January 8th, 2011


January Books 4) Heart of TARDIS, by Dave Stone

When I was involved with the postal game hobby, "Dave Stone" was an in-joke, a pseudonym used by zine editors to conceal the real author of some mildly controversial piece of opining (usually by said editors themselves). When I first encountered the name of the Doctor Who author, I assumed that this might be continuation of the same tradition, but Wikipedia and other soruces assure me that this is not the case, and Mr Stone is a real person. This is the first of his books that I have read, though I've listened to two of his Bernice Summerfield audios (liked one, not the other).

It's a Past Doctor Adventure featuring Two, Victoria and Jamie in one time-line, and Four, Romana I and K9 (plus Brigadier and Benton) in another, dealing with a weird space-time anomaly which traps the earlier Doctor in a small town based on the Simpsons. I thought there were some good characetr moments - especially for the two Doctors and the female characters - but rather lost track of the plot. Apparently there are lots of Simpsons in-jokes which sailed over my head. Indeed I felt that a lot of the book was the author thinking he was being funny, but it didn't really work for me.

A definite Bechdel pass though. (Having said which, I accept the caveats in this article, pointed out to me by mountainkiss, that the technicality of passing the test is not the real point.) Victoria has an off-stage interaction with a female prison guard; and there's a character called Katharine Delbane who meets with the female Prime Minister and is sneered at by Romana. More importantly, it passes the spirit as well as the letter of the test. (Unfortunately, this is not enough to make it a book that I particularly enjoyed.)
doctor who

January Books 5) Doctor Who Annual 1979

Yet again, a Doctor Who annual where the art is rather good for the Doctor but pretty awful for the companion - in this case, the lady on the right is supposed to be Leela, as played by Louise Jameson, but doesn't look in the least like her. Since this came out in September 1978, and she had left the programme several months before, maybe the compilers of the Annual and the BBC were hoping we had forgotten what she looked like. The picture here looks if anything more like Mary Tamm's Romana wearing a wig and a bad bra.

But in general the 1979 annual seems to be continuing the track of improvement on previous years. The fiction again is well-written and actually fairly substantial, the prose stories taking up 35 pages out of 64 and the comic strips another 12; the comic strips seem to have absorbed the spirit of 2000 AD in both style and substance, very flashy and busy but actually telling a story at the same time; and apart from my whine about the artwork the characterisation of Leela and the Doctor is generally (though not consistently) accurate. I was intrigued by one of the prose filler pieces as well, about the 'Skyship', which I hadn't heard of but turns out to be the ancestor of the Skyship 600 airship which is in fact in commercial use today. (So, yes, I was actually educated by the educational bits.)

Most of the stories fail the Bechdel test at the first hurdle, in that there is no female character other than Leela; the sole exception is the first of the comic strips, "The Power", which features a character called Princess Azula, but she and Leela do not have a conversation, so it fails the second hurdle. One can perhaps query whether the Bechdel test is fair on stories where most of the characters are non-human, though I think that if the non-humans are clearly gendered it's not unreasonable.

Hungary v the Economist

This half-year's Hungarian presidency of the EU has got off to a duff start: a new law on state regulation of the media has caused a great deal of controversy, perceived by many people as falling well short of the EU's human rights standards. I confess I hadn't been paying a lot of attention up to yesterday, concentrating on enjoying my winter vacation and then mopping up backlogs when I returned to work. I don't much like the Hungarian PM, Victor Orbán, who I met once a long time ago and whose career I have since been following with a gloomy fascination; but I have a great deal of respect for the Hungarian diplomats and other officials who I deal with on external affairs issues in Brussels, who tend to be helpful, well-informed and realistic. On several issues that I care about, Hungary has been, is and will be an important player in the internal EU debate.

But a couple of interesting pieces came my way Collapse )

As I said at the top, I like the Hungarians in general, and where their foreign policy agenda intersects with my own interests they seem to be doing the right thing. I would like to think that they can sort this one out, and cannot but agree with the Economist's conclusion:
Mr Orbán could do himself a world of good if he, like my ministerial interlocutor, were to admit that the media law had been a mistake and, even better, pledge to review it...

Seanad Éireann (and a bit about the House of Lords)

I've been following up on the debate on reform of the Irish Senate, and came across the Irish Labour Party's proposals for constitutional reform which has an excellent three-page summary at the end of why the Seanad should simply be abolished. A lot of the analysis is also relevant to the British debate on reforming the House of Lords:
Why have two Chambers?

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But if the same system of general election applies to each chamber; if the political parties have the same institutional relationship within each chamber; if the members of both chambers have joint party caucuses and are subject to the same party whips and so on; then the second chamber loses its rationale because, as a duplication of the first house, it has nothing additional to offer.
I fear that the proposals I've seen for electing the House of Lords fall very much into that trap. My own view is that review of draft laws by independently selected experts, on a constitutional but consultative basis, which is pretty much what the British House of Lords has evolved into already, is probably the best reason for having a second chamber though without the historical flimflam attaching to the current arrangements. Interestingly the Irish Labour Party's document indicates that there are also similar elements developing in the Irish system:
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I blink a little at this because of course there is a European Economic and Social Committee functioning as part of the EU; I've never been very clear about how useful it is (meaning that I suspect it may not be), but I have to admit that my own interests have been in the area where EcoSoc has least to say, ie foreign policy. I haven't followed the development of the equivalent Irish body at all.

If I were voting in the imminent Irish election, Labour would get my vote on the strength of their concluding section:

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The case for a Seanad has failed. It is ultimately the decision for the people but our judgement is that the Seanad should be abolished.
Incidentally, I know that Fine Gael have the same policy; I find their new website impossible to navigate, their old one has been taken off-line, and the policy document (when I eventually found a cached copy) is much less well argued than the Labour version.