Prepare yourself, Doctor! For the End! Any minute now! Just wait!

I was quite looking forward to The End of Time (part 2); sure, part 1 had been lame and mostly involved running around some docks somewhere while our Christmas dinners digested, but there was the distinct smell of Time Lords about, and Timothy Dalton looked kind of awesome and clearly wasn’t messing around. I’d originally hoped that Russell T Davies would do the honourable thing and not actually write a series reboot as his outgoing story, leaving Steven Moffat the chance to figure out exactly how he wanted things to be, but since RTD has the world’s largest ego there really wasn’t much of a chance of that. So I was confidently expecting him to bring back Gallifrey, kill the Doctor, and then show us the face of Matt Smith with exactly the same characterisation as before. All fine, because come April we’d have forgotten a handful of lines and the Eleventh Doctor could go off in whatever direction made sense.

And of course I was expecting RTD to screw it up. A trainwreck. A disaster. But I had absolutely no idea quite how far he would manage to get things wrong.

Let’s look at the story, half hour by half hour (as I remember it), across the two parts.

  1. Some running around, the Master comes back to life, or maybe not, or something. He can now apparently break the laws of physics whenever he likes, and is stupid enough to think that when he desperately needs lots of energy the best use of what little he has is to repeatedly propel himself several hundred feed in the air. The Doctor finds him by the cunning method of going to his regular quarrydocks.
  2. An Evil Plot Device is introduced, which the narrator tells us portentously will lead to the end of, well, everything. They put the Master in it. He turns everyone into clones of himself. Apparently rich black people are crazy megalomaniacs, in the same way that poor black people are into voodoo (in Planet of the Dead).
  3. More running around; the Doctor goes into orbit for a while to avoid having to confront the Master, the Time Lords hatch an almost-believable plan to create a link between themselves and the Master as a baby (ignoring that this violates one of those pesky Laws of Time that the Doctor was talking about in one of the other tedious specials). This leads to the best music in the episode, where there isn’t any music and just drums, riffing on the timing of the theme tune.
  4. Timothy Dalton sends back a diamond to provide a physical link between him and the Master (while I’ll let slide, but only because I remember The Invisible Enemy), and then uses it to mosey on over to Earth, taking all the other Time Lords, and Gallifrey (only we don’t see much because all the money’s been spent on Timothy Dalton), with him. (At some point everyone clearly forgets that Gallifrey is Time Locked, and that trying to pull a planet through some sort of physical-psychical link created by a small diamond should leave you with, well, a very squished planet.) Timothy Dalton then undoes everything the Master has done (meaning that humanity exists again), the Doctor undoes everything that else Timothy Dalton has done (meaning that Gallifrey is still Time Locked, that the Earth is safe, etc. etc.), and then finally the Doctor realises that the Master (in a bit they didn’t show on screen, or possibly my brain blanked out in an attempt to survive) had made a couple of little death boxes, and Bernard Cribbins in locked in one, but it’s okay because if the Doctor goes in the other one they’ll both live, because the Doctor is a fucking Time Lord and he knows it’s time for him to regenerate because the Ood have been cropping up in his mind for the last year or so telling him.
  5. The Doctor goes on a farewell tour all around the galaxy to remind everyone of all the really shit characters that Russell T Davies created, and Sarah Jane Smith. Then the TARDIS explodes to remind you that RTD won’t be writing for the series any more and therefore it will be shitwe won’t have to suffer this shit from now on, and David Tennant becomes Matt Smith.

The End.

I’m not going to lay into the dialogue, the magical bullshit that makes no sense whatsoever, or even RTD’s obsession with making this Big Exit more about him than about the Tenth Doctor (if you don’t believe me, read some of the self-satisfied twaddle he’s said about writing these episodes); what troubles me is his cowardice. There was a beautiful moment (insofar as it could be beautiful with such first-draft writing) where Gallifrey explodes into the Earth’s skies and dooms humanity. Then, five minutes later, he undoes it because it feels all a bit too drastic.

