February Books

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 10)
Peeling the Onion, by Günter Grass
How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ
Life of Frederick Douglass
Elizabeth I, by Christopher Haigh
Chicks Dig Time Lords, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea

Fiction (non-sf) 6 (YTD 7)
Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford
Resurrection Men, by Ian Rankin
A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

SF (non-Who) 7 (YTD 10)
The Mahābhārata
Irish Tales of Terror, ed. Peter Haining
Lightborn, by Tricia Sullivan
Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes
The Prodigal Troll, by Charles Coleman Finlay
The Book of Lost Tales, Vol II, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, by J.K. Rowling

Doctor Who (fiction) 4 (YTD 10)
The Jade Pyramid, by Martin Day
The Hounds of Artemis, by James Goss
Short Trips, edited by Stephen Cole
Birthright, by Nigel Robinson

Comics 1 (YTD 2)
Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Page count ~6,500 (YTD ~10,900)
5/23 (YTD 7/39) by women (Russ, Thomas/O’Shea, Sullivan, Beukes, Rowling)
3/23 (YTD 4/39) by PoC (Douglass, authors of Mahābhārata, O’Malley)
Owned for more than a year: 8 (Irish Tales of Terror, The Prodigal Troll, Peeling the Onion, Resurrection Men, Short Trips, Birthright, Elizabeth I, the Mahābhārata).
Rereads: 4/23 (4 x Sherlock Holmes); YTD 7/39

Best book of the month: How to Suppress Women’s Writing

Programmed reads: 13½ from 13 lists
a) Peeling the Onion (non-fiction in order of entry)
c) How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Life of Frederick Douglass (non-fiction by popularity on LJ poll)
f) Complete Sherlock Holmes (first half) (non-genre fiction by popularity on LJ poll)
g) Irish Tales of Terror (sf anthologies in order of entry)
h) The Prodigal Troll (sf in order of entry)
i) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (sf by popularity among LT readers)
l) Birthright (Virgin New Adventures, in order)
n) Chicks Dig Time Lords (New Who books in order of LT popularity)
o) Short Trips (Old Who books in order of LT popularity)
p) Book of Lost Tales II (History of Middle Earth, in order)
q) Resurrection Men (Rankin’s Rebus novels, in order)
r) Elizabeth I (Tudors and Ireland)
s) The Mahābhārata (Books by PoC in order of entry)

Coming next, possibly:

The Janus Conjunction by Trevor Baxendale (started)
The Fall of the House of Usher: And Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe (started)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (started)
The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (started, put aside when my copy fell apart, will get back to it)

The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007, ed. Richard Horton
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (if I can find it, otherwise Great Expectations by Charles Dickens)
The Essential Rumi
The Miracle Visitors, by Ian Watson
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Lays of Beleriand, by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Elizabeth’s Irish Wars, by Cyril Falls
Matrix, by Robert Perry
Night of the Humans, by David Llewellyn
Iceberg, by David Banks
The Onion’s Our Dumb World: 73rd Edition: Atlas of the Planet Earth
In the Heart of the Desert, by John Chryssavgis
Toujours Tingo, by Adam Jacot de Boinod
A Question of Blood, by Ian Rankin

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February Books 23) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

There are eleven stories in the second of the Sherlock Holmes connections, where we see Doyle expanding the fictional universe: we have a couple of accounts of Holmes’ adventures before he met Watson, we have Mycroft and the relationship with the French painter Vernet, we have the recovery of a treaty lost by the Foreign Secretary’s nephew, and most of all we have Moriarty. The best of these is the first, “Silver Blaze”, which is the one about the missing race-horse with the original curious incident of the dog in the night-time. Several of the others, unfortunately, have almost the same solution as “Silver Blaze”.”The Final Problem” is a good bit of writing, as Holmes and Watson pursue each other to (apparently) mutual destruction in Switzerland, but has no real mystery element. There is also the peculiar story of the bloke whose wife turns out to have a black daughter by her previous marriage; some peculiar racist psychology going on there. Anyway, I don’t think Holmes will stay dead, as I am only on page 480 out of 1122.

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February Books 22) Birthright, by Nigel Robinson

Seventh Doctor adventure (from Virgin New Adventures series) about alien insects invading London in 1909 – a Doctor-lite story mainly about Benny, featuring also Ace and Victoria Waterfield’s elderly aunt Margaret.

I realised a few pages into this that I had already heard an audio version – one of the first Bernice Summerfield plays from Big Finish, which had had some surgery to remove the Doctor (who isn’t in it much anyway) and Ace (who I think is mainly replaced in the play by Benny’s husband Jason), and co-starred Colin Baker as the mysterious Russian character. I remember enjoying the play; I also enjoyed the book more than I expected.

My expectations were low because the author is Nigel Robinson, whose prose style I find in general pretty clunky. But in fact he is way ahead of his usual output here. There were two chapters which did make me groan but also one (Benny’s weird dream) which really made me sit up. I also thought he caught both Benny and Ace very well, as well as having a comprehensible plot. So, for once, a Robinson book which I rate as slightly above average.

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Whoniversaries 28 and 29 February

i) births and deaths

28 February 1912: birth of Mervyn Pinfield, who was Associate Producer for Doctor Who from An Unearthly Child (1963) to The Romans (1965) and also directed The Sensorites (1964), Planet of Giants (1964) and The Space Museum (1965).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 February 1970: broadcast of fifth episode of Doctor Who and the Silurians. The Silurians release a deadly virus to wipe out humanity.

28 February 1986: broadcast of fifth episode of The Seeds of Doom. The Krynoid gets larger and larger, and the surrounding vegetation is under its control.

28 February 1981: broadcast of first episode of Logopolisbroadcast anniversaries

29 February 1964: broadcast of “The Singing Sands”, second episode of the story we now call Marco Polo. As the travellers press on through the desert, Tegana destroys their water supply.
Eight months down, four to go. In retrospect, this is a really mad project.

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The (almost) final countdown #GE11

Full results, as far as we can tell at this stage (differences from my predictions of yesterday are in bold; cf also my predictions of Friday). NB that four seats are still counting. Apologies for length, but this is dramatic stuff.

