’s no time for amusing banter, but only to renew himself at any cost (in fact, preferably at a terrible cost – not merely a killer for fun but a fiend who glories in chaos and destruction). He’s lost his vanity – though the hypnotic power that once seemed like seduction now blazes forth as sheer mental domination. He’s given up his delusions of grandeur – and ironically forms an utterly selfish plan that promises death on his grandest scale yet. He doesn’t hide behind pseudonyms – instead presenting his hideous face almost with pride and bellowing his name as if that is all that he has left. It’s almost as influential an introduction as his first, with the idea of the Master as walking corpse such a powerful one that he’s never quite whole again.
The Master has lured the Doctor back to their home planet of Gallifrey and framed him for the killing of the President – in part as a complex attempt to get his hands on the ancient relics of the Presidency and unlock the secrets of the Time Lords, though mostly to gloat. He will rip their power source away to bring himself new life, destroying their world and perhaps destabilising the Universe itself, making the story – for my money, Doctor Who’s best – a uniquely apocalyptic film noir. In the crypt where the Head of the Presidency and all its regalia lie in state, the Master rises from apparent death to seize them, only to be interrupted by the Doctor and two old Time Lords (the local police chief and the local librarian). As with Terror of the Autons, the confrontation of these equal and opposites is all the more effective for being held back until the finale, and the Master steps from the shadows, pissed off beyond endurance, to answer the Doctor back:
“The Master’s consumed with hatred. It’s his one great weakness.”Even as the camera lingers on the Master’s gun – and he’s never more brutally trigger-happy than here – even as he’s twisted with physical agony, even he’s as kept alive by his absolute focus on the most important person in his life, the subject of all his rage and envy and vengeance, the one who he’s crafted all this to get his attention before he dies in disgrace, the Doctor still just dismisses him. That hurts.
“Weakness, Doctor? Hate is strength.”
“Not in your case. You’d delay an execution to pull the wings off a fly.”
Doctor Who The Master Quotation 2 – The Keeper of Traken
I did warn you there were spoilers, didn’t I?
The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) remains a twisted, skeletal wreck of himself, but has had to learn patience. He’s found another astronomically powerful Source to steal a new life from, but at the price of sitting it out on a planet that might make him regret calling the Doctor “insufferably good”; on Traken, evil simply gives up and calcifies. But he’s safe inside his TARDIS – disguised as a gorgeously twisted statue, a Melkur of local legend – and uses his time well to plot not just how to gain control but how to twist and corrupt a people kept without real knowledge of good and evil by the Keeper of the world exerting moral sense on everyone’s behalf. The Master here is an outstanding corruptor, blatantly the serpent in this Eden and with a marvellously silky, persuasive voice, pan-fried in evil with extra goose fat. As Richard says, this isn’t just evil. This is rich, gloating M&Ster evil. From the mildness of a wise advisor to the high, gloating glee of triumph at last, the Master’s greatest weapon is his voice. Though blazing energy beams from Melkur’s eyes come in handy, too.
The Master has waited until the old Keeper’s thousand-year reign is faltering, and turns a bride’s love into his instrument for removing the chosen successor. Again, the confrontation between the Doctor and the hidden Master is reserved for the finale – with one stunning scene in particular as the Master taunts him, and demonstrates that surrendering all your decisions to absolute godhood is a dangerous thing – but there are some marvellous exchanges between the Doctor and the Melkur as it slowly evolves from the ivy-covered feature in the background to a creepy walking statue at the centre of events. And it places itself most literally at the centre as the old Keeper dies: with the benign controlling intelligence of centuries suddenly gone, chaos breaks across the world in a storm of unchecked nature, and through the howling gale Melkur gloatingly offers a merciful death, its shrivelled, secret occupant looking down at the Doctor through great eye-like screens. The Doctor defies “Melkor” – appropriately recalling a famous fallen angel, and of what great order was the Doctor a member, and who fell the furthest? – but it’s too late. The Master’s catspaw is on the Keeper’s Throne. In the spellbinding last minutes of Part Three, all seems dark: the Keeper who called to the Doctor for help dead; the Master’s Machiavellian machinations turned almost the entire Court against our hero; the true nature of Melkur about to be revealed when it doesn’t merely walk but, with a wheezing, groaning sound, dematerialises to take the Throne – and, heralding that cliffhanger, long-term viewers feel the hairs rise on the backs of their necks as we see inside Melkur a room roundelled in black with a cowled plotter at the controls… Who turns to us with a great swell of music and with the ravaged face of the Master and, as all the years of insufferable imprisonment come to an end, with a tone of wonder and exultation:
“Now, this Traken web of harmony is broken. I am free…!”Although Geoffrey Beevers’ time as the Master was a short one on television – though I do love The Keeper of Traken – the Master of voice has appropriately become the definitive audio Master, with many delicious readings of Doctor Who novels (not least Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons) and a splendid new array of adventures for Big Finish. Perhaps the most remarkable of these is Joseph Lidster’s Master, which has more than a passing influence on TV Master stories to come…
If you find yourself in the mood for audio-play Masters, two others are available, with actors you’re highly likely to recognise and enjoy in the part. But both of them are big twists! So I’ll mention Doctor Who Unbound – Sympathy For the Devil, which was released ten years ago and so you’ll probably have heard of it if you were ever going to, but not the one from last year, which is also terrific fun (email me if you want to know). You’ll certainly remember it if you’ve heard it, and I will say that bears a remarkable resemblance to the much earlier Master story The Claws of Axos – done rather better, and very much bigger…
Doctor Who The Master Quotation 3 – Logopolis
The Master (Anthony Ainley) still carries the mark of having used up his lives, a synthesis of his predecessors – and of the poor schmuck whose body he stole as a consolation prize for failing to hold onto the renewing power of the Source. Dark-haired, dark-bearded, sometimes charming, he has something of the look of one prior Master, but the rotten dead heart of the other. Usually dressed in the embossed black velvet of the Traken Court – a reminder of the victim in whose dead body he scampers, father of one of the Doctor’s companions and taunting her with it horribly, while still ever more wounded in his cadaverous existence and needing help with further degradations from or for the Cheetah People, the Tzun or his own carelessness – he’s another Master with a taste for increasingly ambitious disguises, sometimes less for function’s sake than on the edge of sanity. That’s the key to this Master, whose old, confident desire for domination is mostly displaced into being more than ever a one-man band with one man on his mind, obsessed with the Doctor in as bizarre revenges as possible. Laughing all the while. And laughing. And laughing (yet I’ve not picked “Heh heh heh heh!” as his signature quote).
The Master seized a new body as the twist in the tail on Traken, but it’s by insinuating himself throughout Logopolis that he really makes his mark. Glorying in vicious deaths, stalking fear and, as ever, cutting the Doctor down to size, he’s initially little-seen but a palpable presence throughout his first full story. He may laugh a lot, but he’s got a cold, dispassionate air that’s very sinister. A cold, high, echoing music, too. This time, he’s dangerous. But even he doesn’t realise how dangerous, as his greed to find out what secret the planet Logopolis is hiding sparks the greatest catastrophe in all of Doctor Who and the Universe itself begins to unravel. He loses his nerve like a typical bully and bolts, then teams up with the Doctor not to undo the damage – nothing can do that – but to save what’s left by transmitting a new lifeline into another universe to give ours breathing space… And, recovering his composure, he finds again an eye for the main chance. Again borrowing from the iconography of Terror of the Autons, Christopher H Bidmead’s script crafts a far more powerful climax up in the dizzyingly high control room of a radio telescope. But this time they do not get on: the Doctor is revolted by everything the Master’s done, and all the Master’s overtures are ostentatiously mocking of a man he clearly thinks is past it. It’s the final episode of the story, the final episode of this Doctor, and the Master sees himself as the coming man, a lithe, Thatcherite go-getter contemptuous of self-sacrifice and concern for others. But before he finds to his shock that the real coming man is yet to come, he patronises the Doctor’s old, comfy ways and mockingly praises him for a technological deliverance that he clearly thinks he could have delivered himself – but was instead keeping the Doctor busy while he worked out how to turn it to his advantage. The Doctor knocks the Master’s congratulatory hand away as if stung – and, even as he tries to bundle the Doctor out, he can’t resist giving the game away with a good taunt. The gloves are off…
“So it works. Congratulations, Doctor. I always knew you’d do it.”Logopolis is probably Mr Ainley’s most dangerous performance – and certainly his Master’s most deadly effect – but, if you want a wider variety of Doctor in your ‘The Seven Faces of the Master’, like Mr Delgado he has other stories worth a look. I’d recommend Planet of Fire for a different and rather glorious interpretation of the Master in which he has a great deal of fun and is pitted for the last time against the ‘new’ Doctor who becomes his arch-enemy as they were in the early ’70s. Then there’s a more different still portrayal in Survival, Mr Ainley’s last TV appearance but, as with his first, not quite managing to finish off the Doctor (here one who shares Mr Ainley’s birthday, and his companion’s, too).
