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Baron Scarpia
08 November 2009 @ 05:47 pm
I should have blogged this earlier, but I have an almost neurotic compulsion about certainty. Washington's voters have approved a law allowing domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

The vote was a postal vote, so the count took longer than Maine's did. But it's all over now - the pro-partnership vote cannot be beaten.

The ballot featured the following question -

The legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 concerning rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.

This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage.

Should this bill be approved/rejected?

There's that not a marriage thing again. Rub it in, why don't you...

But, in comparison to Maine, the vote went in the pro-gay direction early on and stayed there. The current results are -

Approved 855,457 52.56 %
Rejected 772,258 47.44 %

Congratulations Washington!

The breakdown of voting by county makes for interesting reading. Most of the counties actually rejected the bill, but those that approved it typically had the larger populations. This is like the Maine breakdown, where the anti-gay side won primarily on the strength of the rural counties.

The first thing to say is - gosh. If the anti-gay groups were chortling with glee over the Maine result - 'Democracy has spoken! The public doesn't like gays!' - this will sober them. Nobody thought that November would be the end of the fight for either side of the battlefield, but this is extremely encouraging. A public vote has swung in the pro-gay favour on such a huge issue - if it's possible here, it will be possible elsewhere.

And things get better when you consider how Washington voted in 1997. That year an anti-discrimination law was up for the vote. Though it looked absurdly weak, it would have prevented anti-gay discrimination in certain areas in the workplace.

The result of that poll was abysmal. Every single county in Washington voted against it. Twelve years later, however, gays and lesbians are getting domestic rights that would give the Pope a heart attack. And almost every single county reported an increase in pro-gay voting as well - there was only one exception.

So, despite Maine, the pro-gay contingent is alive and kicking. Clearly something is being done right. I can only hope that in future the anti-gay groups get ever more desperate...
Baron Scarpia
08 November 2009 @ 03:40 pm
The Doctor and Donna are on holiday. (Well, come on. They can’t be running away from Sontarans every day of the week) They are visiting a holiday colony on the otherwise inhospitable planet of Midnight. It appears to be a popular destination, and Donna decides to laze around by a swimming pool drinking cocktails. The Doctor, being the Doctor, is more interested in wandering around the place, and decides to go on a day trip to see a sapphire waterfall. It’s a four hour journey there on board a space truck with a few other passengers, and the Doctor, being the Doctor, decides to make some new friends rather than endure the obnoxious on-board entertainment.

Before long the passengers are all getting along well, until the truck breaks down. For no reason. In the middle of nowhere. It won’t be too long until the rescue team arrives, but it’s never that simple with the Doctor, is it? Something is outside and it wants to get in, to the extent of ripping out the truck’s front cabin and killing the pilots. Leaving isn’t an option. There’s no air outside and even if there were, the radiation is fatal. So the only thing to do is sit tight and wait calmly for the rescue team.

As if that’s going to happen. Something ‘infects’ one of the passengers. She does nothing except repeat – repeat everything said by everyone, no matter how stupid or convoluted. So everyone had better shut up, including the Doctor.

But come on, as if that’s going to happen. You know how the Doctor always raves about how great the human race is? He’s about to reassess that opinion.

There’s always one of them, in every season. It’s the episode without a big budget, which means there can’t be many special effects. It cannot be a visual extravaganza. In the Christopher Eccleston season we got Boomtown (aka Nothing happened here today for all the plot in it). Then we got Love and Monsters, which sharply divided fans. Half loved it. The other half loathed it; in my opinion it’s one of the worst adventures of the new run of Doctor Who. Afterwards came Blink, which I admired hugely. This season has Midnight.

Love and Monsters and Blink were both Doctor-lite. Tennant headlined the show, but he was not in the adventure for very long, and neither was his companion. Midnight goes in the other direction; the Doctor is onscreen all the time, whilst Donna only appears at the very beginning and the very end. I have a feeling that Russell T Davies set himself a challenge for this one – write an adventure that takes place in one scene and in real time. Not only that, but the scene must be very small; the passenger space on the cruiser is very compact. So there can be no running, no chases, no escapes. The Doctor cannot retreat.