  Fianna Fáil Fine Gael Labour Sinn Féin Green Others Comments
Carlow-Kilkenny 1 3 1 My first prediction was right; FF unable to take second seat by 790 votes to third FG.
Cavan-Monaghan 1 3 1 Underestimated FG, overestimated SF ability to take second seat (FG win by 530 votes).
Clare 1 2 1 0 Independents not as transfer-friendly as Labour, contrary to my expectations, by wide margin.
Cork East 0 2 1 1 SF astonishingly pulled in better transfers than FF to take last seat by 650 votes.
Cork North Central 1 1 1 1 Last seat decided by only 280 votes, but between two FG candidates.
Cork North West 1 2 One constituency where result was in line with both my predictions.
Cork South Central 2 2 1 Got this one right too (second time round)
Cork South West 0 2 1 Should have stuck with my first take on this one as Labour pulled ahead of FF to take last seat by 599 votes.
Donegal North East 1 1 1 Another one that I called right both times.
Donegal South West 0 1 1 1 Bizarre! FF ahead of both SF and independent on first count, but Mary Coughlan utterly failed to transfer internally and lost out. They had two seats here with over 50% in 2007.
Dublin Central 1 1 1 1 Got this right second time. FF lose last seat to SF by 840.
Dublin Mid West 2 2 Got this right second time. SF lose last seat to FG by 550.
Dublin North 2 1 1 Got this right second time. FF again fail on internal transfers.
Dublin North Central 1 1 1 Got this right second time. Last seat between two FG candidates (and not very close).
Dublin North East 1 2 0 Wrong both times here as second Lab candidate managed to outflank SF on FF and Green transfers!
Dublin North West 2 1 Got this right second time. FG far behind, FF further.
Dublin South 3 1 1 Got this right second time. FF far behind.
Dublin South Central 1 2 1 1 A third constituency that I called correctly both times. FF very far behind for last seat.
Dublin South East 2 2 A fourth one I got right both times. FF again very far off.
Dublin South West 1 2 1 A fifth consituency that I got right both times. FF nowhere.
Dublin West 1 1 1 1 My sixth doubly correct call. FF’s only Dublin seat, by decent margin ahead of Lab second runner.
Dun Laoghaire 2 1 1 And a seventh. FF internal transfers fail again.
Galway East 1 2 1 0 Still counting, but I can’t see Ind overhauling Labour now, though it will be close.
Galway West 1 2 1 1 Also still counting; FG second seat depends on ability to our-balance independents.
Kerry North / West Limerick 1 1 1 Not really close.
Kerry South 1 2 Second ind beats second FG candidate by 920.
Kildare North 2 1 1 FF very far behind second FG.
Kildare South 1 1 1 For once FF transfers work to beat independent (Kennedy) by 997.
Laois-Offaly 1 2 1 1 Still counting, and second FF currently in 6th place behind Labour; given what happened elsewhere (esp Cork South-West) I am changing my prediction.
Limerick City 1 2 1 As predicted both times. (Eighthly.) SF very far behind Lab.
Limerick 1 2 Labour halved 1400 vote difference in first prefs to come within 700 votes of taking FF seat, but not enough. (Ninth.)
Longford-Westmeath 1 2 1 Third FG far behind FF.
Louth 0+CC 2 1 1 Second FG 935 votes ahead of FF for last seat.
Mayo 1 4 Astonishing performance by FG leader. Am not sure that there is any similarly convincing result in 26 counties since 1921.
Meath East 2 1 FF far behind.
Meath West 2 1 Right second time. Lab far behind second FG.
Roscommon-South Leitrim 2 1 FF very far behind second FG.
Sligo-North Leitrim 0 2 1 As with Cork East, SF pulled ahead of FF with transfers, inadequate internal transfers compounded by Labour second prefs.
Tipperary North 1 1 1 FF far adrift of Lab. (Tenth.)
Tipperary South 1 2 Second FG far behind second independent, FF and others nowhere. (Eleventh.)
Waterford 0 2 1 1 FF lose by 970 votes after SF transfers to independent prove decisive.
Wexford 1 2 1 1 636 votes between second and third FG candidates.
Wicklow 3 1 1 0 Still counting here, but looks to me like SF get last seat rather than Independent – unless Labour screw up internal transfers in which case SF and Ind win.
Total 18+CC 76 38 14 0 19  

Well, extraordinary times. Yesterday I thought that my Friday prediction of 21 FF seats was four too low; now it seems it may have been three too high. I suppose I was braced for a certain amount of transfer toxicity in that supporters of other parties would be unlikely to give lower preferences to Fianna Fáil; I wasn’t, however, expecting that supporters of FF candidates would fail quite so dramatically to transfer to their running-mates. So FG get one more seat, and two more for each of Labour, SF and independents on that basis, counting from my reading of the first preferences.

On top of that, Labour are far more transfer-friendly than I expected. As well as the two seats that I though FF would win yesterday, I give them one that I had previously awarded to SF and two that I thought would go to Independents. Finally, SF screwed up in Cavan-Monaghan, giving the well-balanced FG team a third seat, but seem likely to take the spot I thought would go to an independent in Wicklow.

This is an appalling election for Fianna Fáil. In the three contested elections of the 1920s they or their prdecessors were scoring in the mid-20s, in terms of percentage of votes cast. Since they first got into government, then they had dipped just below the 40% mark in the two 1990s elections. To go not just below 40% but below 20% is very hard. What’s even worse is that on the face of it their vote share should have got them 28 or 29 seats. But as I warned, the combination of transfer toxicity from other parties and failure to even keep their own candidates’ votes within the party has exacerbated the meltdown by losing a third of the seats they should have won even after losing more than half of their votes. I don’t like FF, and I have never liked them, but I am human enough to sympathise with the party activists surveying the ruins this evening.