“You did most of this.”
“Oh, no. I was little more than a humble assistant – but I have learned a great deal. And now I think it’s time for you to go and explain the presence of your friends. There’s quite a hubbub outside.”
“You’re quite right. One mistake now could ruin everything.”
“I know that, Doctor – and it could happen so easily.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Universe is hanging on a thread. A single recursive pulse down that cable and the CVE would close forever. Even a humble assistant could do it.”
Doctor Who The Master Quotation 4 – The TV Movie: Time Waits For No Man
The Master (Eric Roberts) comes back from being executed first as a wriggling morphant monstrosity and then to possess yet another body, this time an unlucky paramedic. A mere human body begins to rot immediately, though his inner wriggling thing does at least give him the ability to spit sticky and occasionally hypnotic bile at those who get in his way. First underplayed, charismatic and rather sexy, his chiselled, clean-shaven features looking cool in shades, when bits start falling off his rapid deterioration leads to a waspish temper and a desperation to get the Doctor’s body – no, not like that. Oh, I dunno though. He also puts on his grandest frock yet for that big occasion. And yet he’s still not ‘the camp one’.
The Master has charmed a street gangster to his side with hard-luck tales of how – well, he’s no saint, but that awful, awful Doctor! A substantial quantity of gold helps. And the Doctor has made the mistake of choosing his companion rather less well: she’s already killed him once, she doesn’t believe him, and she’s more concerned with her sofa than his TARDIS. Never mind poor Mr McDermott: this is the sofa to really fear. And to top it all, she’s gooily hypnotised by the Master into abetting his S&M torture-possession plans, in a story that does millennialism considerably more stupidly than the one two above. And yet this Master is great fun and more of a mirror to the Doctor than he’s been in years, full of black humour when the Doctor plays it straight and, yes, I’m afraid heavily coded as the Hollywood Homosexual of Evil against a suddenly straight Doctor. I can’t help but enjoy both one-night-only Time Lords taking the piss immensely, and most of all as the Doctor wakes and expresses sheer incredulity as the Master’s companion swallows everything, his own slaps him because she’s evil now rather than merely banal, then the Master interrupts him, flouncing down the stairs with a flourish like Blanche turning up to the end of the world, which only the Doctor seems to notice:
“You! You took my things – where are they?”
“They’re not your things any more. Pretty soon, everything around here’s going to belong to the Master again.”
“Again? What’s he been telling you?
“When he gets his body back from you, I’m going to be rich.”
“And you believe him?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“I suppose he neglected to mention that there won’t be any place to spend your money?”
“Which is why we have no time to waste.”
“But time to change!”
“I always dress for the occasion.”
Doctor Who The Master Quotation 5 – Utopia
I really, really did warn you there were spoilers, didn’t I?
Professor Yana (Derek Jacobi) is a brilliant, eccentric scientist, perhaps the last – the savant at the end of the Universe (no longer delayed). An old man with a young companion, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, selflessly helping everyone (though it would be nice, just once, to get a little credit), with strange twinges of memory about time travel, the Doctor’s companion accidentally alerts him to the significance of the Gallifreyan symbols on his pocket watch. Not long before, the Doctor had used such a watch to hide his true self while living a normal life in a body and person made suddenly human. So with this dear old man so obviously Doctorish, surely there couldn’t be any doubt who’d be inside when he opened the watch…
The Master (Derek Jacobi) is older than some, with grey hair and an old body… But he finds new vigour and purpose – and newly compelling, dark eyes – when his whispering inner self takes over again (and you’ll recognise some of those voices). If you remember him sitting waiting inside a statue, an even better disguise was sitting inside a nice man (sweet? Effete!). If you think he was in drag last time, this was a performance so great that he was lost in it. And if the Doctor’s deepest wish when he had to make himself a new person to hide in was to become an ordinary man, the Master’s deepest wish was to be the Doctor… But just a little bit better. Fleeing service in the Time War, tormented by the drums in his head, in recovering himself the Master’s a real live wire, suddenly turning with contempt on his other life and his friend, sneering at and scorning everything about her – unwisely – and leaping back into murder and sabotage for spite. That came very easily.
This really shouldn’t be here at all. I may not be breaking the laws of my Fifty, but I am— no, hang it, I am breaking them, because here’s a moment, quite a bit of a moment, that’s going to turn up again later. I won’t tell if you won’t. This is only a part of it where, let’s say, the Master has seized control of the Moment. That sounds ominous, and it is. To simply fantastic music, the greatest outing for the 2007 theme we know as ‘Dance of the Macra’, Professor Yana has gazed into the abyss, the abyss has gazed greedily back and, with his most disturbing and brilliantly portrayed possession so far, the Master now takes possession again of – himself. Locked outside, humanity’s twisted, cannibal offshoots the Futurekind bay in hungry frustration as, above, humanity’s more hopeful survivors soar off in search of Utopia; below, the Doctor is confronted with the appalling realisation that You Are Not Alone. And, at the heart of the otherwise abandoned outpost, Professor Yana’s friend Chantho is being confronted with evidence that her friend may no longer be in residence. Black-eyed and delighting in life again, the man in his place is about to rediscover a taste for murder, but first can’t resist some playful, vicious fun as he operates the master controls first to lock the Doctor away from his TARDIS, then to let the Futurekind into the silo to greet (and eat) the Doctor and his friends. Chantho is appalled; the Doctor panics as a massive door slams in his face; and the Master – oh, the Master makes me laugh.
“Chan—but you’ve locked them in—tho…?”
[“Get it open! Get it open!”]
“Not to worry, my dear. As one door closes, another must open.”
Doctor Who The Master Quotation 6 – Last of the Time Lords
The Master (John Simm) is young, and strong, and we see that he’s at last won that new lease of life – he explodes from his previous self’s mortally wounded body with a new voice and new hyperactivity. Or is it simply that, taunted by the Doctor’s survival and rejuvenation, he regenerates by sheer force of will? He bounds away from the end of the Universe and lays a long plan, taking the Earth, a wife and leadership of his most insanely loyal allies yet. He spends months building himself up as Harold Saxon, charismatic Prime Minister and saviour. Urbane, excitable, with just a hint of madness, he’s more spectacularly hypnotic than ever before, and more than any other Master a mirror of and match for the Doctor. And that viciously playful streak is given full reign – over all the Earth, the Universe to follow – with not just taunts, and pranks, and killing again and again, but now dance. Handsome in an untrustworthy way, dark-haired but clean-shaven, he tends to wear sharply tailored black suits and ties, but with just a flash of purple inner lining to mock a Doctor’s cape of old (though after things go a little wrong even with his back-up plan, he turns up again rather the worse for wear and rather more on the side of madness than urbanity, less cheeky than feral). And if the Master really were the Doctor’s equal, what would that mean? He’d win. He does.
