Predictions for 2018

By making this post, I’m falsifying a prediction I made on Twitter that I’d continue to say ‘I should/will do a blog post about that’ and never get round to doing it, so take the rest of my predictions in that spirit.

1) There won’t be a General Election or referendum in the UK this year during 2018, but we’ll likely be in the run-up to one by the time New Year’s Day 2019 comes around.
2) All the main party leaders will be the same this time next year. May will be about to face a challenge, Corbyn will face be secure, and Cable will be facing the sort of whispering campaign to get rid of him that he participated in against other leaders.
3) Corbyn and McDonnell will have a falling out that leads to McDonnell being sacked/demoted and a new Shadow Chancellor being appointed. Someone will non-ironically say that McDonnell had to go because he was too centrist.
4) Several new ‘centrist’ parties will be established. None of them will have any lasting impact a week after they’re formed/announced.
5) There’ll be a lot of short-term happenings in British politics that seem very important at the time, but will be barely remembered at the end of the year. Indeed, at the end of the year, things will look relatively similar to how they are now, with lots of looming problems still consigned to the ‘too difficult’ pile.
6) Trump will still be in office at the end of the year, but not in power. Either officially via the 25th Amendment or unofficially via Kelly and Mattis exerting more control over the White House, Trump will become more of a figurehead for his administration rather than actually leading it.
7) Spain and Catalonia will agree a formula for the latter to have a recognised independence referendum.
8) Shortly before the new series of Doctor Who starts, some of the most egregious arseholes on the internet will come together to stage a series of increasingly weird protests about a woman playing the Doctor. It’ll be near impossible to talk about the series online without them jumping onto any conversation with a series of inexplicable hashtags, but this won’t stop the new series getting the sort of mainstream critical attention and public awareness it hasn’t had for a decade.
9) But Star Trek: Discovery will have the ‘oh my word, did you see that?’ shock of the year (and that’s pure speculation, not a spoiler)
10) France will win the World Cup. Lots of people will get over-excited about England’s chances after a couple of decent performances take them to the quarter-finals.
11) Wolves will win the Championship (I’m aware that’s as much a statement of fact as it is a prediction, but I still like to say it) and all three promoted sides will be from the same area as one of the relegated Premier League teams (Wolves for West Brom, Cardiff for Swansea and Bristol for Bournemouth).
12) The Winter Olympics will be overshadowed by lots of sabre-rattling between Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Several countries will recall their athletes during the Games because of threats from North Korea.
13) Blog posting here will continue to be sporadic, coupled with several times when the site stops working for no readily apparent reason.

Whether you like it or not

There’s been a few times in Doctor Who‘s history where the show has done stories that have featured thinly-veiled features of its own fans. However, some (and I stress some, most definitely not all, not even a majority) of the reactions I’ve seen to the announcement that Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor have crystallised an idea for me that by the far the most accurate of them – whether it’s intentional or not – was Full Circle, a story from Tom Baker’s final series.

Now, you may not be familiar with the details of this 37-year old story, so a quick recap of the pertinent points of the plot. There’s a colony Starliner from the planet Terradon that’s been marooned on the planet Alzarius for generations. The descendants of the original crew are attempting to repair it so they can take off and travel home, but Alzarius has an occasional phenomenon called Mistfall, when the rapidly-evolving Marshmen emerge from the planet’s swamps and attack the ship. The twist is revealed in the line “We cannot return to Terradon, because we have never been there.” The crew aren’t the descendants of the original Terradonians, but an earlier generation of Marshmen who took over the ship and became like them.

GARIF: We’ve got to kill them. Kill them!
DOCTOR: No. No, I think we should let them go.
GARIF: What?
DOCTOR: Look! They adapted quickly.
GARIF: They’ll learn to breath the air.
DOCTOR: Yes.
GARIF: They might break into the ship and wipe out the crew.
DOCTOR: Yes. Still the manuals in the great book room will show them how to put it all together again.
GARIF: They could learn to read?
DOCTOR: Yes. Just like they did forty thousand generations ago. They’re your ancestors.
LOGIN: Nefred’s dying words. That’s why we can’t return to Terradon.