Faced with this problem Davies… well, he doesn’t cheat. But he does distract. Very little really happens in Midnight to the passengers. Woman gets ‘possessed’, the entity tries to ‘possess’ the Doctor and fails, and that’s it. So, what’s left? Characterisation and fear.

Fear, precisely because the space is so limited. There is something there and it is with the passengers and they don’t know what it can do and they cannot escape from it. Whatever Ms Silvestri is now, she certainly isn’t human. What makes the passengers panic so much isn’t that she’s repeating things, it’s that she just will not stop, even when everyone’s talking at once. And then, having creeped the audience out, Davies ramps everything up to stage two – Silvestri doesn’t just repeat what you say, she repeats it as you say it. There’s no time lapse. And afterwards, stage three – Silvestri only repeats what the Doctor says. She’s singled him out.

Stage three isn’t the most disturbing of the stages, but Davies has a back-up plan. If Silvestri doesn’t creep us out enough, the human characters will. They aren’t the Doctor. They are easily panicked. They are scared of Silvestri and her repetitions, they are afraid of what she might do, so, they think, why don’t they just throw her out to die?

The Doctor is having none of this, of course, but he is one man with no authority and a great deal of hostility against him. He hasn’t given the passengers his name and he didn’t book the trip in advance, meaning that he’s just turned up from nowhere. For once we see the Doctor completely without backup and he is unable to rise to the occasion. More than that, the creature is able to use the passengers’ paranoia against him, knowing full well that he is the most threatening person on board.

That’s one of the most bizarre things about Davies. He gives us a manic Doctor, would probably stage a Doctor Who musical if he thought he could get away with it, and yet some of his scripts are amongst the most vicious of the series. It’s not that the passengers decide to throw someone out to die, it’s that they’re so eager to do it. At the end, they’re all helping out, a wonderful example of teamwork to do something dreadful. The ultimate kicker is that even if they were morally right, they’re throwing out the wrong person.

After the danger has passed, the Doctor spends another half hour or so waiting for the rescue team with these people. What do they say to him? What could they say to him? How do they live with themselves afterwards? In a way, the most interesting moments of Midnight aren’t shown.

And the best thing about the adventure? No love interest!

Next time around we get to see what would happen if the Doctor weren’t here to help us humans. Short version – we’re utterly, utterly screwed.
Baron Scarpia
Occasionally the Doctor finds another person’s writing on his psychic paper, asking him to come to a particular place. This time someone anonymous has asked him to come to the Library – so big, it doesn’t need a name. It is a planet of books, containing every novel, biography, monograph, comic ever written. When the time travellers arrive, it’s very quiet; in fact according to the library computer they are the only humanoid creatures on the entire planet. On the other hand, when the computer scans for any kind of lifeform it counts over a million million. So where are these creatures? What happened to the library’s staff and users?

The Doctor soon bumps into a small expedition headed by Professor River Song and funded by Strackman Lux, whose family set up and owns the Library. It’s been a number of years since the Library was ‘abandoned’ and this is the first attempt to find out what happened. Unfortunately for all concerned they soon find out what the other lifeforms are – a swarm of darkness, the vashta nerada. The swarms look like shadows and can reduce a human to a skeleton in a couple of seconds, something that is demonstrated rather vividly before long. That’s bad enough, but it’s not the Doctor’s only problem. For one thing, Professor Song appears to know the Doctor, but he doesn’t know her. For another – what the hell has all this got to do with a little girl in the 21st century and her psychiatrist?