The Master takes over the world and the lead – it’s only a shame that Russell T Davies didn’t also remake the title sequence starring John Simm in THE MASTER. The reborn Master can hardly contain himself when at last he gets to speak to the Doctor; he tells him to run, taking command of the whole narrative; he rejoices in teasing him as a public menace; he proclaims the fall of the human race. Well, one of them, anyway. Topping every other writer’s conception of him as fallen angel, he stages the Rapture with terrible pedantry and glories in his legions of the Damned fleeing the ultimate judgement day. And, for a fan who loves The Deadly Assassin more than any other story and grew up intoxicated by novelisations of Roger Delgado’s stories, this tour-de-force follows through on the Master’s original promise and reaches through the screen to take control of me, too: he’s never better than in this story, and it’s an amazing performance, taking everything that Robert Holmes gave the character to set sail and flying away with it. It’s the most fun he’s had since the Chair – this time with the Cabinet. And he’s both very, very funny and utterly horrible. This is perfectly encapsulated a year into his reign, riding high above the Earth, tormenting a Doctor he’s long made a captive audience and aged to infirmity, always ready to make him feel small. He sees the Doctor making a grab for his laser screwdriver and revels in his failure, helping him back to his wheelchair, staring into his face, derisively ‘commiserating’ with him – then laughing in sheer delight.
“There you go, Gramps. Oh, do you know? I remember the days when the Doctor – oh, that famous Doctor – was waging a Time War, battling Sea Devils and Axons. He sealed the rift at the Medusa Cascade, single-handed. Phew. And look at him now. Stealing screwdrivers. How did he ever come to this? Oh yeah – me!”
Here’s to many more Masters – future and past.
Next Time… Who could follow that?
[Number 38 has already been published, but its “Next Time…” would simply have been “Happy Easter!”]
Thursday, May 30, 2013
EXCLUSIVE: BBC Defends Question Time Panel As Reflecting All Shades of Political Opinion
The BBC has once again shown its unquestionable political neutrality with tonight’s fair and balanced Question Time line-up. A BBC Spokesperson said:
‘No right-thinking person could disagree with the security industry having absolute power over every corner of our lives, so two panellists from the Snoopers’ Charter-supporting Labour Party and two from the Snoopers’ Charter-supporting Conservative Party, with UKIP for balance, reflects the views of all right-thinking people from neo-fascist to fascist. No Liberal view is possible (so we’ve refused to invite any). Any disagreement means you’re clearly a terrorist and, with our detector vans, we know where you live.’
With the biggest story of the week being the authoritarian Labour Party teaming up with the authoritarian Conservative Party to say they must go much further right – again – the BBC’s decision to exclude the Liberal Democrats from yet another Question Time beggars belief. By pretending that only the traditional party of the right, the party that’s urging them to be more right-wing, and the party that’s scaring them to death by being amazingly right-wing have anything to say about the Snoopers’ Charter they are gravely unbalanced.
This isn’t just about excluding the Liberal Democrats – again – who the BBC used to ignore because ‘They’d never get into government’ and now ignore because ‘They’re in government’. It’s about giving a completely one-sided view on major issues on which all the other parties range from deeply authoritarian to would-be totalitarian.
Labour’s former Home Secretary Alan Johnson called on Sunday for the Conservatives to reintroduce the Snoopers’ Charter with Labour support, clambering eagerly onto a soldier’s dead body to use as a platform. He is, of course, one of the guests tonight. And if you think “totalitarian” is hyperbole, he explicitly told Nick Robinson on The Andrew Marr Show that “these things are so much easier in China”. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether Mr Johnson’s eye-boggling totalitarianism is because he’s a former communist or a former associate of Mr Blair. Perhaps even his heavy-breathing desire to pry into the e-mails of every single person in the land comes from his time as a postman and a frustrated desire to open up everyone else’s post, now grown to maniacal proportions. Who can say? But whatever inspired his twisted psychological desire for control-freakery, that it’s there is a proven fact from his own mouth.
As Millennium Dome, Elephant said the other day about Mr Johnson’s disgusting opportunism in using a murdered soldier to feed his own neo-fascist wet dreams, he is not only wildly irresponsible to call for new powers before anyone’s been able to fully investigate what happened – but the security services themselves have admitted that they knew the suspects were suspicious and already had all the powers they needed to monitor them but didn’t have the person-hours to make them a priority:
“WHY, if the security services seem like they're saying that monitoring the THOUSANDS of people they ALREADY have powers to monitor is TOO DIFFICULT, WHY is the solution to monitor MILLIONS of people?!”The Conservatives are desperate to move to the right because they’re terrified of UKIP. The Labour Party have a long and disgusting record of being far to the authoritarian right in government, and are now calling in Opposition for government to be far more illiberal still. But then, everyone should remember what the Labour Party did with thirteen years of war-mongering, evidence-sexing, amnesia-promising, freedom-crushing, LGBT-hypocrisising, rich-brownnosing, poor-taxing, crony-bribe-swallowing shameless absolute power.
Only the Liberal Democrats opposed the Snoopers’ Charter and the sticky-fingered urges of securocrats to peek into and keep every electronic communication, followed naturally by every phone call, every item of post and ultimately every telescreened bedroom in Britain. The only thing that stopped it was that Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg directly vetoed the Snoopers’ Charter. The Conservatives wanted it. The Labour Party is gagging for it. By silencing the only voice that is not identically securocrat, the BBC is not merely being ‘unfair to the Lib Dems’ but simply not doing their job for the public.
Fossilised relics of previous completely fair and balanced Question Time line-ups can be found here , here and here.
The BBC complaints form can be found here. For viewers who aren’t Daleks, if you want to complain directly to the BBC about their consistent and outrageous political bias, obviously they’re frightened of their viewers being able to get in touch, you can’t do so by e-mail – though if anyone wishes to supply me with the personal e-mails of, say, the director and producer of Question Time, the head of BBC1, the Director-General or the BBC Trust, I will very happily republish them here – and must instead jump through five pages of hoops on their website.
Labels: BBC, British Politics, Conservatives, Daleks, Labour, Meddling In Things That Are Nobody's Business But Your Own, Pictures, Questionable Time, The Golden Dozen, Things To Remember About Labour
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Doctor Who – The Evil of the Daleks (Campbell & Hadley’s Recorder Uncut)
Patrick Troughton’s Doctor – Victoriana – dark fairy tales – rewriting the whole of time and space… No, it’s not the latest Doctor Who from Steven Moffat, but a fabulous story first broadcast forty-six years ago yesterday and, appropriately for John Stuart Mill’s birthday, one of the most blazingly Liberal of all Doctor Who stories: a Dalek Faust. Last Christmas, I wrote two guest pieces about it for my friend Nick Campbell’s blog: here’s the full version of what I sent him, not one of my usual style of reviews but a series of questions and answers – and spoilers.
“Somewhere in the Dalek race, there are three Daleks with the Human Factor. Gradually, they will come to question. They will persuade other Daleks to question. You will have a rebellion on your planet!”
Episode 1 of Doctor Who – The Evil of the Daleks was first broadcast on 20th May, 1967, and though it was repeated the following year, the BBC later junked all but one of its seven episodes. That means I’ve never seen six-sevenths of it, and only came to it on audio cassette at the age of twenty, a quarter of a century later. And yet ever since then it’s been one of my favourite stories across the whole fifty years – reliably at my number 2 spot – with terrific performances all round, the Daleks as you’ve never heard them before but influencing many Doctor Who adventures since, and above all a compelling script from David Whitaker, the series’ finest writer of the 1960s. So when it approached time for my friend Nick and his friend Sarah to cover it on their blog Campbell & Hadley’s Recorder, I asked if I might take him up on one of the ‘guest pieces’ he’s occasionally prodded me to write.