The FG vote share was exceeded by Garret in the three early 1980s elections, though he never managed to translate it into seats to the same extent. (1981: 65 seats on 36.5%, Feb ’82: 63 seats on 37.3%, Nov ’82: 70 seats on 39.2%.) The party’s predecessors also got a slightly higher vote share in the peculiar circumstances of 1922 and 1923. As noted above, Enda Kenny’s performance in winning four out of five seats in Mayo is unprecedented in the 26 counties. (Up North, we have had a few similar cases – SF currently hold five out of six Assembly seats in West Belfast, and five out of five Belfast City Council seats on the Lower Falls.) They have enjoyed an unprecedented seat bonus as well; that vote share should get you 60 seats, not 76! And it has been through judgement as well as luck – look at the careful balancing of their candidates in the constituencies where they have won most seats.

Labour got 19.4% of first preferences to FF’s 17.4%, but will likely end up with literally twice as many TDs. This is extraordinary and demonstrates both the general hostility of the country to the former natural party of government, and the way in which Labour managed to position themselves successfully as everyone’s second-best option. In 1992 they got a slightly higher vote share (19.8%) but only 33 seats; they already have 35 now and I think get three more (Wicklow, Galway East and Laois-Offaly; in the fourth remaining constituency they already have their seat). Their vote share would give them only 32 rather than 38.

SF, interestingly, benefited in a couple of cases from FF’s transfer toxicity but in general end up behind – on that vote share they should expect 16 seats rather than 14. So it would seem that if FF is not in the equation, people who are not already converted to giving SF their #1 find it difficult to give them a lower preference. My expectation is that Adams will flounder in the Dáil. He is an unimpressive public performer, and is out of his depth in Southern politics.

As for the Greens, I have absolutely no sympathy. They went into the 2007 election with three specific pledges (stop the Corrib oil refinery, rerouting the Tara motorway, and stopping the USAF using Shannon airport). I am uninformed about the merits of any of these policy issues, but I think that if you have three specific policies, and then you go into government and fail to achieve any of them, you should expect electoral annihilation, because voters are not idiots, and are not really interested in the theological question of whether you are a knave or a fool.

The Independents got a vote share sufficient for 21 seats, but will win only 19; however since that is essentially the result of two dozen separate races it’s difficult to read much into it (and I have made no attempt to disaggregate the leftish independents from the rest). But if I were FG I would look quite carefully at the option of locking in seven or eight or nine independents to form a single party government, rather than share the spoils from the best election result in 88 years with the resurgent Labour Party.

Anyway, more fun to come as they try to cobble together an administration!

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Gibbon Chapter XLIV: Justinian V – his legal legacy

An analysis of the Roman legal tradition, describing Justinian’s crucial role in establishing a permanent legal code, and then taking it area by area, starting from philiosophical first principles about society and government and explaining how the law developed. Strongly recommended to my lawyer friends. I then go on to discuss democracy and sex (warning – gruesome details regarding the latter).

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Doctor Who Rewatch: 18

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Destiny of the Daleks. This is mainly for reasons other than the Daleks or Davros: Lalla Ward’s arrival is a breath of fresh air, as she takes on the role of junior clown to Baker, and Adams’ humorous twists to Nation’s script are very entertaining. Indeed, one feels that he has got the bit between his teeth as script editor to make Who into what he had wanted it to be in the Hartnell era (he was the first real fan to grow up to get into the series). And the basic idea of the plot, that the Daleks need Davros (at long last) so that his knowledgw ill help them break the stalemate, is sound.

The story has its downsides as well. Of the various people who have played Davros, David Gooderson is far and away the least impressive, and one wonders why people are so interested in where he is. The Daleks are exposed mercilessly by the script editor who is laughing at his own youthful thrills on their first appearance. And, for humanoid robots, I find the Movellans rather kinkily attractive (plus their weakness is even more dismal than the Daleks’ inability to climb). But all the same it was a better story than I remembered.

In the essay collection Time and Relative Dissertations in Space, one contributor makes the argument that City of Death is the best Doctor Who story ever. I don’t quite go that far – my youthful loyalty to The Deadly Assassin won’t let me – but I think that the second episode in particular is one of the best in the entire history of the show, and found myself tweeting the best lines to the world at large as I watched it on my way to work. (“My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems.” “My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.”) There is a tremendous buzz between Baker and Ward, which converts even a banal trip on the Paris Metro into a journey of mystery and wonder.

The supporting cast are fantastic as well; Julian Glover and Catherine Schell in particular as the Count and Countess (and we are left to speculate about exactly what has been going on in their marriage). Somehow I found myself more forgiving of the special effects than on previous occasions when I had watched it. Perhaps I was just in a good mood. It may not be the best story ever, but I’ll allow it to nip ahead of Horror of Fang Rock as the best of the Graham Williams era.

Again, I was surprised by how much I liked The Creature from the Pit. One’s expectations are subverted a little; there’s more to it than the usual ruler-oppresses-subjects-who-the-Doctor-liberates, throwing in the question of metal poverty, the wolfweeds (which again I found myself more tolerant of, watched in their historical context) and Catweazle as the astrologer. Even the Creature is not as utterly awful as I remembered it.

The change in K9’s voice, this being the first of the four stories where David Brierly provided it, did grate; I’ll have more to say about this in my next write-up, but I just don’t think he sounds robotic enough, and perhaps his smart-aleckishness is more annoying than cute. And the other weak point is that the story basically ends at the end of the third episode, and another plot has to be invented out of nowhere to fillepisode four, which is poor pacing.

Alas, with Nightmare of Eden, things take a serious downturn. It would have made a half-decent space opera style story with a Message About Drugs, but is let down by two significant failings. The Mandrells are probably the least impressive monsters in a season that featured some very poor monsters indeed (Movellans with their power-packs, the Creature and the wolfweeds, the Nimon and the Krargs). And the two merged spaceships do not look sufficiently different from each other – nor indeed do their crew seem sufficiently different – to distinguish between them, so there are not sufficient cues to work out what is going on. This is largely (but not solely) the fault of the director, Alan Bromley, who was sacked halfway through filming.