Alright, people. Quiz time. Name an adventure written by Steven Moffat that fits the following description –

1) It’s a two-parter
2) That’s very creepy
3) With a creepy child in the middle of it
4) With a type of zombies that mindlessly repeat a particular phrase and that are potentially ‘deadly’ to the touch
5) Where, in a sense, nobody actually dies
6) With a swarm of very tiny and very dangerous ‘bugs’ that do nasty things to their victims
7) Oh, and one character has a device that dissolves holes through walls

Right. Now, name an adventure written by Steven Moffat that fits the following description –

1) There is a woman who meets the Doctor on multiple occasions, but their meetings are ‘distorted’ by the fact they inhabit different time lines
2) The woman is clearly in love with the Doctor

Naturally, you should have answered both questions with Silence in the Library. Why, what other adventures could you possibly have named?

The Library two-parter is not exactly a replica of The Empty Child or The Girl in the Fireplace, but there’s enough here to make you wonder if Moffat doesn’t have a lottery system of plot devices – he reaches in and takes out ‘creepy child’ or ‘zombie’. Still, if there’s nothing very new here Moffat is a solid writer, and the Library adventure has enough to keep you entertained. Though it does mean that the Doctor is portrayed as a bit of moron, the central child actor has a bigger opportunity to be annoying and – oh, god, wasn’t Rose Tyler enough?

It doesn’t make for good drama when the Doctor knows everything – as he’d say, where’s the fun in that? – but it really doesn’t work when the audience are so far ahead of him. The Doctor and Professor Song have indeed met before, many times, but the Doctor is a time traveller. His timeline is very twisted, meaning that this is only the first time he’s met her for him. (Yes, it’s The Time Traveller’s Wife plotline) One would have thought the Doctor would be used to this, but it seems to take him a long time to realise what’s going on.

And even when he does we have the rather tiresome routine of the Doctor learning to trust her. That’s fine, actually, but it’s the way it’s done that’s tedious. Song has a sonic screwdriver – gasp! How could she have one? thinks the Doctor. The audience already knows, but it gets worse – when the Doctor realises that he gave her a sonic screwdriver he thinks Gasp! Why would I give anyone my screwdriver? Why would I ever tell her my real name? etc, etc.

Oh no thinks the audience. The Doctor might not have loved Professor Song, but she loved him, and I’m afraid the audience just doesn’t care very much. Professor Song just isn’t a compelling character. She’s meant to be strong willed and independent, but in the hands of the actress Alex Kingston she just comes off as a smug, over-confident know-it-all. Never mind the fact that Russell T Davies took two seasons and a Christmas special to create a believable relationship between the Doctor and Rose.

I tell you this, I hope Moffat’s first season as head scriptwriter won’t be filled with women swooning at the Doctor’s feet.

On the other hand, Moffat continues to be very good at generating tension from extremely nasty things happening to people. The victims’ fates are particularly gruesome, in almost everyway possible. First the vashta nerada latch onto their victim, giving them a second shadow. In other words, they know they have a death sentence, and they must be treated as contaminated by the survivors. Then they die, but not immediately. The members of the expedition are wearing spacesuits, with helmets and neural relays. The relays continue working for a short time after death, and they contain the victim’s brainwaves. So when the body dies the brainwaves remain for a time. We can hear the confused victim as their voice degenerates into nonsense, and it is horrible. The first time we see it happen is a highlight of the adventure, and used to full ghastly effect. And afterwards we’re left with a skeleton in a spacesuit infested with the vashta nerada; for want of a better word, a zombie.

You could make a good adventure out of this alone, but Moffat lumps in CAL, the central operating system of the Library. Well, sort of – she’s actually a small child who years ago was on the verge of dying. Since she loved books so much, her wealthy family built the Library around her, keeping her consciousness alive with all the time in the universe to read any book she wanted. It’s a good plot twist, one few viewers will guess, and for bibliophiles it’s a touching one. The trouble is that CAL is the little girl in the 21st century, except it isn’t; it’s really a mental construct built around her mind to insulate her from a breakdown. Again, the problem here isn’t with the concept. The problem is that CAL is called upon to act hysterically, and the actress does it well. Very well. Which almost drove me mad. Maybe I’m in a minority of one with this, but I can’t handle screaming children very well, especially when they become central characters.