Fifty-four years (it’s a bit shorter than ‘forty thousand generations’, but we’re in the realm of metaphor here) ago Doctor Who fandom was born, and it’s been through many Mistfalls since then. Every generation of fandom has believed it was the descendant of the original Terradonian stock, preserving that unbroken line from those who watched the opening titles of An Unearthly Child right through to the Doctor meeting himself in the Antarctic snow. And every one of them has seen their own version of the Marshmen coming to threaten fandom as we know it. Didn’t these incomers know that they were damaging fandom by having the wrong opinions about which stories were good, by writing fanzines about the show, by drawing their own art, by going to conventions, by writing their own stories, by discussing the show on the internet instead of in zines, by making videos, by posting gifsets on Tumblr instead of discussing it on forums…

Just like Doctor Who is never as good as it used to be (it’s all gone downhill since it stopped being about a policeman on his beat and started focusing on strange police boxes in junkyards…) so Doctor Who fandom is never what it was, and all these new fans coming in are just going to smash up the Starliner we spent so long repairing from when we were the young unruly interlopers from the swamps who were Doing Fandom Wrong. I’ve seen plenty of ‘I’ve been a fan since before the next Doctor was born, and she’s not just a bad choice, the fans who are cheering it on will kill the show’ from people who really should know better who don’t remember that people were criticising them for liking Peter Davison because he was far too young and blond to play the Doctor and Brian Blessed would have been so much better because he’s much more Doctorish, don’t you know?

Ian and Barbara leaving? Abandoning historical stories? Confining the Doctor to Earth? A robot dog? Three companions at once? Forty-five minute episodes? Taking it off the air? Making it in America? Making it in Wales? All these and many many more questionable decisions have killed Doctor Who, many many times over. That original idea about some scientists and their young assistant, possibly accompanied by a mysterious and crotchety old man, has become many many things over the years. The Marshmen have swarmed through the BBC as much as they have through fandom, and they’ve always rebuilt and forgotten that they were the invaders once.

The joy and accidental genius of Doctor Who is that it has no creator, no one lurking behind the scenes to tell us what it must be and what it must not be. It will die in a thousand different ways and be reborn in a thousand and one new varieties in response. None of us are the Deciders of what is and is not Proper Who, we’re all just primeval slime with ideas above its station. We can’t return to IM Foreman’s junkyard, because we have never been there. We can only move on, accept that things will change and know that there are always going to be new generations to follow us, and all of them will be told they’re going to kill what someone else loves. They’re not, they’re just passing on the wonder to those who’ll follow them for all the generations to come.

On the new Doctor

Well, here we go again…
At some point this afternoon, probably around half an hour after the umpire says ‘Game, Set and Match Federer/Cilic’ we’ll find out who the new Doctor is. Whoever they are, they’ll be the fifth new Doctor since the announcement of the series’ return in 2003, and the fourth of them of them to have been the focus of massive fan and press speculation before they were announced (the exception was David Tennant, who was pretty much announced in the same press release that disclosed Christopher Eccleston’s surprise departure).

Things feel different this time as we might be on the cusp of the first female actor being cast as the Doctor. As I write this, Jodie Whittaker is currently the favourite with the bookies (the same position Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi were on the day of their announcement) while she’s also on the cover of the Mail on Sunday as the likely new Doctor (a similar position to the one Bill Nighy was on the day Christopher Eccleston was announced). While she’s not first on my list of women I’d cast as the Doctor – I’m still holding out hope for Tatiana Maslany or Natalie Dormer – i do hope it is her, because she’s a far more interesting choice than any of the men who’ve been suggested this time around, all of whom can be described as Quirky White Blokes.

The problem for me is that all the various male names that are being put forward all reek of looking to the past. In the same way that when the new series was announced people were sure Alan Davies would be the new Doctor – ‘he’s got curly hair, just like Tom Baker!’ – we’re now being treated to a succession of pound shop Tennants and focus group picks of alternate Smiths being seriously proposed for the role, entirely missing the point that those two were complete departures from what has gone before.

One of the reasons I think there is a big change coming this time is the fact that Steven Moffat has chosen to end his era as showrunner with a visit back to the show’s first ever regeneration. The end of The Doctor Falls saw Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor protesting that he wasn’t going to change just as the TARDIS took him to Antarctica to encounter David Bradley (replacing William Hartnell)’s First Doctor complaining about the same thing as he headed back to the TARDIS having also just defeated the Mondasian Cybermen. It feels to me that one of themes of the Christmas special featuring the two is going to be each Doctor having to persuade the other to accept the necessity of major change, and while Moffat hasn’t been involved in planning what comes next, he has spoken about discussing next showrunner Chris Chibnall’s plans with him.

