December 15th, 2006

doctor who

The Romans and The Space Pirates

Two more classic Doctor Who series watched/listened to recently, the first featuring the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki having a holiday during the reign of the emperor Nero, and the second plunging the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe into a well-intentioned attempt to do high Space Opera. All four episodes of The Romans are still available; only #2 of six of The Space Pirates survived the purges, though the full soundtrack with linking narration by Fraser Hines is available.

The Romans has a considerable, and surprisingly effective, comedy element, carried almost entirely by Hartnell's Doctor. On a whim, he decides to leave their holiday villa and go to Rome (taking Vicki with him) pretending to be a murdered musician, and succeeds in fending off Nero's jealous attempots to have him killed. There is a much less funny sub-plot involving Ian and Barbara, kidnapped by slavers, who also end up in Rome - Ian as a gladiator, Barbara as palace slave, pursued by the lustful Emperor - before making their escape. (Somewhere there must be a definitive list of the characters who have lusted after Barbara: Ganatus in a very gentlemanly way in The Daleks, the much nastier Vasor in The Keys of Marinus, the equally nasty El Akir in The Crusade, and now Nero.) The Ian/Barbara chemistry is very sweet - they have a nice joke between them about looking in the fridge. The script rather neatly resists bringing the travellers together, so that neither the Doctor and Vicki nor Ian and Barbara ever discovers what the other pair of characters is up to in Rome. Hartnell is simply superb, utterly watchable, imperious, funny, devious. It's a shame that Maureen O'Brien can't quite rise to the challenge of being his straight man, but this was only her second story, so I suppose one must make allowances.

The Space Pirates features the TARDIS crew getting caught up in a conflict between pirates and law enforcement in outer space. My biggest problem with it was the accents of two of the key supporting characters: General Nikolai Hermack, played by plummy-voiced Jack May, later briefly famous as Garkbit the waiter in the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and less briefly as Nelson Gabriel in The Archers, who can't quite decide if he is doing his usual toff or something slightly more foreign; and even worse, Gordon Gostelow's veteran miner Milo Clancey, whose voice wanders all over the southern and western United States with hints of Irish and Antipodean as well. Especially when you have to experience five of the six episodes on audio, and #3 is of particularly bad quality, it is a real distraction from your enjoyment. Having said that, it's not as bad a story as some people say, though it is rather unusual - the Doctor and his friends are more acted upon than acting, and spend a lot of time trapped or locked up while the story continues around them. To judge from the surviving episode, it looked like a half-decent effort, though my long-buried physicist instincts slightly rebelled at the immense violations of celestial mechanics committed by the writer.

Neither of these is essential Who, but both had their good points. The Romans is worth getting for amusement, The Space Pirates only for completists I think.

Choosing interns

Well, the London office went through the 345 applicants for the internship in my new job, and weeded them down to 15, as far as I can tell by throwing out anyone who didn't speak at least four languages and have a Masters degree. (One did slip through who doesn't yet have his M.A., but he has written two books so I suppose that's all right.)

Making the final selection is not going to be easy.

South Belfast

Delighted to see that the Alliance Party has selected a candidate for South Belfast from outside the usual charmed circle of party activists. Back in the day, I was always hopeful that the party (indeed, that all parties) might be able to enlarge their talent pool a bit. It's good to see that a) there are people like Anna Lo willing to take the plunge and b) poltiical parties ready to encourage them.

Note the careful wording of the statement that she is the first ethnic minority candidate to stand for the Northern Ireland Assembly. There was a minor candidate in the 1982 Westminster by-election, also in South Belfast, called Jagat Narain, and the Green Party ran a couple of candidates for the 1996 Forum whose names suggest non-European background. However, she is certainly the first ethnic minority candidate to be selected for a potentially winnable seat, and almost certainly the first ethnic Chinese candidate to stand for any election in Northern Ireland.

It would be unwise to overstate the importance of the Chinese vote - the 2001 census had 4155 ethnic Chinese in the whole of Northern Ireland, of whom the 1112 in South Belfast were the largest concentration; but some of those will be under 18, and not all of them will have registered to vote. But Alliance failed to win the last seat in South Belfast by only 150 votes in 1998, and the margin between the last elected and the runner up in 2003 was even tighter. So every vote will count in March (assuming, of course, that there is an election then).

See Slugger O'Toole for the usual begrudgery.