This is the moment where anyone who didn’t already realise it was struck with the realisation that RTD isn’t actually a very good writer. (Except for the ones who are irredeemably stupid.)

If the outcome is too big, dial back the outcome a bit, don’t write it out in the next scene. A better ending would have been for Gallifrey to be brought into the Solar System in a kind of reverse Trojan position with respect to the Earth (we can ignore the problems with the science bit, since earlier in the story the Master shot bolts of electricity from his hands). Then the Earth becomes a subjugate planet to Gallifrey, and humanity becomes a slave race to the rather fun New Time Lords who have given up on the whole non-intervention thing and are out to rule the universe. The Doctor has to choose between joining them in ruling the planet he loves, or being exiled from it, in a nice reverse on the Third Doctor’s punishment, and the Master (who should have been weakened from being resurrected, as in say The Deadly Assassin, rather than being an unstable energy form or whatever) could be marched off to be executed for being a coward during the Time War.

Then the Eleventh Doctor can romp around the universe for a bit, with the aim of getting back and stopping Timothy Dalton; by which time of course the Time Lords will have moved on again, or something. Anything’s possible in this context.

Russell T Davies would still have managed to find a way to make that lame and drag out, but at least I could have respected him for it. Bringing back Gallifrey only to immediately send it back out of the series is a bit like saying “let’s see what you could have won” when you could have won an Aston Martin but you actually won a used tea bag. It’s an admission of mediocrity and of cowardice, at the exact moment you’re trying to convince everyone that you’re awesome. The remaining respect I felt for the man who brought Doctor Who back to our screens died today, killed by his own inabilities.

In case you think I’m utterly down on the story and being unkind, here are some things I didn’t have any problem with at all:

  1. The spiky headed aliens. Great fun, and the female one was cute.
  2. June Whitfield.
  3. The Visionary, telling fortunes for the Time Lord Council. (If you want to believe that she was channelling the Matrix, and driven mad by that knowledge, then feel free.)
  4. Mickey marrying Martha (although to be fair that’s because I don’t care about either of them).
  5. The Doctor calling The President that R word. He’s clearly not the original, who would have killed the Master as soon as he appeared, and probably the Doctor as well just to be on the safe side. The Wikipedia entry notes that the Doctor might just have been comparing them.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s what is to come. Or at least bits, with some excited singers in the background.

Easter Whoathon

So we spent Easter Monday watching some Doctor Who. This is what we found…

(You’ll notice we couldn’t fit in all of the Doctors, so this event – sorry, exercise – is likely to be repeated, to continue the Earth chronology. Something to look forward to.)

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If you join this group absolutely nothing of value will happen

More than any previous election – much more – the General Election last week was defined by strong, vocal public opinion. There are lots of reasons – the TV debates, the economic crisis, and most of all the internet. Social networking sites were awash with sweeping statements and twitter was atweet with downright irrational feeling on all sides (or does it just seem irrational in 140 characters?). For once, the negativity displayed by the public actually outweighed the negative advertising of the actual parties.

Which, on the whole, is no bad thing. If it got people interested, if it got people passionate, if it actually got people down to their polling station (and the turnout suggests that it did), then hurrah for the internet. If it meant people were better informed (a bigger if, certainly) then also hurrah. People exercising their democratic right to have a point of view and encouraging others to engage with politics is most definitely a Good Thing.

Only… some people haven’t realised that the time for that has now passed. That the election is over and, however thrillingly ambiguous the result, the role of the public has now ended.

So there are vociferous groups popping up on Facebook declaring that ‘if 100,000 people join this group then it proves David Cameron should never be Prime Minister!’ and hashtags across twitter presuming to tell Nick Clegg what decision he should make about a coalition – and Lord knows what’s going down on the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ pages, I haven’t dared to look. Invariably, the people who are being most militant in their anger are those who voted with the expectation of something completely different happening. They wanted an unexpected Labour win. They wanted an unlikely Lib Dem majority. And, ad nauseum, they are determined that the Conservatives can’t possibly have any say in the running of the country. Because it looks like the Conservatives might now have that chance, people are beating the walls and screaming ‘my vote has been ignored!’

