May 2nd, 2021


Whoniversaries 2 May

i) births and deaths

2 May 1941: birth of Paul Darrow, who played Captain Hawkins in Doctor Who and the Silurians (Third Doctor, 1970) and Tekker in Timelash (Sixth Doctor, 1985). And Avon, of course.

ii) broadcast, publishing and webcast anniversaries

2 May 1964: broadcast of "The Snows of Terror", fourth episode of the story we now call The Keys of Marinus. Ian, Barbara and Susan retrieve the Key despite the efforts of Vasor and the Ice Soldiers. Then Ian finds the last key at their last destination.

2 May 1970: broadcast of seventh episode of The Ambassadors of Death. The Doctor and the Brigadier intercept Carrington before he is able to implement his plan, and the alien Ambassadors are freed.

2 May 1973: Target Books re-publish the three 1960s Doctor Who novelisations.

2 May 2003: webcast of first episode of Shada. The Eighth Doctor visits Gallifrey to persuade President Romana to come with him to Cambridge.

2 May 2013: webcast of Commander Strax's Q&A.

My tweets


After Arlene

This is the post I had mostly written last night before it was eaten by a glitch in the system. (Always save your drafts, folks.)

The defenestration of Arlene Foster as leader of the DUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland was both overdue and unfair Overdue, because the real crisis of her leadership was only a year into it, with the renewable heating scandal of 2016-17. If she had done then as Peter Robinson did, and stepped back for a few weeks pending an investigation which would probably have given her enough of a figleaf to resume work with dignity, the Assembly would not have collapsed in 2017 and she would not have made the ill-chosen remarks during that election campaign which destroyed any perception that she was willing to look beyond her own electoral silo. Those were both very bad choices that she made, which should have meant the end to her leadership four years ago.

But instead, the DUP pushed her out last week over an important but frankly niche issue: she was not prepared to follow her fellow Assembly members and vote against a resolution condemning gay conversion therapy. Not that she was exactly on the right side of that particular argument, but she was closer to it than her party, who should have abstained with her rather than rise to the bait. (I cannot find Martyn Turner's cartoon of a new exciting children's toy, the Orange Action Man, who is easy to wind up.) Retreating to the citadel is a tactic, not a strategy, and unless you have reinforcements lurking over the hill or across the water, it's a losers' tactic.

The DUP rank and file also blamed her for the hugely unsatisfactory outcome of the Brexit process, but that is not particularly her fault; the entire party supported the destruction of Theresa May's premiership over a proposed deal with the EU that was actually better from the DUP's point of view than the one they actually got with Boris Johnson. The DUP are neither the first nor the last people to be betrayed by Boris Johnson, who has broken faith with everyone he has ever worked with or slept with, and while Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds can be fairly criticised for falling into that trap, it's not fair for the rest of the party, which was equally seduced by Boris, to make that criticism.

Arlene has always been friendly and pleasant to me personally, even though she has not always liked what I say. The last time I saw her, at the May 2019 European election count in Magherafelt, she was chatty and cheerful to me while pointedly ignoring the person I was with, who had annoyed her somehow (I never got the full story). I am not hugely surprised that she intends to leave politics completely now. Her vision is a little larger than her party's, and at present that doesn't fit the direction they want to go, which is to appeal ever more strongly to a diminishing pool of voters.

I am going to break the mould of popular commentary and not dump on Edwin Poots. He has said and done a lot of very stupid, wrong and inflammatory things, and his judgement has often been questionable. But there was one moment when he really did rise to the occasion. Back in January 2018, after a brutal few days starting with an ill-advised tweet by one of Sinn Féin's MPs (who later resigned, the first member of parliament to be brought down by his own social media), he put in a very statesmanlike TV performance which helped to draw a line under it, responding to an even better performance from John O'Dowd (who I hope will follow Poots to the top spot in his own party in due course). This is worth a watch.

Speaking of Sinn Féin, I was invited onto BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday (here, about 55 minutes in) to comment on the extraordinary developments in Derry, where the entire local leadership of the party has been fired by the party centrally. As a former central campaign organiser for a Northern Irish party myself, this seems to me a very drastic move. Even in a party with as centralised a structure as SF, local operations depend on volunteer support and goodwill, and local leaders tend to have a strong local support base among members and sympathisers (that's how they become local leaders). SF must have felt centrally that the incumbent Derry leadership's level of support from local members was so low that destroying their credibility in public, rather than quietly mobilising additional resources in private, was the right way to go.

Not that there was not a very serious problem for the party in the city. Having narrowly won the Westminster seat in 2017, SF's vote in December 2019 sliiped back to the levels of the early 1990s, pre-peace process, and the SDLP got what I think was their best vote share ever in a Westminster election. In the 2019 local elections, SF lost five out of their sixteen seats on the Derry and Strabane district council, three of them in the three electoral areas west of the Foyle which include the historic city centre. While in all the other parliamentary constituencies west of the Bann, SF have comfortably eclipsed the SDLP as the leading Nationalist party, Derry remained competitive, and Martin McGuiness's death removed their strongest local asset.

But what a lot of commentators have missed is that there is quite a large chunk of uncommitted voters in Derry. In Westminster elections they historically tended to vote for John Hume and then Mark Durkan, and in 2017, as a tribute to McGuinness, SF were able to temporarily capture more of that vote than usual. But in Assembly and local elections, these voters have supported independent candidates, and recently to a certain extent Eamonn McCann's People Before Politics, if they voted at all. Given the demographics, most of these voters are were brought up as Catholics, but they do not necessarily vote for Nationalist parties.