To make it more manageable to interweave three people’s thoughts on a seven-part story, Nick set a tighter word count than I’d usually keep to and split the story into two. His first blog post covers Episodes 1-4; his second covers Episodes 5-7. I’ve published everything I sent him below, and you’ll spot two significant changes of style between the two, one from Nick, the other coming out of my reaction to that. I’ve been thinking of an appropriate time to follow Nick’s Christmas excitements with my ‘uncut’ version ever since, and this week seems ideal – when I noticed yesterday was the birthday of both John Stuart Mill (at which I wrote my own piece about him and Harriet Taylor) and of this most Liberal Doctor Who tale, I pulled out my notes in the afternoon and got to work. Again, I should warn that this is quite different to my usual reviews: it doesn’t just feature spoilers, but reads best if you know a little about the story (though the more structured second part is easier to follow anyway). So here’s something of an introduction to start you off…
The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his friend Jamie (Frazer Hines) have seen off the threat of the Faceless Ones to Gatwick Airport in Swinging 1966, but their usual departure for another time and place is prevented when the TARDIS is stolen and driven off in a lorry. Using the Doctor’s own cleverness against him, a trail of clues and crooks lead them to an antique shop with a secret and back into Victorian times… Who is behind it all? Timid but driven scientist Edward Waterfield? His big-guest-star-in-a-bigger-beard colleague Theodore Maxtible (Marius Goring), financier, scientific and alchemical dilettante and steampunk Goldfinger? Their peculiar house guests, or bewildered daughters? All right, so you’ll have guessed it’s mostly the Daleks, who’ve taken advantage of Waterfield and Maxtible’s captivatingly insane Nineteenth Century time experiments to capture the Doctor and his friend for experiments of their own… But as the climax approaches on the Dalek planet of Skaro and the Doctor faces up to the Emperor Dalek at last, who is really trying to deceive who? [A clue: almost everybody.] Mashing up Victoriana and modern science fiction decades before it was fashionable, this is utterly compelling – a marvellous morality tale in sci-fi trappings from its inspired fantasy science through a country house mystery to a civil war and a powerfully Liberal moral that champions questioning individuals over rigid authority and the impulse to destroy.
The Evil of the Daleks Episodes 1-4: To Set A Trap…
After thanking Nick and Sarah for letting me join in on one of my very favourite stories, I began by observing that the start has something in common with the previous story…
The opening has an intriguing mystery to it – the spy, the clue, the transmitter as hearing aid and someone listening in… Is it ‘Revenge of the Chameleons’? Fortunately not. Mr Waterfield almost has too much personality, not too little, ostentatiously Victorian, moral, full of self-loathing and unnerving all at the same time. Unusually for Doctor Who, there’s a sharply observed class divide here too: Hall’s a small-time working class crook who, even given extra money, still has his principles; posh, ambitious businessman Perry protests that he won’t do anything “dicey” only after Waterfield’s prevented the greedy weasel from stealing his suppliers (and he creeps in later to pinch a customer). So who’s the more crooked one…?
The Doctor’s very modelled on Sherlock Holmes to start with: mistrusting the easy clue; analysing the cigarettes; spotting the matchbook; the too-short study… All used to trap him, of course, but I wonder where it comes from – Whitaker’s character notes for Troughton’s Doctor, or making us have the Victorian period in mind from the start?
The Daleks getting an evil throbbing version of the Who Theme – like a sinister machine – pre-empts The Sound of Drums by forty years almost to the week…
I really must get round to getting the new Loose Cannon Recon, but I’d been saving it for a treat. As well as the pictures, the animation and the moving Daleks to entice me, there’s one scene with three different soundtracks due to rights problems: on the original ’90s cassette release, a coffee bar scene’s simply cut; on the CD, sound restoration engineer Mark Ayres has remarkably grafted in Hold Tight; it’s only on bootlegs that you get to hear the Beatles’ Paperback Writer as Jamie picks his way round the “lassies” (it sounds from the muffled reverb like the mono mix, fact fans). And that’s the first scene where the Doctor and Jamie are really together as a pair with great comedy timing, too: “Aye, well, maybe I’m used to you.”
Troughton has a brilliant flash of indignation as he tells thieving Perry “…and because it happens to be my property!” It’s an early hint of how he’ll react when faced with the Daleks and losing control:
“What have you done with your infernal meddling?”That’s a sign, too, like them being labelled “Devils”, that this is a going to be a very different sort of Dalek story. In theory in Doctor Who, Mr Maxtible should be right when he tries to regard them as “different people. Alien,” but here more than any other time they’re less physical monsters than a force of spiritual evil, fading from their first scene like Victorian ghosts.
Maxtible is utterly magnetic as he spins his stories like a great and terrible fairy tale, an inspired scientific fantasy, all of a piece with his later alchemical lust. There’s so much foreshadowing of what the story will be about, too: going through the looking glass, “They forced me into the horror of time travel” transforms even the heart of the series into horror, prefiguring that anything can become Dalek; the Daleks and Doctor almost instantly present the Dalek Factor and its eventual downfall (“You will obey!” “Do not question!” “I will not be your slave!”); even the ‘be careful what you wish for’ of greed for transformation in the promise
“The Daleks know many secrets. You will learn the most important…”It’s a brilliant mystery – funny, intricate, and deadly underneath, from Molly the maid assuming our heroes are plastered to the Daleks’ aggressive Weight-watchers. One bit of writing doesn’t convince, though: Chekhov’s Portrait is a clumsier bit of exposition than most, particularly when we’re told about it twice. And I know we’re meant to feel for Ruth, caught between her obsessive father and her schizophrenic fiancé, but I just find Brigit Forsyth very cold. Possibly because when, way back in my teens, I worked in a restaurant, she was the most horrible customer we ever had and made the waitresses cry.
Was it Maxtible who thought up “Leatherman”? I ask because much of the early part of Episode 3 is him getting his “man” from London to flex his muscles while he and a Dalek eye him up. But Episode 3 and, slightly less so, 4 would have been very visual, with much less pace or meat (other than Kemel) to them than the terrific openers. Part of the problem is that Pat is so blatantly on holiday, with only a few little scenes of the Doctor giving a DVD commentary on the plot, which are rather ahead of their time (the Doctor and a Dalek! Watching humans! On television! How postmodern). Toby’s plot, particularly, could easily be discarded, with the whole ‘the violent one looks to do some burglary but is exterminated’ end already used for Kennedy.
Jamie in a temper is quite raw – it’s not just that the Doctor’s talking about him behind his back, but has gone off with two new gentleman boyfriends. With his heavy emphasis on “There’s no-one I’d rather have with me” when he finds his own rebound guy, it comes across very much as hurt that the Doctor’s dumped him just as he thought they were finally an item. And yet he’s learnt from the Doctor and applied it, too: in The Macra Terror, the Doctor laid the groundwork for so much of this story, telling people not to do as they’re told. Jamie believed that, and now his loyalty to the Doctor’s ideals makes him refuse to do what the Doctor himself says.
All right, so the story sags a bit in the middle. But what’s coming more than makes up for that…
The Evil of the Daleks Episodes 5-7: Shut Your Trap [‘Exterminate’ Font]I-only-arsked[/’Exterminate’ Font]
Three people’s random thoughts, even more or less to Nick’s suggested word limit, meant he had quite a task to puzzle over it and fit them all together – so for the second week, he suggested some prompts to get us at least talking about the same sort of things. The good news is that I answered the questions. The bad news is that we sometimes gave much the same answers. The worse news for Nick was that he could have the word limit or the answers, but not both…
Subject: Evil Questions
No, not questions that are evil – well, I hope not, anyway.
I've just relistened to those last three episodes for the first time in years (only the second time ever, too). I'd completely forgotten that episode six twist (that the Doctor had been tricked). That's probably my favourite moment – how about you?“Do not question!”So, not evil by my standards, but…
The Episode 6 cliffhanger of the Doctor confronting the Emperor is probably my favourite, too! For a lot of reasons – the bluff and counter-bluff of it all, the Doctor being intelligent, afraid, ruthless, but above all defiant against the biggest bully and the Universe, the fantastic sight of that bully itself… With even a bonus innuendo. Crucially, though, it gets to the heart of me because the Doctor expounding on the Human Factor versus the Dalek Factor is so absolutely Liberal, freedom against conformity and hate, all leading into how just asking questions brings down the Daleks in the final episode. So I will tell you that (spoilers!) it’s coming up sometime in my year-long countdown of Doctor Who – 50 Great Scenes. You’ll have to wait to find out what chart position it’s reached.Here we are back on Skaro, blowing it up. Is this an affectionate goodbye to the Hartnell era, do you think, or a slightly aggressive wipe of the blackboard (better metaphors are welcome).