The important thing about that first regeneration from Hartnell to Patrick Troughton is that it was an idea the production team stumbled upon in order to keep the series going when Hartnell’s health meant he had to leave. They’d discussed simply recasting the role, or doing the change quickly in a story where the Doctor would find his face had been changed by a bad guy, but the initial thought was to replace Hartnell with someone similar. It was only after many discussions that they hit on the idea of ‘renewing’ the Doctor (‘regeneration’ didn’t come around as a term till the 70s) into a completely different form and bringing in Troughton, who’d play the Doctor completely differently from Hartnell. That set the tone for all the changes to come, where the Doctor would change radically (often also marking a change in the team behind the scenes) and not just become a new take on an old version.

Chibnall’s era on the series has been spoken of as being a relaunch with a new direction, just like MOffat’s was in 2010 and Russell T Davies’ was in 2005. The announcement this afternoon is the first statement of intent for the new era of the show and the first and best chance to grab the public’s attention and build their anticipation for it. One of the important things about Eccleston’s announcement as the new Doctor back in 2004 was that it told people this wasn’t going to be the Doctor Who of nostalgic folk memory, but something new, different and worth paying attention to. If this afternoon’s announcement is yet another quirky white bloke picking up the TARDIS key, then it’s saying that if you didn’t watch the series before, it’s not going to be much different in the future, so don’t bother. If it is Whittaker, or someone else similarly unexpected and different, then it will make people pay attention and want to know more about what’s coming next. Like Hartnell becoming Troughton in 1966, it’s saying that this is a series where you don’t know what you’re going to end up with when you tune in, rather than one that’s wearing a bit thin and content to plough the same old furrow until it dwindles away from your screen.

She’s-a-coming, hopefully.

Now That’s What I Call Songs About Fascism

ifyoutoleratethisDeciding that my reading about the prospects for the Trump presidency wasn’t scary enough this morning, Spotify decided to troll me with a incipient fascism soundtrack, going from First We Take Manhattan through The Man Comes Around to Under The God. Now, some of you may take this a sign that I have too many songs about the dangers of fascism on my main playlist (and it didn’t even get to If You Tolerate This…), but I instead see it as a challenge to go and find more of them.

So, I thought it was time to throw open the field to suggestions for other songs about fascism, just to get an idea of what else is out there, and as a preparatory soundtrack to fighting back. And to make it even easier to contribute I’ve created a collaborative Spotify playlist for your suggestions, and others that occur to me in time. Or you can just throw them out in the comments and we can have a good argument about whether certain tracks are against fascism or not.

After 50 series, Have I Got News For You still only manages 25% of women guests

Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenHave I Got News For You recently finished it’s landmark 50th series, and I’ve updated my spreadsheet on the gender balance of guests to include it.

The good news is that the show has continued with the BBC’s policy of having at least one woman as a guest on all panel shows, the bad news is that’s continued to be seen as both a maximum and a minimum with only one show in this run managing to feature two female guests (Sue Perkins and Roisin Conaty in episode 3). The show also managed to match the record of series 42 and 48 in having 4 women host during the run, but like those two previous runs, there were 6 men in the host’s seat for the rest of the series.

Overall, 36.67% of the guests in this series were women which is the equal third best (with series 42) the show’s ever achieved. The only ones with a higher overall percentage were the very first series in 1990 with 37.5% and series 48 in 2014 with 43.33%.

This series’ figures do manage to drag the overall percentage of female guests for the show’s history to 25.04% and a round 25% for guests. However, as I’m pretty sure that more than 1 in 4 of the British population are women, it’s still not very representative. To reach 50-50 in the hosts, it would only take around 12 series of having all the hosts be women, while to reach that for guests overall would take about another 28 series. Or they could be a little less ambitious, reverse the way it’s been so far and just aim for balance by series 100. How long do you think it would take for their to be complaints if the show only had 7 or 8 male guests per series?

Book Sale

This is the blogging equivalent of me standing in the middle of the street dressed as a book and/or holding a big sign with BOOK SALE and an arrow on it.