Well, actually your vote was not ignored. (Unless you’re one of the people who got turned away at 10pm. But on the telly they all looked a bit mad and wet so maybe that’s okay.) Every vote was counted and, whilst the Conservatives didn’t get a majority government, they got the majority vote by quite some margin, which would be true even under proportional representation – so if anyone can make a coalition work, it’s them. You might not like it, but that’s democracy for you.

So 40,000 people on Facebook are against a Lib Dem coalition with the Conservatives. Why do they think that means they should be given special attention? They should try fighting all the people who voted for the BNP. The BNP lot would win – partly because they’d fight dirty, but mainly because there’d be over ten times as many of them. Getting together a-lot-of-people-what-reckon-the-same-as-me does not demonstrate that you should get your own way, and for the sake of keeping the BNP under control we must be extremely grateful for that.

By all means write to your MP about the unfair voting system. Sign petitions and go on a protest if you really care. There’ll probably be another election later this year so you can vote out your MP if they ignore you. We are privileged to live in a country where we are allowed and encouraged to make our voice heard in these ways. But the system requires a government with decision-making power to enact any such changes, and the people who are in the best position to form one are doing their best to make it work – and indeed, the grown-up way in which they’re going about it is the first positive sign that those of us who hoped for a hung Parliament were right about its possible advantages for our political system: it has forced parties to work together, to stop bickering and look for common ground in the hope of finding mutually satisfying solutions to problems. That’s democracy.

So we may end up with a Liberal/Conservative coalition – and if we do, it will be because a lot of very clever people have found a way to make it work. You might not like it, but using the internet to build up an artificial sense of majority feeling is not only undemocratic, it’s actually not your place. As John Finnemore pointed out in his excellent From Fact to Fiction play None of the Above, the reason we elect other people to do the governing is that they know a lot more about it than we do. Even with a hung Parliament, the decisions about what happens next lie with People Who Know More About It Than You. Do you think Nick Clegg’s going to see the #dontdoitnick hashtag on twitter and suddenly think ‘oh my GOD, there are people out there who think I shouldn’t do it – I’d better NOT do it!!!!’?

He’s not.

So sit back and enjoy the drama and complexity of what’s unfolding while the people whose job it is to sort out the mess get on with it. Unless you’re one of them, you’ve had your say – now go back to tweeting about more important things like Doctor Who.

I was bullied by people like him…

Naturally, when I watched this year’s annual Christmas disappointment – i.e. Doctor Who – the things that bothered me were variations of the usual questions, like: does anybody find these topical references to the economic downturn anything other than utterly embarrassing? Did nobody edit this script before the actors started learning these long, long scenes of dull exposition? Did Russell T. Davies really think that multiple John Simms wearing dresses was the doom-laden cliffhanger image befitting the penultimate episode of David Tennant’s Doctor? Doesn’t Bernard Cribbins deserve better? Doesn’t Timothy Dalton deserve better? And, generally, why oh why oh why oh why…?

But I was already resigned to the whole two-parter being the uncomfortable enema that the series so badly needs, and everything this year has led me to prepare myself for such questions. The question that I wasn’t expecting almost slipped me by at the time of broadcast but is now possibly the most concerning thing about the whole episode, and it is this:

He said what about Good Queen Bess?

So unlikely it seemed, I thought I must have imagined it – so I went and checked it out. And I hadn’t imagined it.

What David Tennant’s Doctor says is this (in his most irritating mockney): “Got married! That was a mistake. Good Queen Bess. And let me tell you, her nickname is no longer…” (does his most irritating mockney oops-missus-I’ve-been-naughty face).

Unless I’m totally misinterpreting Russell T. Davies here, what he wrote for the Doctor to say was the pre-watershed equivalent of “then I shagged Queen Elizabeth”. And whilst I think I am accurately imagining Russell T. Davies chuckling to himself as he knocked the line out, a little chunk of my childhood died when its meaning really dawned on me.