There are things here which came closer to working – the idea of the planeetary surfaces trapped in the crystals, the sinister involvement of the scientists in drug-smuggling, the romance between Stott and Della. But one feels that the poisonous atmosphere which resulted in Bromley’s departure deterred the rest of the cast and crew from giving their best.

The Horns of Nimon suffers from being a second space opera in a row, and from being an indifferent story immediately after a bad one. (I’m trying to think of another consecutive pair of stories which are both largely set on spaceships, and failing.) The story is rather basic – a re-telling of Theseus, with the Minotaur as intelligent manipulative aliens instead of subterranean half-human horror, but it’s lifted from awfulness by Graham Crowden’s superb Soldeed, and by Janet Ellis who out-acts her male lead despite much more slender material.

But it’s not a good story. One thing that always sets off my alarm bells is the behaviour of the extras in group scenes. The Anethans here are not well directed – they always look as if they are in the same well-rehearsed position for mass cowering while the Co-Pilot yells at them that they are weakling scum; they have clearly been given no direction as to how to react, or indeed ghow to look particularly interesting. The Co-Pilot is not named either, which is another sign of incomplete preparation. And the Nimon, while not as bad as the Mandrells, are pretty poor as well. A sour note on which to end the broadcast Graham Williams stories. I felt a slight lump in my throat as I watched the closing titles of the last episode, knowing that this was the last time they appeared on television.

But that isn’t the end; because I also decided to rewatch Shada, or more specifically the 1992 reconstruction in which Tom Baker supplies linking narrative between the footage that was actually shot. The bits that we have are mainly the scenes set in Cambridge, which is a huge nostalgia trip for me, and a few of the spaceship scenes. The story is exceptionallyconvoluted and makes very little sense, but for once it actually looks reasonably good, the script is witty, and Denis Carey and the two leads are in excellent form (I’m less convinced by Christopher Neame’s Skagra, let alone the Krargs). If the show had been completed, we would regard the Williams/Adams era as having finished on a reasonably high note, preparing the way for the Nathan-Turner years to come.

Graham Williams’ three seasons end here. He obviously had serious problems in terms of money disappearing down the drain with inflation, the unions making filming difficult (and actually killing off his last story), and his inability to control Tom Baker. One also feels that he did not have Philip Hinchcliffe’s commitment to making it look good – this comes across particularly in his last two broadcast stories – and the introduction of K9 is not perhaps Who’s greatest moment. But he did work with three excellent script editors, the great Robert Holmes, the underrated Anthony Read and the celebrated Douglas Adams; it’s a shame that he wasn’t quite able to get better results out of them.

Well, that takes us to 72% of total Old Who minutes, 71% of all Old Who episodes, 68% of all Old Who stories, and 59% of time elapsed from 23 November 1963 to 6 December 1989. Next up is most of the last Tom Baker season.

< An Unearthly Child – The Aztecs | The Sensorites – The Romans | The Web Planet – Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown – The Gunfighters | The Savages – The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace – Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen – The Wheel In Space | The Dominators – The Space Pirates | The War Games – Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil – The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils – Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks – The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders – Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons – The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora – The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock – The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation – The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks – Shada | The Leisure Hive – The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis – The Visitation | Black Orchid – Mawdryn Undead | Terminus – The Awakening | Frontios – Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos – In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet – Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield – The TV Movie >

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February Books 21) Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

So we reach the end of the Scott Pilgrim saga, with Scott doing battle against the last of Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends, this time the sinister Gideon, who keeps his ex-girlfriends in cryogenic storage inside his head. O’Malley is much more explicit here that the whole series is about how we come to grips with the demons of our own personal past; Scott and Ramona confront and defeat them (after deadly and literally heart-rending struggle, told through the medium of comic-book adaptation of video-games), Gideon is unable to move on and loses. Many good lines, of which my favourite is where Scott says to Ramona, “Things can’t be the same, can they?” and she replies, “Dude, things never were the same. Change is… it’s what we get.” A really heart-warming and memorable conclusion to an excellent series.

Right, must watch the film next.

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Whoniversaries 27 February

i) births and deaths

27 February 1946: birth of Tom Chadbon, who played Duggan in City of Death (1979) and Merdeen in The Mysterious Planet (1986), and also various Big Finish roles including Harry Sullivan’s younger brother Will in the second Sarah Jane Smith series.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 February 1965: broadcast of “Escape to Danger”, third episode of the story we now call The Web Planet. Ian escapes and joins with Vrestin of the Menoptera; the Aniums forces the Doctor to help it.

27 February 1971: broadcast of fifth part of The Mind of Evil. The Master and the Doctor together try to subdue the Keller Machine, and UNIT raids the prison to retake the missile.

27 February 2009: broadcast of A Day in the Death (Torchwood), the one with undead Owen and Richard Briers as the dying guy with the alien device.

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February Books 20) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the first volume of Sherlock Holmes stories, and includes several rather brilliant tales of detection – my favourite is “The Red-Headed League”, but it also includes “The Speckled Band” and “The Blue Carbuncle”. “The Engineer’s Thumb” is another good one – even though Holmes’ only deduction is the location of the crime, and even that turns out to be too late, it is an effective piece of horror.

However, the collection also includes several stories which are already getting a bit formulaic – the country house with the Awful Family Secret (“The Speckled Band” being the best), the disrupted wedding (the best of these is “A Case of Identity”, not the over-rated “Scandal in Bohemia”). I can already sense why Doyle wanted to kill Holmes off.

Following my remarks about drugs in The Sign of Four, I note that Watson does indeed find Holmes in an opium den looking for “The Man with the Twisted Lip” (which is actually a rather weak story – the alert reader will work out where the man is long before Holmes does). But both Holmes and Watson agree that opium is worse than cocaine. Certainly opium use had a strong social and racial stigma, which Doyle does not challenge; indeed, in general these twelve stories are much less subversive than the two first novels, and were correspondingly more successful, though this reader is a bit disappointed.