Anyway, I have some books I no longer have the space for which I’m selling. Some of them are on eBay, some of them will be on eBay in the future when I’m allowed more than ten items on there at a time. Some of you may want to buy some, none, or all of these books (click on the image for a more details view):
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If you do, just click on this eBay link to see if they’re up for sale there, and make a bid if they are. If they’re not, just get in touch with me and they can be yours for a very reasonable price. For a fuller list, look below the cut.
Continue reading Book Sale

West Wing worship is damaging for British politics

TheWestWingLabour Uncut is always a good place to go to for outlandish claims that bear no relationship to reality, and the opening of this piece is no exception:

Probably the greatest hour in modern television history is the magisterial finale of the second season of The West Wing: Two Cathedrals.

I’m not convinced it’s even the best episode of The West Wing, and the idea of it being the greatest piece of modern television feels somewhat akin to stating that Liz Kendall would be a popular choice for leader amongst Labour party members. I can think of a dozen Breaking Bad or The Wire episodes that are better than Two Cathedrals, and I’m sure people reading this can come up with lists of episodes from other series just as easily.

However, I’m not intending this to be a post about favourite TV episodes. It’s very common to see politicos and aspiring politicos cite The West Wing (and its hipster equivalent, Borgen) as being amongst their favourite TV. It’s an interesting phenomenon, given that it’s rare for people in any other profession to look upon depictions of their jobs in the same way. Indeed, the most common reaction of most people is to point out that dramas tend to hyper-idealise their profession and depict everyone involved as being way more competent than reality. In reality, we see things like the ‘CSI effect‘ where forensic scientists are seen as being able to achieve much more than they can, or that doctors and nurses complain how people see defibrilators as near-magic. Meanwhile, politicos are gazing on an obviously idealised portrayal of themselves and their abilities and are choosing to praise it rather than point out the flaws in it.

I’ve written before about how people – especially those in politics – think that ‘political drama’ and ‘drama about politicians’ are the same thing. It’s a building block in the idea that politics is just about the games white men (and the occasional woman) in suits play, while they walk up and down corridors being very clever at each other. The actual effects of the policies they’re talking about, and especially the people affected by them, rarely feature in them. Politics as depicted by The West Wing is all about the process, making big meaningful speeches (sometimes in Latin) and beating the other team, when the real thing is a lot more complicated than that. The trouble is that we have a generation of young politicos who think that’s all it is about, and it’s having the same effect as if we had a generation of A&E doctors basing their treatment plans on what they’d seen on Casualty.

What makes for good drama – and The West Wing is good drama, even if better has been made since – isn’t the compromises, muddled resolutions, and unclear endings that characterise reality. When there are so many people involved in politics who think that a drama about politics encapsulates all they need to know about it, it’s no wonder that we have such a shallow political culture that sees the main focus of politics as being the men at the top having showy disagreements instead of the effects their arguments have on the people at the bottom. You can keep watching it, but don’t imagine it teaches you anything about actual politics and what’s really important.

Bookblogging: The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

chaos walkingIt’s been a while since I’ve found a fictional series that’s grabbed me so well I’ve sped through the entirety of it in a short time, but Chaos Walking reawakened that desire in me. I’ve got that feeling where I want to find everyone I know who’s already read it so I can demand to know why they didn’t urge me to read it earlier, while also thrusting copies of it on everyone who hasn’t. I read each of the three books (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) in a day each over the last week, which is a testament to the strength of both the story and Ness’s writing.

It all starts quite small, in a little place called Prentisstown, which seems to be the last remaining settlement on a world where a war with the natives has led to the deaths of all the women and the infection of the remaining men and animals with Noise, which causes them to psychically broadcast all their thoughts to everyone around them. We see all this through the eyes (and Noise) of Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, still a month away from officially becoming a man. When his adoptive fathers send him away from there, he discovers that the world has a lot more in it than he was told and as he discovers more of the world, it becomes more and more dangerous as the history he knows isn’t as simple, or as dead, as he thought.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot because these are books that thrive on the power of revelation as Todd (and the reader) gets to see a bigger and bigger picture. The revelations aren’t plot twists, more plot straightenings, unlocking a clearer picture of what went before which then drives forward the next part of the story. These aren’t shocks and sudden twists just to create temporary suspense, but part of the way the story unfolds and reveals itself.