The reason I asked if I might join in with you on The Evil of the Daleks is that it is simply one of my absolute favourites. Sarah talked about the cassettes last week; well, I listened to this one most of all, and of that curious but brilliant all-Troughton early ’90s selection, I loved them all to start with, yet two have since dipped a little for me while two continue to soar – perhaps it’s because this and The Macra Terror seem such close thematic bedfellows. And in seven episodes, there are many more than one great scenes. Two other crucial ones that come to mind are, appropriately, mirrors: the Doctor and the nice old man both being scary; the Daleks being friendly. There’s a great moment where the Doctor’s satisfied at the close of the experiment and Waterfield, sick with horror, tries to kill him – and the Doctor gives a hint of just what an appalling thing he’s planning. Later, perhaps only Pat’s Doctor could get away with gently telling Victoria he’d let them all die. So it’s no wonder Jamie’s the voice of the viewer in saying the Doctor’s turned wrong. Contrast that, then, with the endearing ‘child’ Daleks playing, particularly Omega with his incredibly deep voice (and note that the ruthless Doctor sends his innocent children off to war).
Of all Doctor Who stories, this has a fair claim to being the ‘ultimate’ one, and it was clearly designed that way – not just that it’s so well-done, full of atmosphere, characters and ideas, but that you could imagine it working as a Doctor Who film. Because it’s about adventures throughout time and space, almost all single Who stories would be lacking something in a standalone film – but this is structured almost uniquely through present, past and future / an alien world overlapping. The only thing that’s weird about this perfection is that the adventure is following the TARDIS, rather than aboard it.
I think it’s really striking out in a different direction to William Hartnell’s Dalek stories, which intriguingly raised the stakes and broadened the canvas with each return – and adds a dash of TV21’s Dalek strips (in the form of a rebellion among the Daleks, and ‘nicer’ Daleks) long before Russell T Davies did them in Bad Wolf. David Whitaker has a subtly different conception of the Daleks to Terry Nation; in some ways Nation’s is more powerful, with the starkness of space Nazis, but Whitaker makes them more insidious, corrupters, our bad angels – most of all here, as I’ve said, a force of spiritual evil for Doctor Who’s Faust. Though it does have curious (or not so curious, given that Whitaker was script editor behind both) parallels with both The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth – it’s the final end of the Daleks, in their city, again, and makes explicit the mash-up of different time periods that was a subtext in the invasion (technically the future / feels like the 1960s the viewers knew, smashed / but essentially the iconography of ‘what if the Nazis had won in the 1940s?’). I don’t think it’s really about the Hartnell era, for all that – Troughton is very distinct and his own Doctor here, and Whitaker is pitting the Doctor and the Daleks against each other in their essences rather than physically.A lot of good work seems to be done with playing with Dalek voices, even having an untreated one in the form of Maxtible. Do you think this story would succeed with different audio, or cheaper visuals…?
It’s a brilliant script, but obviously that almost everything seems to work helps – I can think of other terrific scripts hated by fans largely because they’re not delivered nearly so well (Paradise Towers, for example). Here, the actors and the atmosphere are top-notch, and imagining it with, say, the Day of the Daleks Dalek voices doesn’t bear thinking about. Despite not being able to see most of it, knowing that some of it was filmed Grim’s Dyke has always been a bit of a thrill, as my Nana and Grandad lived near Old Redding when I was a boy, so I’d play just across the road from Maxtible’s house when visiting.Do you or have you ever found the Daleks scary, and why? Do you like the Daleks? And if you do or don't particularly, do you think it affects your enjoyment of this story?
I’ve always found the Daleks powerful – in design and concept, as space Nazis in individual tanks, the embodiment of war and hate. Certainly the best Who monster… Though, unlike some, I think they were more tense or thrilling than nightmarish. Some monsters literally did give me nightmares as a boy, but, oddly, the scene from Genesis of the Daleks that did wasn’t one with Daleks in it. They have a fantastic vocal and insidious presence here, only really becoming a physical threat (despite the odd extermination!) at the close of Episode 6. It’s odd – I can never make up my mind whether effectively making them malevolent spirits displays them at their essence or very out of character. Either way, for me this is their best story.
Do you think Terry Nation could have written this story (I did wonder if the inclusion of a countdown was deliberate homage by Whitaker)? Do you think it was inevitable that this story – the final destruction of the Daleks – would be written?
I don’t think Terry Nation could possibly have written this story, but then I don’t think he wanted to. He banned Emperors, didn’t he, and he hated Daleks being ‘sent up’ (except when he did it, and far more dumbly than “Dizzy Daleks”). His writing Death To the Daleks as a riposte to Mr Whitaker’s The Power of the Daleks fell flat; arguably, he might have written Genesis of the Daleks as a comeback to this story, far more successfully, and Whitaker couldn’t have written that. I’m happy for different writers to be different.Would you rather have Victoria, Kemel or her father surviving to go off with the Doctor and Jamie at the end?
As for “The final end,” well, Nation did that in his first story, didn’t he? So Skaro’s blown up already, with more to come (it’s worse than Atlantis). It was inevitable once Nation said he was taking them away that the BBC would do something big, but that’s not the only reason – it’s happened again and again. Russell did the final destruction of the Daleks four times, didn’t he?
Well, it would have to be Victoria Waterfield, of that lot, designed as she is from the archetypal companion template (slightly plucky but screaming, plus ‘my daddy was quite posh but he’s dead now, so the Doctor can be a substitute while a/nobody misses me and b/ until I grow up / fall in love / have a nervous breakdown and find a second set of surrogate parents’). Edward Waterfield being such a timid old stick wouldn’t fit the format, and Kemel not speaking would make him unable to say ‘But what is it, Doctor?’ or scream. Though I think there was a Kemel in-joke in Vastra Investigates on the Red Button tonight, about Strax: “Funny-looking fellow. Turkish, is he?”Would you swap episode 2 of this story for another surviving Evil episode?
[On watching it, it has rather a lot of Troughton references, notably the Yeti stories and The Box of Delights, so this was almost certainly deliberate.]
I’m strangely tempted to have Maxtible join the crew, though – he could wander round being charmingly patrician and exploring, then trying to nick everything, while everyone admires his enormous bouffant. It would be like Pertwee in the TARDIS a few years early. Or Beta the friendly Dalek – yes, Beta would be a good companion.
‘I like gliding about in circles and giggling tinnily! Why does everyone run away when I come out of the TARDIS?’
Well, I’d like to see them all – Jamie awkward amid Paperback Writer and the “lassies”, even the slightly sagging middle ones for their visual impact, but any of Episodes 5, 6 or 7, especially, which are all spellbinding. Perhaps 6, counter-intuitively; we’ve got some of the footage of “The final end,” and while it’s better than it has any right to be, perhaps I’d rather see the Daleks’ strange playfulness amid the Victoriana and the Doctor’s big confrontation with the Emperor. I suppose the real answer has to be no, because I wouldn’t want to lose those marvellous scenes of the Doctor and Jamie creeping about and working it out, or the first sight of Maxtible’s magnificent beard, or most of all the whole gripping, dreamlike then nightmarish scene in the laboratory.Last week I wondered whether Whitaker's Daleks are a nightmare of nuclear fallout. This week's episodes made me question that slightly. But what do you think this story is about?
The Evil of the Daleks is about as clear thematically as you get in Doctor Who – of course, it’s David Whitaker’s Faust. And whether he intended it with this story deliberately, or it arose naturally from his or the series’ views, it’s also as unambiguously Liberal as the show gets, as I’ve written on in my How Doctor Who Made Me A Liberal.In what ways has Doctor Who changed by the end of this story?