This is part of the wider phenomenon that I have been pointing to for a long time. While demographic determinists get all excited about this year's census and the possibility that it will show more Catholics than Protestants in Northern Ireland, the fact is that the biggest growth will certainly be in the section of the population that does not feel comfortable being labelled as either, and whose vote cannot be taken for granted by any party, or by supporters of either the Union or a United Ireland. At his height, Peter Robinson was able to corral a significant part of that support for a mature DUP that offered continuity and stability in partnership government, and successfully rode out his own personal scandals. (Some commentators - indeed some leading DUP members - in the last few days have forgotten that there was a time when the DUP was able to make a credible pitch for centrist votes, but it's really not very long ago.)

I wrote two years ago (scanned here) that these voters are the convinceable middle who historically have conditionally supported the Union, but can foreseeably be persuaded to join a united Ireland, if three things happen:
  1. Brexit turns out badly (✔️)
  2. Unionism continues to be worse than Nationalism at appealing to its own core vote and not engaging with the centre (✔️)
  3. There is a better offer on the table from Nationalists (currently quite far from being achieved, and in particular the need for Nationalists to find a convincing narrative on health services is even more acute after the last year).

Nothing is certain in politics, but the current direction of travel is clear.
shocked and surprised

The Fourth Doctor adventures, fourth series

There was a time when I faithfully tracked each of Big Finish's Doctor Who releases as they came out, and reported them here. I fell out of the habit some time around 2014, and indeed stopped listening to Big Finish all that much until the lockdown really started to hit a year ago. Now there is far too much material to hope that I will ever catch up with it all, so I've been selecting particular characters to follow and made a new commitment to myself to write the stories up here as I get through them.

My most recent run has been the fourth series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, released in 2015. (I previously wrote up the first series here, here and here; I don't seem to have written up the second series, though it was hilarious; and I wrote up the third here and here.) These are eight stories (well, seven and a half) featuring Louise Jameson as Leela and usually John Leeson as K9, with some good scripts and excellent guest performances.
The first of these is The Exxilons, by Nicholas Briggs, bringing back the race only previously seen in the Third Doctor story Death to the Daleks - and very cleverly not revealing their actual connection to the plot until quite a long way in. It's an inrteresting set-up of a primitive race interacting with more developed visitors (with some echoes therefore of The Face of Evil); the visiting ship's captain is played by Jacqueline King (Donna's mother in TV Who) with an American accent. A soundscape that realises spearfights well. Available here or here.

The Darkness of Glass, by Justin Richards, is set on a fogbound island off the English coast in 1907, clearly evoking the spirit of Horror of Fang Rock and to a lesser extent The Talons of Weng Chiang. For an audio play, the solution to the story is surprisingly visual. The lovely Sinead Keenan and her brother Rory both appear, sadly dropping their native Irish accents. Nicely done nostalgia. Available here or here.

Requiem for the Rocket Men, by John Dorney, brings back the jet-pack wearing space pirates who have appeared in a couple of BF's First Doctor stories (written up here and here, and they also pop up in the second of these stories). To be honest, I wasn't wowed by the concept on their previous outings, but this is a very good tale, bringing in Geoffrey Beevers' Master and Mark Frost as a tremendously villanous King of the Rocket Men, allowing John Leeson to be Evil K9 for a change, and also giving Leela a bit of romance, rather more credibly than she was allowed on TV, with a junior Rocket Man played by Damien Lynch. Available here or here.
Death Match, by Matt Fitton, worked least well of these for me, though that's still not bad as I enjoyed them all. Making Leela a gladiator is one of those rather obvious ideas, and was done, if imperfectly, by Chris Boucher in his novel Match of the Day in 2006. Geoffrey Beevers' Master is here as well, and Susan Brown (recently Septa Mordane in Game of Thrones). But it's fairly obvious from the start what's going to happen, and it duly does. Available here or here.

Suburban Hell, by Alan Barnes, on the other hand is a brilliant evocation of, first, the Doctor and Leela intruding into the 1970s suburban environment where their TV adventures were being enjoyed, and second,and second, the awful horror lurking behind what appears to be suburban normality. Annette Badland and Katy Wix knock it out of the park as the two apparently normal women to whom abnormal things are happening. Great stuff. Available here or here.

The Cloisters of Terror, by Jonathan Morris, brings back Rowena Cooper to a previous Big Finish role as Dame Emily Shaw, mother of Liz Shaw and Dean of St Matilda's College, Oxford. She was great in The Last Post, and she's great in this too. Having myself attended a convent school and then a Cambridge college, you always wonder what historical horrors might be lurking in the cellar. Available here or here.

But it really annoyed me that the characters inconsistently call Rowena Cooper's character both "Dame Emily" and "Dame Shaw". Correct usage is "Dame Emily". "Dame Shaw" is wrong; and you can bet that if she was Dean of the college she'd have made sure everyone knew it. (A friend of mine, who I will call Sam Spade, got a knighthood in the recent New Years Honours. When I congratulated him on getting his gong, he said, "Yes, but my wife was made a Dame a year ago, so I've been Lady Spade for the last twelve months.")

Finally, a double story, The Fate of Krelos / Return to Telos by Nicholas Briggs, brings the Doctor and Leela to a planet where the Vingean singularity is at hand, and then to Telos where they become part of a time paradox in the wings of Tomb of the Cybermen, with Frazer Hines returning as Jamie and also Bernard Holley as crewman Haydon. But the star turn is Michael Cochrane, who was Charles Cranleigh in Black Orchid and then Redvers Fenn-Cooper in Ghost Light, and also brilliant as Colonel Spindleton in the two-parter that ended the second series of audio Fourth Doctor Adventures (Trail of the White Worm / The Oseidon Adventure). Here he is both the elderly chap who is uploading his consciousness, and the robot to whom it is being uploaded. It's quite an intricate plot but it is worked out very nicely. Available here/here or here/here.

So basically, I'm several years late but very glad to be catching up with these.