The Doctor has never been interested in sex. When Paul McGann kissed his companion in 1996 a lot of fans kicked up a fuss, though in actual fact it all turned out to be all rather innocent. The new incarnation of the series has had various female companions boringly fall in love with the Doctor and he has formed some strong attachments to them, though this isn’t necessarily a problem as love is a noble thing.

But by making the Doctor a person who casually refers to the notches on his bedpost (whether he did it within wedlock is hardly the point), he has become something that the Doctor has never been before – someone I despise. Tennant’s Doctor was already headed in this direction: he’s vain, a show-off, effortfully trendy – the cool kid in the playground rather than the outsider the Doctor ought to be. But now he is the kid who brags about how many girls he has casually felt up behind the bike shed, which is either misogynous or simply shows a lack of respect for other people (the brush, incidentally, which tarred all gay people in T. Davies’ Queer as Folk). The most sinister thing is that Russell T. Davies, who clearly finds nothing at all objectionable about such bragging, has snuck this character up on us bit by bit, delivering the final blow as a casual one-liner that actually exacerbates the nastiness when you analyse it.

It goes further than a loss of innocence; it makes the Doctor, who has always stood for moral values, respect and equality, a terrible role model for the very people who adore him. I’ve been told by various people that they think David Tennant is the best Doctor ever; sorry folks, but I simply can’t wait to see the back of him.

The Cambridge Prom

Of all the things that have made me cross this year, this has made me the crossest. Yes, even crosser than Doctor Who. Because as a former Cambridge music undergraduate I can only describe last week’s musical “celebration” of the University’s 800th anniversary in the Royal Albert Hall as a big pile of wank.

Well, actually as a former Cambridge music undergraduate I should probably be able to find a more eloquent way of putting it, but the contents of the prom suggest that expectations of the university have dropped.

What was in it? First the presence of Prince Charles was announced by a gloriously camp Willcocks arrangement of the national anthem, in many ways the highlight of the concert. This was followed by a couple of very insignificant works by a very significant dead Cambridge composer (Vaughan Williams), a couple of insignificant works by two fairly significant living Cambridge composers (Jonathan Harvey and Judith Weir), a very slight new work by, I fear, a completely insignificant Cambridge academic (Ryan Wigglesworth), a set of liturgical canticles by a composer significant only in the tiny field of Anglican music (Stanford)… and finally, AT LAST, a significant work by a significant composer who never went to Cambridge at all, viz. Saint-Saëns. Yes, he received an honorary degree from the university, but so did Mother Teresa, it doesn’t mean we can claim them as our own.

This cowardly programming would seem to suggest that Cambridge composers have produced so little of significance that, besides commissioning a new work from somebody that not even a regular concert-going audience would have heard of and falling back on some banal Anglican crap, we need to rely on a composer only tenuously linked to the university for a proper work.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. From giants of the rennaissance like Gibbons, to the greatest English composer of the first half of the 20th century, Vaughan Williams, through to extremely fine living composers like Jonathan Dove, George Benjamin and Thomas Adès, there ought to be enough music to fill a whole concert series before it becomes necessary to rifle through the list of honorary degrees.

For the non-musicians reading this let me try to find a way of putting it into context: imagine the BBC ran an evening of programmes celebrating 90 years of innovation and success. The inclusion of Stanford would be like running two episodes of My Family back to back, whilst Ryan Wigglesworth’s new work would be the equivalent of the BBC asking for a special celebratory edition of BBC 7’s satirical sketch show Newsjack. The decision to make the main event of the evening a symphony by Saint-Saëns would be like the BBC rounding off with an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So the question remains, what the fuck were they thinking??? If Stanford and Wigglesworth, why not Richard Vranch and Kit Hesketh-Harvey? At least the concert wouldn’t have been so bland.

Bland and conservative, that’s what it was. Qualities which aren’t usually associated with Cambridge University, but perhaps judging by both the concert itself and its enthusiastic sell-out audience, aspects which apply to more of its alumni than it might care to admit.

Robin Holloway (a very fine living composer himself) has written far more forgivingly about the debacle here.