This story raises the Daleks from a physical to a metaphysical threat – malevolent spirits that plot to seed all humanity with “The Dalek Factor”, taking even the Doctor for a ride. We see many transformations, with the ultimate conflict of our hero and the greatest villains each attempting to ‘turn’ the other, with alchemist Maxtible making this explicit as the Faust figure, though there’s temptation all the way through (and, as Dalek, he makes the devil as antichrist metaphor blatant, too, telling the Doctor to “Rise up and follow me”). Like Kennedy and Toby before him, Maxtible is overtaken by his greed – it’s almost ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of the Daleks: Avarice’, isn’t it? Mind you, both the Doctor and the Emperor are over-proud, Jamie is full of wrath (and fancies Victoria), Perry was envious and Terrall accused the Doctor of gluttony… You’d think in the seven episodes they’d have found time for Sloth. Or could they not be bothered?
It’s difficult to think of a more strikingly Liberal allegory than defining what makes humans Human as asking awkward questions and making your own decisions, with the Doctor contrastingly identifying the core of “the Dalek Factor” as “to obey,” even before “to exterminate”. While from the first and in many subsequent stories the Daleks have been metaphors for the Nazis, here they are broadened to encompass all enemies of free thought who simply do as they’re told. And where the anti-racism of the first Dalek story was a bit let down by the ‘normal people = good, ugly monsters = bad,’ here the human Daleks aren’t monsters, but Maxtible is, and his becoming a Dalek just hammers the point home.
I’m not certain what you were after with “has Doctor Who changed by the end of this story?” The series, the character, and just within this story or since 1963? It’s certainly become more complex since then, with the Doctor here more palpably alien than he’s ever been (after developing that way in The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Tenth Planet), and more proactive (even starting as reactive in this story, he turns it around in a major way). For all that it introduces Victoria, it’s only in her fourth episode that she interacts with anyone or displays any character beyond ‘Wailing’ and ‘McGuffin’ – this is about Jamie, cementing him as this Doctor’s other half, not least when they fall out, and in the bigger picture, it introduces the idea of staging a story through different time periods as a thematic structure rather than random travelogue, arguably paving the way for but not a direct influence on the likes of Carnival of Monsters and City of Death (and certainly The War Games, much the same story if with a far bleaker view of human nature). At the time, it was establishing a more ruthless Doctor (a deliberate plan, rather than pretend bumbling) and clearing the decks of the Daleks, ready for new monsters, as well as, with The Macra Terror, pairing the peak of the series’ Liberal philosophy with mass destruction – well, freedom’s dangerous. This was the first purpose-built ‘season finale’, too, of which many more later – the first two seasons had ended with a triumphal scene, but here it’s the whole adventure. And, of course, if you’re asking about changes, much of this story’s about transformation, and yet it says that the Doctor is a transforming agent himself, a catalyst, and so can’t himself be changed. Which is lucky.If you could change one thing about the story, what would it be?
Will the QI hooters go off if I say ‘The BBC to have kept all of it’? It’s tempting to truncate Episodes 3 and 4 into each other, but I don’t really want less of it, so coming in at Episode 5, that one’s gripping and fabulous but a couple of its ideas don’t quite deliver. Whitaker has a rare clumsy bit of writing in blowing Maxtible’s mesmerism within seconds of it being hinted at, which could do with a polish, but I think were I to change one thing it would be Arthur Terrall. His schizophrenic outbursts and, here, strange physical properties have been building to something, and then rather fizzle out. There are two possibilities that seem hinted at – that he’s an early attempt at the Dalek Factor, a failed experiment, which is why they have to call the Doctor in; or, more gruesomely (but what I was expecting the first time I heard it, when I was twenty and very much into existential crises), that he’s a Dalek android who doesn’t realise it, with his ‘real’ body that Ruth had fallen in love with long-dead. The control device and ‘get him away’ really aren’t good enough – his mystery deserves better, particularly after that terrific scene where the Doctor is flighty, enquiring, commanding, and generally winding Terrall up, with Troughton’s marvellous, mellifluously delivered line about his interest in all forms of life (contrasting directly with “There is only one form of life that matters – Dalek life”).
[It occurs to me after I’ve sent this that on top of doing Power with their tricksiness and “I am your soldier,” Mark Gatiss must have thought the same thing about Terrall – that’s where he got his boffin with the heart of Dalekanium from, isn’t it?]
Now, if this was one of my proper reviews, it would end in some kind of conclusion, but Nick didn’t ask me for one, and I can only obey. No… That’s not right! Then I’ll just finish with three other temptations, if the Faustian appeal of all of the above didn’t quite persuade you, which inevitably conclude with a final response – not an answer – to the story’s crucial question. The Daleks waking dizzily as humans and realizing they now have a sense of fun are so weirdly endearing that I put them on my first answerphone message; if you pay attention to the two key technologies they use at either end of the plot, you’ll realise that the Dalek plan is literally smoke and mirrors; and nothing can quite prepare you – or him – for the Black Dalek’s appalled, hysterical, ooh-I’ve-never-been-so reaction to the simple act of a Dalek asking a question:
“Who spoke? Who questioned a Dalek command?!”
Monday, May 20, 2013
Liberal Mondays 3: John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor #LibDemValues
Today’s Liberal Monday celebrates the 207th birthday of Liberal philosopher and politician John Stuart Mill. With Harriet Taylor, he wrote arguably Liberalism’s most influential text of all: On Liberty, the book that created the Harm Principle, from which I’ve picked two key quotations. For many Liberal Democrats, this crystallises the party’s essential belief, and I’ve already touched on it in both previous Liberal Mondays in freedom from conformity and from other restraints… But, though you can see On Liberty’s influence right through to today’s Equal Marriage bill, it still challenges Lib Dems – has it really influenced our policies enough?
“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”This principle is so widely known and debated that this time I won’t analyse it at length. However, even if not every Liberal reads On Liberty once a year (as former Leader Jo Grimond suggested), and if you only read those two points from it, in campaigning Lib Dem style I’d suggest three things to remember – and one thing to think about.
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”
Three Things To Remember
- Between them, these two statements for me sum up the heart of On Liberty, and start off modern Liberalism. I treasure the first, because it’s a positive statement that’s a simple principle to understand but with enormous consequences. It’s greatly influenced a great many Liberals and me, too, not least in my own What the Lib Dems Stand For.
- And I always remember the second, because this time it expresses the same rallying cry as a warning: ordering people about ‘For your own good’ is the most superficially tempting, the most difficult to stand against and the most widely practised by every government of all threats to liberty. It’s greatly influenced the Lib Dems, not least in the Preamble that sets our party’s creed uniquely as “No-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
- Though John Stuart Mill wrote a great many books and essays, this is his most famous, his most lasting and still his most controversial (or influential). And he wrote it with his friend and later wife Harriet Taylor, who never gets the credit – except every time Mr Mill himself talked about who wrote it. So when you think about “Mill’s Harm Principle,” remember that it’s not just about the Great Victorian Man. His publishers may not have given Ms Taylor credit, but you can. So try to ignore the Victorian language that only says “he”; unlike many politicians of the age, Mr Mill was an early advocate of equality.
One Thing To Think About
But for all that the Liberal Democrats think of ourselves as inspired by On Liberty – it’s even the book handed down to each Party President on their election – how much do we practise what it preaches?
I sometimes feel a strange kinship with Evelyn Waugh’s lament that:
“The Conservative Party have never put the clock back a single second.”How many laws have the Liberal Democrats put back? And how many have we acquiesced in or cheer-led? After Labour’s smothering record more than 4,000 new laws when in power, we proposed a Great Repeal Bill, or Freedom Bill; we formed a Coalition with the Conservatives in part on a promise of enacting that Bill, with principles of freedom and personal responsibility. And yet when it came down to it, it was watered down in government to a Small Repeal Bill, or a Freedom That Won’t Frighten the Daily Mail Bill – putting authoritarianism back only a few seconds, and then it starts ticking forward again. That’s the trouble with legislation by shopping list rather than principle: it’s too easy to say you’ll take just the more difficult things out of the cart, and find you’ve got very little left in it.