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Scores on the doors #GE11

Well, tallies are now in at least for all constituencies and Tipperary South, Dublin West and Dublin Mid West have actually completed all counts in the election, so it looks as if the new Dáil will look as follows:

  Fianna Fáil Fine Gael Labour Sinn Féin Green Others
Carlow-Kilkenny 2 2 1
Cavan-Monaghan 1 2 2
Clare 1 2 1
Cork East 1 2 1
Cork North Central 1 1 1 1
Cork North West 1 2
Cork South Central 2 2 1
Cork South West 1 2 0
Donegal North East 1 1 1
Donegal South West 1 1 1
Dublin Central 0 1 1 1 1
Dublin Mid West 2 2 0
Dublin North 0 2 1 1
Dublin North Central 1 1 1
Dublin North East 1 1 1
Dublin North West 0 2 1
Dublin South 0 3 1 1
Dublin South Central 1 2 1 1
Dublin South East 2 2
Dublin South West 1 2 1
Dublin West 1 1 1 1
Dun Laoghaire 2 1 1
Galway East 1 2 1
Galway West 1 2 1 1
Kerry North-West Limerick 1 1 1
Kerry South 1 0 2
Kildare North 2 1 1
Kildare South 1 1 1
Laois-Offaly 2 2 1
Limerick City 1 2 1
Limerick 1 2
Longford-Westmeath 1 2 1
Louth 0+CC 2 1 1
Mayo 1 4 0
Meath East 0 2 1
Meath West 0 2 1
Roscommon-South Leitrim 2 0 1
Sligo-North Leitrim 1 2 0
Tipperary North 1 1 1
Tipperary South 1 2
Waterford 1 2 1
Wexford 1 2 1 1
Wicklow 3 1 1
Total 25+CC 74 33 13 0 20

I have bolded where my predictions from yesterday were wrong or are likely to prove so. Overall I think I gave FG four seats too many, Labour three seats too many, Independents three seats too few and Fianna Fáil four seats too few. This was partly a general bias of wishful thinking; I observe however that the voters were even more cruel to FF than my predictions in Dublin, Louth and Meath, where I had expected they would win eight seats but in fact they will get only one; conversely they will win eleven seats elsewhere in the country (of their total of 25!) which I did not expect. SF will miss seats I thought they would get in SligoNorth Leitrim and Dublin West, but will get seats I thought they wouldn’t in Laois-Offaly and Meath West. I am kicking myself for two obvious errors, failing to spot Shane Ross’s likely victory in Dublin South, and giving Labour two seats in Kildare South where they had only one candidate. But overall I’m not displeased with my punditry, though I should have been a little more conservative with respect to the three big parties and a bit more imaginative with respect to the independents.

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The day has come

Back in 1989 as we watched the Berlin Wall falling, I remember remarking to someone that I would find myself some day explaining to my children what Communism had once been.

This morning, young F. caught a newspaper headline about the Arab revolutions and asked about revolutions in general. This rapidly got us to 1989, and his next question was, “So what was Communism?”

The day has come.

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February Books 19) Chicks Dig Time Lords, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea

I was unreasonably grumpy about having to order this book physically from a real bookshop last year. It was well worth going to some extra trouble to get hold of it. It’s a lovely collection of 27 essays by fans of Doctor Who, ranging from the gleeful to the mildly profound (as far as one can be in less than ten pages), ranging over various aspects of the fannish experience – watching the show, watching the show with your family (including one on what it feel like if your brother grows up to be Captain Jack Harkness, and two which caught at my heartstrings in which Who fans find themselves parenting children with special needs), conventions, fanzines, costuming, fan fiction, feminism, race, and lots and lots of references to Livejournal. Several of the contributors discuss how it was that New Who was more attractive to female fans than the ghosts of Old Who pre-2005, and I found it interesting at the time (and interesting again to review) how New Who’s success led to a revival of interest in Old Who and to it being appreciated and dissected in new ways.

I think I’ve only met one of the contributors – Kathryn Sullivan, who I was on a panel with at the 2005 Worldcon, and who writes here about fanzines – but I finished the book feeling tremendously warmed by a strong sense of community with the authors, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Who of any period.

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Whoniversaries 26 February

i) births and deaths

26 February 1938: birth of Tony Selby, who played Sabalom Glitz in The Mysterious Planet (1986), The Ultimate Foe (also 1986) and Dragonfire (1987).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

26 February 1966: broadcast of “Bell of Doom”, fourth episode of the story we now call The MassacreThe Sea Devils, the one with the guest appearance by the Clangers. The Doctor and Jo visit the imprisoned Master, and investigate attacks on nearby sea forts.

26 February 1977: broadcast of first episode of The Talons of Weng Chiang. The Doctor and Leela land in Victorian London where they get mixed up in the investigation of a series of brutal murders.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 2-25-2011

  • Notes from canvassing (in the 2007 Irish election)
    (tags: politics)
  • Somehow this had passed me by when it was released: Nena looking fantastic at 49, revisiting her classic in an idiom of video games. Compare also the original at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQYQTFudrqc (she was 23 then).
    (tags: video)
  • There are good examples of good practice in political communications, and there are bad examples. Yesterday’s performance by the UUP was the absolutely perfect representation of the bad examples. In fact, the UUP contrived to oppose banning sectarian chants at football matches, and then its Health Minister managed to find a more pressing engagement than discussion of the Autism Bill. Now, it is just about possible that Ulster Unionists privately had some reservations about the exact wording of the relevant bills. However, the public at large sees only: “sectarian party doesn’t care about autistic children“.
  • Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. And Robert Frost took the one less traveled. Of course, he also heckled his rivals and started fires to disrupt their poetry readings. But that makes for a terrible motivational poster. Unless you're a petty pyromaniac. In which case, here you go.
    (tags: funny)
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Irish General Election: My prediction #GE11

This is based on no more than casual scrutiny of the analysis on PoliticalReform.ie, Slugger O’Toole and my own gut instincts.