Incidentally, and this is another one of my pet hates, Donna doesn’t really get to do much in this two-parter. Things happen to her, but in terms of the plot it doesn’t matter if she’s there or not. You would have thought that with ninety minutes she could have played a bigger part, but the chance slips through the cracks.

The Library adventure is good but not great, and it could have been. It should have been, given how fantastic The Lonely Child two-parter was. In the end, ‘good’ is a polite way of saying ‘disappointing’.

In the next episode the Doctor goes on holiday. Unfortunately for him, it will not consist lying on a beach and occasionally topping up on sun lotion. I think he’d probably prefer that.
Baron Scarpia
05 November 2009 @ 10:37 pm
A few months ago I wrote about Noah's Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol, warning readers that if they had any respect for science and intellectual curiosity they had better stay away. The Farm is a creationist nuthatch.


It's now emerged that the Farm is in hot water. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the nonsense they try pumping into children's heads, and has rather more to do with flouting regulations. Following an investigation by the Captive Animals Protection Society, the Farm has had its membership of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums suspended. North Somerset Council, which grants licences to zoos in the area, is also investigating. It appears that the Farm has been secretly breeding animals for use in circuses and illegally disposing of animal corpses.

Apparently mutilating tigers when they die after giving birth is a bit of a no-no.


You would have thought that creationists, with their veneration of God and Jesus, would be law-abiding. How absolutely shocking that this is not the case!
Baron Scarpia
04 November 2009 @ 10:14 am
The vote was smaller, but you wouldn't think that if you were personally affected. The results for the Kalamazoo, Mitchigan vote have come in. The vote was for anti-discrimination measures, to add gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals to an existing Kalamazoo city ordinance banning discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The pro-gay side won, by 7,671 votes to 4,731.


There are two particularly interesting points to note. First, this vote covers the transgendered, and transgender rights are even more of a controversy than gay rights. Second, other Mitchigan cities will soon by voting on similar measures. Kalamazoo might end up being the best possible publicity that the pro-gay side could have.

As for Washington, the votes are slower coming in because it was a postal vote. Votes were accepted for any letter with a postmark of 3rd November. We should get a better picture of things later on today, but the most recent news I've heard is that the pro-gay side is slightly in the lead. So was Maine's, at one point, so don't break open the champagne just yet!
Baron Scarpia
Damn my personality.

It appears that the majority of voting citizens in Maine don't care about their gay neighbours. currently 87% of districts have submitted their results, and -

Yes 266324 voters 52.75%
No 238595 voters 47.25%

I suppose the silver lining is how close it is, but at the moment I'm just looking at the cloud. America continues to confuse me.

Mere confusion, however, is as nothing compared to what LGBT Maine citizens must be feeling. Their rights have been yanked away from them after a campaign of lies and diversions. Maine voters have told them that are are second-class citizens, and that their relationships should not be legally recognised on the level of an opposite-sex relationship.

This is what the anti-gay side calls 'saving marriage'. I've never been able to intellectually decipher this piece of doublethink, but I'm sure they went to bed happy, knowing they they're just as married to their spouse today as they were yesterday.

Apparently there's only a limited amount of marriage to go around, which is why gay people shouldn't be allowed to dilute it.

Meanwhile, schools will still be able to teach children about gay issues. The anti-gay side pretended that the vote would help stop this. It won't.

During the campaign some LGBT commentators were ambivalent about the pro-gay tactics. They felt that the publicity should have attacked the anti-gay side more instead of constantly playing in defence. It's tough to feel that they don't have a point.

Best wishes to Maine LGBTers, and if you voted No, gay or straight, good on you! I know this won't be the end of it - not by a long shot.
Baron Scarpia
02 November 2009 @ 11:41 pm
Isn't YouTube fantastic? Here I am, in a bit of a mood, and then a thought occurs to me.