Noise is a great concept, and one that’s woven into the story not just a gimmick on top of it. Ness has clearly thought about what it would mean to live in a world where your thoughts and secrets are potentially on show to everyone, and how there’d be a range of different ways to approach it. That’s especially true in the way someone like Todd (who’s never lived in a world without Noise) differs from his elders, who had it thrust upon them. Like the daemons of His Dark Materials, it makes the reader wonder what their Noise would be like and how we’d react to losing that privacy: do you change yourself to accept it, or try and change society to avoid it?

One question that does occur to me after reading it is wondering whether Patrick Ness had read Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution” before writing it as there’s a definite thematic similarity between the two of them even if the way the story uses those themes is different. A quick Googling suggests Ness hasn’t discussed this in any interview or articles, so I’ll throw it out there for any enterprising writer who does speak to him to ask.

Anyway, I heartily recommend the series, especially worth reading before the inevitable film adaptation messes it all up.

Some thoughts on Spectre

spectreI’m not at my best this week thanks to a cough/cold combination that’s laying me low, so interesting political thoughts will have to wait for a while. However, I did manage to go and see Spectre the other night and it’s prompted a few thoughts, which I thought I’d share. Spoilers follow, so look away now or don’t click the read more button if you want to avoid them:
Continue reading Some thoughts on Spectre

If the BBC’s adapting His Dark Materials, can we have Russell T Davies writing it?

hdmThere was good news from the BBC yesterday with an announcement that they’ve commissioned a TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for BBC One. It’s not the first time it’s been adapted to the screen but the film adaptation spluttered at the box office and never got past adapting (most of) the first book. Indeed, the fact that it missed out the crucial scene at the end of it might be one of the reason the filmed failed, as all the events leading up to it didn’t make sense on their own. The BBC plan to adapt the books as a miniseries will hopefully get around that issue, and also give the story a bit more time to evolve and develop. It was interesting to me that the National Theatre’s stage adaptation of the books managed to do a better job of transitioning between set-pieces than the film managed, making them feel like a coherent story rather than merely a series of events.

Of course, the BBC announcing an adaptation has been commissioned doesn’t mean it’ll be on our screens soon, or if it does make it, that it’ll be on the BBC. The BBC announced they were adapting The Man In The High Castle – five years later, it’s about to be released on Amazon with a completely different team behind it, so nothing is certain until casting happens and the cameras start rolling.

Even with that caveat, the BBC’s production partners for this are very interesting. As well as New Line Cinema (who own the adaptation rights, so may well be just a silent partner in it) the series is being produced by Bad Wolf Productions, a new company founded by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, former executive producers of Doctor Who. The name Bad Wolf coupled with Gardner and Tranter, and no writer being announced in the press release does fill me with hope that they’re trying to get Russell T Davies on board to do it.

For me, RTD would be the perfect choice to adapt the books as he comes from the same mindset as Philip Pullman – an atheist who’s interested in religion, and how it affects people and their decisions. I wrote about this a while ago, looking at how questions of what faith and religion mean to people are a common theme in Davies’s work and it’s this perspective of his that makes me really want to see him writing the script for an adaptation of His Dark Materials. His perspective isn’t to mock someone for believing in something but to see what effects that belief has on a person, but also what effects it would have on the world if that belief turned out to be real. That’s at the heart of His Dark Materials, and Davies is the sort of writer who understands how to bring those themes into drama without them overwhelming the story.

The other talent he has is for creating worlds in the mind of the viewer. A lot of the important organisations that fill Pullman’s worlds are only seen for a glance, or through the lens of Lyra or Will overhearing someone talking about them. There’s a minimum of exposition, but a huge amount of subtle detail slipped in as things go on. This is something Davies did brilliantly during his time on Doctor Who, making references to the War or the Medusa Cascade and the Nightmare Child, but letting the audience fill in the details. His version of the Time War as something vast and essentially unknowable in detail is the sort of approach that could bring the world of the Authority and the Magisterium to life.

Of course, I may just be adding two and two together to make fifteen but I can’t help thinking that Davies would be such a good scriptwriter for this project that I’ll be disappointed if someone else gets the job.