I’m not even talking about the more egregious government-by-securocrat proposals that rang enough danger signals for Liberal Democrats to block – or ostentatiously fail to – such as the Snooper’s Charter or Secret Courts. It’s more the insidious danger of legislation and regulation in favour of nice things, because nice people could only ever want nice things, and so no right-thinking person could ever want nasty things, whether the wrong type of food or the wrong type of fun… And yet, if it’s so self-evident that everyone must agree, how come government needs to enforce it? Because people should be able to make their own choices, even if they’re not for their own good. Freedom means taking responsibility. And sometimes that means even insisting people have the freedom to do things that the Daily Mail does like and the Guardian doesn’t – let alone things that both scream against. Because making crimes of personal actions that other people or press puritans merely disagree means creating criminals to punish where there aren’t actually any victims. And to a Liberal, shouldn’t a “Victimless crime” be no crime at all?
So here’s something to think about, if the Liberal Democrats really are a party influenced by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor. Of course we should look at the little things – removing some enforced conformities, resisting the temptation to ban things we don’t think are very nice but which are actually none of our business. Applying our Harm Principle consistently would be a revelation. But we shouldn’t get stuck in only reacting to every individual problem or proposal that comes our way. If we’re really a party of On Liberty-based Liberalism, how about thinking about where we’d actually start? How would we put that principle into practice? What if we get into government again – is it enough just to blunt the edges of government-as-it-always-is-by-authoritarian-inertia? Isn’t it time to start planning for something better? Even if it means challenging the whole legal system (and a potential coalition partner) to go back to first principles?
When are we going to stand up for freedom and personal responsibility by showing some responsibility ourselves – and freeing ourselves from the conformity of politicians who always take the safe route and order everyone else to do the same?
Labels: British Politics, Harriet Taylor, Ideas, John Stuart Mill, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Mondays, Liberalism, Meddling In Things That Are Nobody's Business But Your Own, What the Lib Dems Stand For
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Three Problems With The Politician’s Husband
Tonight it’s Part Two of The Politician’s Husband – though, first, it’s political drama at the ballot box, so if you have elections round your way and you’ve not been out to vote yet, do. If you need a reminder, here’s why you should vote for the Liberal Democrats on philosophical grounds, on practical action, and for just five good reasons – but pick just one to read, as the polls are closing!
Now back to The Politician’s Husband, starring David Tennant and inevitably in a line from 1995’s rather good The Politician’s Wife and 1990’s outstanding House of Cards. But not a patch on either of those after Part One, is it? I hope it’ll improve, but a third of the way in it’s failed for me on three crucial levels.
You can’t do a political thriller if you’re too frit to commit.
House of Cards prefigured Thatcher’s downfall and Major’s minor majority, and captured the moment by being utterly unafraid to show the Conservatives at their worst and best. The Politician’s Wife, too, was a brilliantly crafted revenge drama, but still took time to understand how the Tories worked, and felt of its times with the sleaze and media feeding frenzy of the last days of the old regime. But The Politician’s Husband wants to have its coke and sniff it. Is it Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper in a Labour Party struggling to cope after being returned to power by a masochistically amnesiac electorate? Is it the Tories all over again? Is the point that you can’t tell them apart these days? The problem is, it pulls every punch and so seems to be about nothing – a pale shadow compared to what’s actually happening in today’s complicated politics, and the personal conflict terribly artificial after Chris Huhne’s.
OK, One Bit of Politics. But It Was Rubbish
The whole farrago is triggered when Aiden Hoynes resigns to force a Leadership election. He has no support and his sole issue makes no sense. Has no-one ever seen a Leadership challenge?
For a senior Cabinet Minister to think they’re in with a chance – unless they’re an unbelievable idiot – a number of things would have to happen. We didn’t see any of them. Is the Prime Minister in trouble? Is there discontent, rebellion, lost votes, attacks in the press, open criticism from the party grassroots? Not here. Does Mr Hoynes have people talking him up in the press, cheerleaders in the blogosphere and the rest of his party – even in the Tories since the two better dramas of two decades ago, Leaders face votes from their party? Not here. Does he have more of a nucleus among the MPs than Cassius at the back there? Not so much.
So far, so stupid on the practicalities.
Then the choice of issue to resign over. Unbelievable.
Immigration is an increasingly toxic political issue on which, like the National Front and the BNP before him, Mr Farage’s neo-fascists are currently rising on in the polls. The Tories used it nakedly in the 1960s; when open racism started to go out of fashion, Mrs Thatcher dog-whistled to victory in the 1970s; the Tories binged on it all through New Labour’s time in office; Labour and the Tories and their lickspittles hit the Liberal Democrats on it harder than any other single issue to stop Cleggmania in the 2010 election; immigration is one of many issues on which Labour has shot to the hard right under Ed Miliband, apologising for being too soft in an attempt to corral soft racists back into voting for Labour. For crying out loud, politicians have been whipping up hate against immigrants to win easy support since the Middle Ages.
Everyone, but everyone, knows that immigration is unpopular, and it’s the first issue that desperate politicians leap on to oppose. Despite every crackdown on immigration being not just racist but kicking the economy in the nadgers. The only party I can think of in my lifetime that’s positively campaigned in favour of immigration was the Liberal Democrats in 1989, when passports for Hong Kong British / Chinese citizens and gay rights were two highly unpopular but principled issues that helped keep the core of the party together when we were at 3% in the polls.
So someone in either the Labour or the Tory Party resigns with an unprincipled, cynical, populist speech… In favour of immigration? In what sensible-but-incredible mirror universe?
If the Prime Minister had been exposed as doing a deliberate u-turn against what were known to be his convictions; if there was a smoking Cabinet paper exposing that he was only doing it because the press and the Opposition were forcing him; if Mr Hoynes had put out spin that he was a man of principle, prepared to take the hard but unpopular choices, so you knew he must be a pretty straight kind of guy… Then it still would have strained credulity past breaking point, but at least they’d have shown they’d thought about it. Nobody did.
It’s clearly not a coalition government, so if The Politician’s Husband had seriously wanted to make immigration a Leadership issue in this way they could only have done it with a Lib Dem majority government… But even I didn’t read that into it. Vince arguing for immigration on economic grounds to challenge Nick might just work with Lib Dem MPs and Lib Dem members. But not with any other party. And it’s clearly not us.
I can’t help thinking that writer Paula Milne chose the topic out of sheer cynicism rather than ignorance as something that viewers, like voters, would hate Mr Hoynes for all the more.
Freya Hoynes Doesn’t Seem Up To It
And finally, there’s Freya Hoynes. From the start a far more important figure than The Politician’s Wife’s Flora Matlock – not just a wife, but an MP, and not just an MP, but a minister in her own right, if not quite yet as high-flying as her husband. She must be good! But though we keep being told it, we don’t see it. Nothing of her talent at all. It’s not just that Emily Watson isn’t quite as good as Juliet Stevenson – it’s that her character is written so much worse. With no politics and no personal grudge yet, in the first episode we needed to see that she was, at least, brilliant. She was a vacuum. Only the men around her gave her definition. And that wasn’t just sexist, nor just foolish to think we’d assume she could get there on so little, but insulted the viewers by expecting us to side with her anyway.
When Ed Stoppard’s slimy Tory Bruce Babbish – and, come on, if you’re trying not to give away which party it is, don’t make him such a caricature – took Mrs Hoynes to dinner to slather her in blatant lies so as to get her on side, he did it incredibly badly. He told repeated and obvious lies – that he’d never supported Mr Hoynes’ bid, and had tried to deter it, when everyone on Earth knew he’d set him up for a fall – then came in with the enticing truth, that he’d suggested her for promotion (without noting that he’d only done it as part of the power-play against her husband and didn’t expect her to take it). What sort of fool would believe that?