Roadrunner cartoons!

And best of luck in America tomorrow!
Baron Scarpia
31 October 2009 @ 10:35 am
Lady Eddison is giving a party at her country manor. She has invited a number of local friends over, along with a truly special guest, the author of six bestselling novels Agatha Christie. She definitely has not invited the Doctor and Donna, but they invite themselves anyway. Good thing they did, too. One of the guests has already been found dead in the library, his head bashed in with a piece of lead piping. This sounds just like Christie’s territory, but the Doctor can also stick his oar in – evidence has been left to show that a shape-shifter committed the crime. The murderer is not only one of the party-goers, but is an alien in disguise. As the bodycount increases and the Doctor narrowly avoids a fatal poisoning, can he and Agatha uncover the killer?

I rather like Agatha Christie, particularly the Poirot novels. She even wrote one of the first slasher stories, And Then There Were None. The Unicorn and the Wasp pays tribute to her with a hint of parody and even manages to explain why Agatha Christie is investigating an Agatha Christie story. This is one of the best adventures of the season.

I mean, just look at the suspects! You’ve got the aristocracy, military men, socialites, even vicars. The Doctor and Agatha interview the suspects and discover that none of them have alibis. Everyone has a secret, even if that secret has no ultimate bearing on the crime. People die whilst muttering cryptic sentences and at the end we even get the traditional ‘X was the killer and this is how we worked it out’ scene. Granted, it’s a bit unlike Christie because she never wrote about giant wasps, but in every other way… The only fault with the story is that the culprit is the least likely suspect, and Christie would never have made it that obvious.

The characters are a bit of a mixture. Some act as stock characters, such as the vicar, some are comic, such as Lady Eddison’s husband, some are a little more complex, such as Lady Eddison herself, and some of them are all of these at once. The character who gets the most respect, however, is Agatha Christie herself. At the time of the story Agatha had just discovered that her first husband was cheating on her, and it’s no secret that she always doubted her writing ability. Part of her believes that she’s just fooling people into believing that her books are good, and that one day they’ll realise. But, being English, she’s going out and carrying on as normal. The script treats her decently, and I think she has one of the best ‘guest appearances’ in Doctor Who. She’s more than the Doctor’s equal in her particular field.

(The characterisation of Christie is particularly interesting in light of later events, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I expect it’s easy to do that as a time traveller.)

The Unicorn and the Wasp is not really a comic adventure – Lady Eddison becomes a rather tragic figure, Agatha Christie continually doubts her own abilities, and even one of the footmen has his own tragedy, which is made all the worse because given the time period it can never be openly acknowledged. However it is one of the funnier episodes of the season, with the guests telling us little white lies, the Doctor implying that he’s poisoned everyone, even a comic routine between Tennant and Tate that actually manages to be amusing.

Russell T Davies, please take note. The Runaway Bride was as funny as an orphanage fire. Don’t do it again.

One other delightful touch in the script is the constant references to Christie’s novel titles. If you don’t recognise them, you won’t notice them, but if you do they’re everywhere. Normally they’re fairly straightforward (‘The secret adversary remains unknown’) but some are brilliant. My favourite is ‘Why didn’t they ask – Heavens!’

In the next adventure the Doctor and Donna go to a library. A fairly big one where people get eaten. This is why I prefer bookshops.
Baron Scarpia
31 October 2009 @ 10:30 am
Many generations ago an explorer ship co-manned with humans and the Hath race landed on an inhospitable planet, with the purpose of creating a new colony. However a dispute has led to a long-running war, so long-running that the descendents of the colonists even have their own creation myths. Each side dreams of victory, yet this is rather unlikely to happen for anyone. Both sides have access to replicating machines, which means that if a genetic sample is taken from anyone a new person can be made from it – not a clone, but someone based on the original genetics. This new person is already mentally equipped with military knowledge and can immediately go into battle. So whatever the casualties on either side, the injured warriors can simply create new platoons to order.

