Ruthless vote-winning machine

Yeah, sorry. What with convalescing from tonsillitis, rehearsing Tony Blair – the Musical and keeping some very odd hours, blogging has somehow slipped off my agenda. It may only be a coincidence, but the same time as my blog entries petered out, there was an alarming resurgence of activity on John Finnemore’s blog, hitherto dormant for months on end. I’m wondering if I’m the victim of some kind of black magic here. Even Alastair has managed to write something this week, including a description of me as “tragic and bedraggled” which pretty much sums up the current state of affairs.

But seeing as how I’m up to my ears in a groundbreaking piece of topical theatre, it would be remiss of me not to comment on the fact that Saturday night saw two simultaneous televisual explorations of the post of Prime Minister, both of them rather awful for different reasons.

In our publicity and press information for Tony Blair – the Musical we have been constantly reinforcing the fact that our aim is not to exaggerate aspects of Blair’s time in power to serve our own dramatic ends, but to try to give it a bit of perspective by seeing it through his eyes. I have also mentioned that a lot of recent comedy/satire/drama about Blair has completely failed to do this, and ends up either portraying Blair as stupid, or as an evil, power-crazed warmonger (for the record, he is neither). So I was delighted to find my views vindicated (again) by Channel 4’s The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair.

This wasn’t, I’m afraid, a clever combination of my 2006 Fringe show The Rise and Fall of Deon Vonniget with the one I’m working on now; it was a programme purporting to be a documentary in which moody pictures of Blair, his face in shadow and his eyes beady and calculating, were accompanied by dramatic music and histrionic voiceovers saying things like “this is the leader who transformed Labour into a ruthless vote-winning machine… a man who came to office promising to unite the nation only to bitterly divide it. A man who wanted to be a great reformer at home, only to take the country into bloody conflicts abroad…” By five minutes in I was wondering how we could have been so blind as to make an insane meglomaniac the most powerful man in the country.

Which was also the concept behind the BBC’s alternative programming, though their Prime Minister was considerably less nasty. Although yes, he was shown to be callous and to have blood on his hands, he was essentially a jovial character – a man who bounced around, winking at the camera and making jolly asides to dissipate the tension even in the darkest of situations. Although not the kind of company I would necessarily keep myself, he certainly wasn’t the grim, threatening monster that we saw in Tony Blair over on Channel 4. This Prime Minister was really a bit cuddly, all things considered.

Which was odd, because he was meant to be The Master, insane Time Lord, arch-rival of the Doctor and one of the most evil villains in the whole of time and space.

Perhaps the scripts were mixed up. But more likely this was just another example of the current production team on Doctor Who not knowing the difference between a good idea and a bad idea. For a tragically brief four minutes last week we got to see the Master as played by Derek Jacobi, who chose to be sinister rather than bouncy: this was a good idea. Replacing Jacobi with a Master who bounces around like a Chuckle Brother on crack: that’s a bad idea, that is.

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