Fianna Fáil Fine Gael Labour Sinn Féin Green Others
Carlow-Kilkenny 1 3 1
Cavan-Monaghan 1 2 2
Clare 3 1
Cork East 2 2
Cork North Central 2 1 1
Cork North West 1 2
Cork South Central 1 3 1
Cork South West 2 1
Donegal North East 1 1 1
Donegal South West 1 1 1
Dublin Central 1 1 1 1
Dublin Mid West 2 1 1
Dublin North 1 1 1 1
Dublin North Central 2 1
Dublin North East 1 1 1
Dublin North West 1 1 1
Dublin South 1 3 1
Dublin South Central 1 2 1 1
Dublin South East 2 2
Dublin South West 1 2 1
Dublin West 1 1 1 1
Dun Laoghaire 2 1 1
Galway East 1 3
Galway West 2 1 2
Kerry North-West Limerick 2 1
Kerry South 1 1 1
Kildare North 1 2 1
Kildare South 1 2
Laois-Offaly 2 3
Limerick City 1 2 1
Limerick 1 2
Longford-Westmeath 2 2
Louth 1+CC 2 1
Mayo 4 1
Meath East 1 1 1
Meath West 1 2
Roscommon-South Leitrim 2 1
Sligo-North Leitrim 2 1
Tipperary North 1 1 1
Tipperary South 1 2
Waterford 1 2 1
Wexford 1 3 1
Wicklow 2 1 2
Total 21+CC 78 36 13 0 17

Basically I started with a specific set of estimated seat totals, and then worked back to fill the constituencies. This will mean that I am wildly out on the specifics but possibly a bit more accurate in general. By this time tomorrow we will start to have an idea of today’s results.

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February Books 18) The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle

One thing that surprised me about The Sign of Four is its brevity – only 76 pages in my Complete Sherlock Holmes. But I think this shows a somewhat more disciplined approach by Doyle, and also perhaps a growing awareness that “less is more” which leads to the success of the short stories. It’s still not as tight as it could be – once again the actual mystery, which is literally a locked-room murder, gets rather sidelined in the tale of dangerous foreigners coming to disrupt London to gain an ancient revenge, though this time they are thieves from the East (and in fact, of the two only one is actually foreign, it is the other who is actually the thief, and it is really the conveniently dead English fathers, Sholto and Morstan, who are the villains) rather than religious fanatics from the West.

There’s a lot of family in this short book. We start with Watson and his brother, then we encounter the Morstans, the Sholtos, and Jonathan Small and his adopted family of fellow conspirators with the child-like Tonga (very small; can’t talk properly; er, also kills people with a blowpipe – I admit the analogy is not perfect). The book ends with the establishment of a new family as Watson gets engaged to Mary Morstan, who he has known for, what, two days? Of course, the point is to increase the dramatic effect as the reader imagines his or her normal family life being disrupted by the mistakes of previous generations, but I found it striking.

Sherlock Holmes has no family. (Mycroft and Vernet are in the future.) For him, as he says at the end, “there still remains the cocaine-bottle.” I can’t think of another novel which portrays the use of cocaine in such a positive light – “so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind”. In fact, I can’t think of many novels about drug use at all, other than Philip K. Dick, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson, and even their more enthusiastic moments have a conscious sense of self-destruction about them. Again, Doyle is more subversive than I had realised. (And he has another, if briefer, go at the cosy relationship between the media and the police.)

I’m finding more in these than I had expected to. On to the classic short stories next.

Edited to add: new userpic is from a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle to my distant cousin Frederic.)

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Whoniversaries 25 February

broadcast anniversaries

25 February 1967: broadcast of third episode of The Moonbase. The Cybermen take over the base, but Polly works out a way of killing them with nail varnish remover.

25 February 1978: broadcast of fourth episode of The Invasion of Time. Leela and the Shobogans combine with the Doctor to destroy the Vardans; but the Sontarans have landed.

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February Books 17) A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

I’ve started to work my way through the complete Sherlock Holmes, inspired by last year’s rather glorious TV adaptation, and of course this is the place to start. I read most (possibly all) of Holmes as a teenager so it’s a return to former pastures.

Inevitably I started by comparing with the Moffat “A Study in Pink”. Common elements obviously include Watson’s time in Afghanistan and the cab driver, and I had forgotten about the bit with the pills being also in the original. The TV version is less satisfying as a mystery; in the original, Holmes works out who the murderer must be pretty early on by powers of observation and deduction, and then uses unorthodox methods (the Baker Street Irregular) to track the killer down. Much of this happens off-screen, in Holmes’ head, but it works in the voice of the baffled Watson. The Mormon back-story is merely chrome – any old grudge would do for plot purposes, though the TV version skipped even that – but gives Doyle a chance for imaginative and descriptive writing.

One point that struck me more forcefully this time round is Doyle’s merciless portrayal of police manipulation of the media to show themselves in the best possible light. In a story which is full of trendy commentary – Holmes is at the cutting edge of biochemical technology, he goes to see the current star female musician – this reads to me like a tremendously subversive and very direct attack on the integrity of the state institutions of coercive force, and their successful formation and constraint of public opinion. Perhaps this seemed normal enough to me as a teenager growing up in Belfast, but it feels rather shocking to me now for a writer of the 1880s to say this. It furnishes Holmes with the sardonic Latin epigram which ends the story. Of course it’s partly to reinforce the image of Holmes as background genius, but I think there is a sincere political commentary there too.

(And finally, I am always amused by my brother’s appearance in Chapter 5.)

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Whoniversaries 24 February

broadcast anniversaries

24 February 1968: broadcast of fourth episode of The Web of Fear. Lethbridge-Stewart (*sigh*) leads a sortie to the surface but returns battered to the base as the only survivor; and the Yeti break in, with the possessed Travers.

24 February 1973: broadcast of first episode of Frontier in Space. The Doctor and Jo land on a space freighter and are accused of being Draconian spies; the freighter is attacked by Ogrons but the crew think they are Draconians.

24 February 1979: broadcast of sixth part of The Armageddon Factor, ending Season 15; last regular appearance of Mary Tamm as Romana. Princess Astra herself is the last segment of the Key to Time; the Doctor assembles it, and the Black Guardian attempts to trick him into giving it to him. But the Doctor disperses the segments across the universe again.