Then the Doctor, Donna and Martha come blundering into things. A genetic sample is forcibly taken from the Doctor and… well, look at the title again. She’s a daughter the Doctor is very reluctant to acknowledge.

There’s no way to say this diplomatically – the adventure’s a turkey. It might have been only disappointing, but a plot twist near the end is so utterly stupid that I almost cried out in pain. It’s all the worse when you consider that the writer is Stephen Greenhorn, whose The Lazarus Experiment was one of the best episodes of the previous season.

First, let’s consider the Doctor’s daughter, who Donna christens Jenny. She is born knowing perfect English, fully aware of military tactics and fully aware, it seems, of how horny young men can get when tempted by young women. How odd that she should be ‘born’ completely fully formed, needing no period of training or acclimatisation. I smell the desperation of a bad plot device, coming from a writer who thinks he has a really cool idea but hasn’t a clue how to build up to it. It’s possible that all the necessary information is pumped into the heads of all the replicants, but that’s more generally associated with the creation of Cybermen than human beings. Cybermen, of course, were designed to all be completely identical and without any personal needs or emotion. The replicants in The Doctor’s Daughter are very definitely not.

Jenny is played by Georgia Moffet, and the in-joke is she really is the Doctor’s daughter – more specifically, she’s the daughter of Peter Davison. Art, however, is not as kind as reality, and she doesn’t convince as someone who has been specifically bred to fight. She may work as one of the Doctor’s companions, but you never believe in her as a soldier.

The reason why the Doctor doesn’t really want her around is an interesting one, even more so because Donna pushes so hard for him to acknowledge Jenny. Donna is taken aback a little to discover that the Doctor has been a father before, and lost everything. Jenny is acting as a constant reminder of it, so no wonder he’s so cold towards her. The concept of the Doctor starting to teach Jenny about what’s out there in the universe, and how you can solve problems without guns, is genuinely fascinating, though Moffet’s inability to look like a soldier hurts it.

Martha’s role in the story is to get separated from the Doctor and then wander back to meet him. She has a long and dangerous trek. She has to watch her travelling companion drown in a slurry pit. She arrives emotionally and physically on the point of collapse. And for all her impact on the plot, she might as well not have bothered.

Oh dear. I’m getting increasingly upset for Martha. If you’re going to use a companion in a Doctor Who adventure, you should USE THEM. COMPANIONS SHOULD NOT JUST BE TIME FILLER. A companion who accomplishes nothing useful is just as risible as the companions who would start screaming at every alien menace they faced.

And unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. The Doctor and the audience are led to believe that the war has been going on for generations. Indeed it has – generations and generations of replicants. Actually, the war has only been going on for a week…


So, what, the true history of the ship has been lost in a week? A whole new mythology has sprung up in seven days? To achieve this there must at least be a new generation every couple of hours, yet they don’t use the replication machines at night and they don’t lose men at such a rapid rate to require constant replications. This is one of the most retarded and unnecessary plot devices I can remember seeing in the Tennant era, and Greenhorn doesn’t even use the revelation for anything. He’s slotted it in because he thinks it’s cool. It’s a revelation simply for the sake of shocking the audience. Well, yes, I was shocked. But not in a good way. Not at all.

What a waste of forty-five minutes!

In the next episode the Doctor meets Agatha Christie at a party, and Professor Peach’s skull meets a piece of lead pipe. Who can the killer be? Well, it’s most likely the massive wasp with the foot-long sting that’s turned up.
Baron Scarpia
31 October 2009 @ 10:20 am
Dr Werner tells us that we should be able to understand her talk if we've taken chemistry classes at school.

Alas, she did not follow her own advice. What follows is some of the finest nonsense I've ever heard outside creationism. Believe me, her support for homeopathy is among the least of her problems.