Any student of human nature, still less drama, could see that if you want to persuade someone in a political thriller, you come out with the disarming truth first – ‘Look, you know and I know that I stabbed Aiden in the front, but he was a loose cannon that was damaging the party, he’d only have done more harm to himself and the rest of us, so I encouraged him to self-destruct’ – and then come in with the persuasive lie, which then seems plausible. At least, that’s how you’d do it in a political thriller with any brains. Doing it the other way round was rubbish writing for Mr Babbish, and apparently worse for Mrs Hoynes when she seemed to swallow it.
I can just about forgive her being written as deer-in-the-headlights on Newsnight – the character was making up her mind, dramatically (as if we didn’t expect it), live on TV. But this should have been the moment when she showed, suddenly, that she was up to it. She just looked like she was wavering between whose pawn to be.
I could have come up with a better answer for her to Kirsty Wark. So could you. Go on the attack.
‘My husband resigned on a matter of principle and I respect him for it. Of course I support the Government – I’m a Government Minister. But, Kirsty, I didn’t come on your programme to talk about this issue. It’s not part of my Ministry. And we both know that the only reason you asked was to embarrass my husband or the Prime Minister. You would never ask a male politician if they took all their views from their wife, and frankly I’m surprised and disappointed that you’ve taken such a sexist line of questioning.’But, no. She didn’t. Frankly I’m surprised and disappointed that Paula Milne’s written such a sexist script where a female politician must be a helpless victim and can’t be any good until she has to be to escape her husband’s no-doubt-soon-to-be-sociopathic control freakery.
Still, at least some of the actors were good. David Tennant, of course, despite the Highlights of Evil. Hoping to see more for Chipo Chung to do. Roger Allam’s Chief Whip, reliable as always, his marvellously disillusioned Peter Mannion MP now bleeding into all realities.
And was it just me, or was Mr Hoynes named for Tim Matheson’s disgraced Vice-President John Hoynes and slimy Bruce Babbish named for Oliver Platt’s Oliver Babish, both from The West Wing? Shouldn’t you have spent a bit more time getting your scripts up to Sorkin level before exposing yourself quite so blatantly to unflattering comparison?
Update: On the bright side, and for the sake of fairness, Richard reminds me of the BBC’s last, disastrous attempt at a political drama. The Politician’s Husband is much, much better than The Amazing Mrs Pritchard. But that was brain-dead Poujadist* smiley-faced UKIPpery, and it was shit. Here, also, is an informative factual snippet – though not without its own bias, naturally – from one of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s leading hit-men. Unlike anyone involved in The Politician’s Husband, he knows exactly what’s involved in a Leadership coup attempt.
*Yes, it is known in our flat as The Appalling Mrs Poujade.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Doctor Who Unbound – Sympathy For the Devil (and 10% Off Big Finish Today)
Rush to Big Finish, makers of Doctor Who and other quality audio dramas! Today only, they’re doing 10% off everything, and some of it’s very good indeed. My personal top recommendation is Rob Shearman’s Jubilee, the best bit of Doctor Who in the show’s Fortieth Anniversary and a big influence on the 2005 TV series. Also from 2003, I’ve been listening again to Jonathan Clements’ brilliant Sympathy For the Devil, starring David Warner as a grumpy alternative Doctor, David Tennant, Nicholas Courtney and Sam Kisgart. Order it today, and don’t read anything about it first (here’s the trailer). Spoilers follow…
“Oh, very good, Doctor. Your powers of deduction are, as usual, adequate.”This is a less in-depth review than usual, so you’ve got time to get an order in – but it’s well worth while. You can hear a remarkable number of voices from Doctor Who’s Twenty-first Century TV series in this story, from David Tennant himself to two people involved in this year’s Cold War. And where Jubilee inspired Dalek, something here may just have influenced Rise of the Cybermen… Back in 2003, Big Finish celebrated the series’ last big anniversary by casting six alternative Doctors for one-off dramas, asking What If…? What if, in this one, David Warner were the Third Doctor, exiled to Earth by the Time Lords but arriving nearly twenty years late? That means he was never UNIT’s Scientific Adviser, and a bitter old Brigadier (and Surrey) has had a terrible time of it. The Doctor makes things better – having no Doctor makes things worse. It’s the best of their Doctor Who Unbound series, and so much misanthropic fun that they were paired together for a splendid sequel, Masters of War, which adds another fine old actor to the brilliant team of David Warner and Nick Courtney (and makes it even more like The Scarifiers). And if you fancy more David Warner from Big Finish, they do some excellent Sapphire and Steel, too.
On a personal level, this story’s about both a Doctor and a Brigadier disenchanted by losing out on fuller lives rediscovering themselves. On a story level, it’s both love-letter to and critique of the Pertwee era, with an added local reflection of the Time Lords. UNIT had to get harder and nastier, and David Tennant’s Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood is a nasty hard bastard with a scene-stealingly sweary tongue, a tendency to make mistakes and a shocking contempt for our old friend Lethbridge-Stewart… And then there’s the other character who flies in for a skewed sequel to what is right now a uniquely little-known story of the period. And from now on, the spoilers get thicker and faster, so you might consider stopping reading now. Though most of the fun’s still to come…
“The proof is that the world isn’t overrun by bloody lizards!”This time David Warner’s tangling with a different Cold War power. It’s Hong Kong; it’s 1997; and a sinister figure is prompting tensions between Britain and China on the eve of the Handover – General Ke Le of the People’s Liberation Army, escaping with the aid of, er, foreign stealth technology. It’s Beltane today, so which character have I been writing about, an embarrassing month after I last posted one of my Fifty Great Scenes entries? As this is another take on the Third Doctor, there’s only one person he could possibly be. He had previously defected to the East as Emil Keller, and brought his ability to turn criminals into mindless soldiers with him… Yes, it’s Sam Kisgart, in truth Mark Gatiss, as General Ke Le, in truth the Master. And rather a good giggling fiend he makes, too.
My favourite play on names, though, comes between the Doctor and the local Abbot in Chapter 10 of the CD (also available in download) – puns in Chinese dialects, and I stake a fiver all of them wittier than Mr Moffat is likely to deliver in a fortnight’s time.
One of the Pertwee era’s most stylish and exciting story is Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil, at present the sole TV story featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor yet to be released on DVD. It’s due out a month on Friday, though, and painstakingly recoloured after the BBC carelessly burnt the original tapes and left only black and white export copies. It’s striking for showing UNIT as an impressive, extensive – and expensive, the biggest-budget Doctor Who story to that time – military force, and for giving Roger Delgado a fabulously louche Bond-villain role as the Master, as well as showing his biggest fear. Sympathy For the Devil is a very different story to The Mind of Evil, but takes several elements and themes from it as its starting point, expanding the sole mind parasite of the earlier story into a threat to the world – as well as making the end of a chant almost as dangerous as it was in Logopolis (the Master, again). All making a drama that’s both sinister and sometimes very funny, especially if you can spot your Doctor Who (or Rolling Stones) in-jokes… There’s even a reference to a Satanically-titled New Adventure. Add in musing on the nature of evil and Twentieth-Century atrocities, and you have something rather special.
Both the drama and the distinctly dark humour come together brilliantly for a rather bleak ending, as both the Doctor and the Master find things spiralling out of control and we find even the Master has missed the Doctor – frustrated at having been stuck on Earth in his enemy’s place.
“Pol Pot killed every doctor he could find – and none of them was you!”Give this one a go – for today, it’s less than a fiver. Give some of the others a go, too. And listen right to the end for a Doctor strangely more endearing than the one who’d just been on telly around the time the story’s set, and strangely both more and less competent than the other version of the Third Doctor.
Or you could just watch Wizard – it stars David Warner, it’s written by Big Finish’s finest Simon Guerrier, it’s short, it’s funny, and it’s not just 10% off but free. How can you say no?