24 February 1984: broadcast of second part of Planet of Fire. On Sarn, the Doctor is captured by Timanov and Peri by the Master (but she escapes).

24 February 1993: broadcast of sixth part of The Ghosts of N-Space on BBC radio; final appearance of Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. The Doctor and Sarah enter N-Space where Sarah redeems Louisa and the Doctor defeats Vilmio, and the Brigadier’s uncle’s castle is saved.

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February Books 16) Short Trips, edited by Stephen Cole

I think that this was the first anthology of short stories featuring the first eight Doctors produced by the BBC, back in 1998. I had heard a couple of them previously from the audio release narrated by the late Nicholas Courtney and Sophie Aldred, but it’s nice to have the hard copy. The audio version memorably included the first Iris story, “Old Flames”; the book also has a very good First Doctor historical story, “The Last Days”, set during the siege of Masada, by one Evan Pritchard who is apparently really Rebecca Levene. A couple of others worth mentioning: “Freedom” by Steve Lyons, a nice Brigadier/Three/Master story; “Mondas Passing” by Paul Grice, not actually as good a story but a reflection on what Ben and Polly did in 1986, twenty years on; and “The People’s Temple” by Paul Leonard, a creepy take on Stonehenge. A collection that is worth looking out for.

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My Delicious cross-posting isn’t working reliably, so I’m on the lookout for alternatives which will aggregate links and post them here on a daily basis. What should have appeared last night:

YouTube – Australian broadcaster Belinda Heggen Mocks TV Co-Host
"Belinda, I just can’t understand how something so small can be so impressive.” “Well, Mark, *you* would know about that."

Analyzing The Beach Boys’s lyrical content
Classification of young American females according to Brian Wilson. (The Beach Boy, not the North Down politician.)

Libya’s regime at 40: a state of kleptocracy | openDemocracy
Analysis of Libya from September 2009 by the late great Fred Halliday.

Why are Middle East dictators so bad at media? | Daniel W. Drezner

YouTube – The Eleventh Hour Nineteenth Minute: The Irish Political Party
"You want a better Ireland. Of course you do. We don’t. We want one that we can be in charge of." Also, wigs.

R.I.P. Nicholas Courtney, Doctor Who’s Trustiest Companion
Nicholas Courtney obituary, with videos.

YouTube – Doctor Who Brigadier Skit "The Unsung Hero" – Gallifrey One Masquerade 2010
Tribute to the Brigadier

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Whoniversaries 23 February

A sad day yesterday, with the passing of Nicholas Courtney. On to today’s anniversaries:

i) births and deaths

23 February 1918: birth of Bill Strutton, writer of The Web Planet (1965) and the novelisation Doctor Who and the Zarbi.

23 February 1928: birth of Bernard Kay, who played Tyler in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964), Saladin in The Crusade (1965), Crossland in The Faceless Ones (1967) and Caldwell in Colony in Space (1971).

23 February 1935: birth of Gerry Davis, script editor of Doctor Who from The Celestial Toymaker (1966) to part 3 of The Evil of the Daleks (1967), co-writer of The Tenth Planet (1966), The Highlanders (1967), and Tomb of the Cybermen (1967-68), and sole writer of Revenge of the Cybermen (1975).

23 February 2009: death of Laurence Payne, who played Johnny Ringo in The Gunfighters (1966), Morix in The Leisure Hive (1980), and Dastari in The Two Doctors (1985).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

23 February 1974: broadcast of first episode of Death to the Daleks. The Tardis lands on Exxilon, suffering a power drain; the Doctor finds a stranded earth ship, Sarah is captured by the natives and the Daleks arrive.

23 February 1982: broadcast of fourth episode of The Visitation. The Doctor and friends pursue the Terileptils to London and destroy their base, leading to a much bigger conflagration.

23 February 1983: broadcast of fourth episode of TerminusPlanet of FireJim’ll Fix It with Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and young Gareth Jenkins saving the earth from, well, Sontarans.

also 23 February 1985: broadcast of second episode of The Two Doctors. The Sixth Doctor, Jamie and Peri pursue the Sontarans and the Second Doctor to Spain, where the anthropophagous and hungry Shockeye captures Peri.

I don’t count this as one of the dates when six episodes of Old Who were broadcast, though fans of “A Fix with Sontarans” may differ.

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February Books 15) The Hounds of Artemis, by James Goss

I had been very much looking forward to this audiobook, featuring the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond, after Goss’s brilliant Tenth Doctor story, Dead Air. In the event I was very slightly disappointed, in that rather than the promised Matt Smith / Karen Gillan double bill of readers, Smith is joined instead by Clare Corbett (who had two minor but still memorable parts in the Tom Baker Hornet’s Nest audios). But that was really the only problem; it’s a great tale of archaeological investigations in 1929 uncovering an ancient horror, a story which has of course been done many times before (including several times in Doctor Who, one of which is indeed explicitly referenced) but done here with humour and sympathy as well as easy horror, and with lots of rather glorious character moments for Smith as the Doctor. Well worth hunting down, if you can find a copy of Saturday’s Guardian, or wait until the commercial release in May.

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February Books 14) Elizabeth I, by Christopher Haigh

This is one of the shortest of the various books I have read about Elizabeth I, and also one of the best. Haigh eschews the usual chronology of her life and reign and instead concentrates on her relations with the various centres of power: the church, the nobility, the Council, her own court, parliament, the military, and the people, dealing with each separately over the 44 years from late 1558 to early 1603.

I learned a lot from this revisionist account. The standard picture of Elizabeth as heroine of Protestantism doesn’t sit well with her recorded restraint of the puritans, her refusal to persecute the Catholics to the extent that her Protestant advisers wanted, and indeed her flirtations with potential Catholic husbands. Indeed, Haigh points out convincingly that the Council was much more Protestant than the Queen, to the point of orchestrating demonstrations of popular and political enthusiasm for Protestantism to try and keep her in line; Elizabeth found it very difficult to make a firm choice – witness her vacillation over execcuting Mary Queen of Scots, or intervening in the Netherlands.

I must say this explains a lot for me; if Elizabeth was perceived as being soft on religious issues, her advisers who were more hardline must have always been desperate to ensure she stayed on the straight and narrow, particularly since they held office only on her whim. Though in fact she rarely changed the guard – of her eleven councillors in 1597, six were sons or stepsons of the councillors at the start of her reign (the Cecils being only the most visible example). In other ways, too, she did not change the set-up much; the only man elevated to the House of Lords in her entire reign who did not come from a noble family was William Cecil.

I still wish I understood a bit more about the workings of the court. On Haigh’s account, it was a question of physical presence and ability to attract the right patrons, with devious machinations sometimes having dramatic results: for instance, both Sir John Perrot and the Earl of Essex were manipulated by their enemies into accepting the job of ruling Ireland in order to get them away from the royal presence, with ultimately fatal results for both. What I missed, from my selfish perspective, was any account of the opposite dynamic, the Irish presence at court. Haigh notes that Elizabeth packed her household and the court with her Boleyn relatives: well, the mother of her grandfather Sir Thomas Boleyn was an Irish noblewoman, and I know from other sources that her Butler cousins were able to short-circuit the Irish administration by going directly to her, but I found nothing more about that here.

A particularly interesting chapter concerns the queen’s relationship with the military, both army and navy. Basically, in every single campaign, no matter how specific and direct the orders she gave her commanders, they simply ignored her and followed their own plans instead. Haigh chronicles instance after instance of this, very helpful for me because it makes Essex’s disastrous Irish expedition not a baffling anomaly but simply another, if rather massive, instance in a fatally inevitable pattern of behaviour from leading noblemen given military command. After the first two, or three, or five, or ten commanders escape with impunity from disobeying the sovereign’s orders, obviously there is no point in following them yourself. Haigh argues fairly convincingly that the military simply would not take instruction from a woman. It would be interesting to speculate a bit more on why Elizabeth took no action against her disobedient commanders; did she, perhaps, at some level, also feel that this was men’s work? (It has to be said that the aristocratic commanders were almost all pretty rotten at the job, and would probably have done at least as well if they had followed her orders ratehr than making up their own.)

There were a bunch of details here that I had not previously seen in histories of the time. I had not heard of, or had forgotten about, the Newhaven (Le Havre) venture, when the English tried and failed to occupy a French port previously held by the Huguenots. I had forgotten, or not read about, the efforts of the Earl of Arundel, Sir William Pickering, and King Eric XIV of Sweden to marry Elizabeth. And it hadn’t really struck me before, though it seems obvious once it is pointed out, that after three decades of success culminating in the failure of the Spanish Armada, the last third of her reign was a comparative failure. Anyway, all very absorbing, and a useful corrective to the standard account of Elizabethan glory.

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Whoniversaries 22 February

broadcast anniversaries

22 February 1964: broadcast of “The Roof of the World”, first episode of the story we now call Marco Polo. Trapped in the snow, the time travellers are rescued by Marco Polo, who however impounds the Tardis.

22 February 1969: broadcast of fifth episode of The Seeds of Death. the Doctor and friends get back to Earth and discover that the Ice Warrior’ pods are disabled by water.

22 February 1975: broadcast of first episode of The Sontaran Experiment The Doctor, Sarah and Harry discover that a bunch of South African astronauts are battling a mysterious alien foe who turns out to be a Sontaran.

22 February 1982: broadcast of third episode of The Visitation. The Terileptils plan to destroy humanity, and do destroy the sonic screwdriver.

22 February 1983: broadcast of third episode of Terminus. The Doctor realises tha the ship’s fuel dump actually caused the Big Bang.

22 February 2002: webcast of second part of “Planet of Blood”, the third episode of Death Comes to Time. Horrible slaughter discovered by the Doctor and Antimony in London; meanwhile Ace is undergoing mysterious training and there’s a time lord played by Stephen Fry. (I found it all a bit confusing.)

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Whoniversaries 21 February

i) births and deaths

21 February 1981: death of Ron Grainer, who composed the Doctor Who theme tune. According to the lore, he was so gobsmacked by Delia Derbyshire’s electronic arrangement of the music that he asked her, “Did I really write this?” “Most of it,” she replied. Of course he got the on-screen credit and she didn’t.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

21 February 1970: broadcast of fourth episode of Doctor Who and the Silurians. The Doctor tries to reason with the Silurians but is captured and attacked.

21 February 1976: broadcast of fourth episode of The Seeds of Doom. Keeler starts to turn into the Krynoid; Sarah saves the Doctor from the crusher; Sir Colin and Amelia investigate.

21 February 1981: broadcast of fourth episode of The Keeper of Traken. The Master captures the Doctor and attempts to use the Source to take over his body, but Adric and Nyssa shut down the Source to prevent him. But! The Master takes over Tremas’ body and escapes.

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More historic than I realised – my encounter with Gaddhafi

You may remember I attended last July’s African Union summit in Uganda as part of the Southern Sudanese delegation. One incident was sufficiently odd that I really could not quite bring myself to blog about it at the time, but the time has now come. It was on the Sunday, and we were milling around the buffet tables beside Lake Victoria finding our lunch, when we became aware of a biggish crowd, focussed on a single individual, approaching us from the main meeting tent. It was not difficult to see who was at the centre of this group, and I got a couple of decent pictures as he came towards where we were standing, before he swept past us:

I do not know who he was talking to; presumably another head of state, but one who is less well known. NB that there was no sign of the rumoured bodyguard of trained Ukrainian superwomen, though we understood that he was making his way to his personal travel tent, pitched further along the bay behind us.

At the time my sense was that he was being treated by the African leaders as an eccentric but rich old uncle; the road from Entebbe to Kampala sported posters ostensibly from the people of Uganda thanking him for his generosity, but these were clearly paid for by the Libyan government as a publicity stunt. How rapidly things can change. I doubt that there will be many posters thanking him for his generosity in his future.

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