The latest in this series of belated reviews tackles the morality quagmire that was A Town Called Mercy. This episode may have looked quite safe, using the classic western format to have a bit of fun with, but in reality the complicated question of revenge versus mercy made it anything but.
For me this episode was a welcome return to the classic ‘show up and see what’s going on’ format, with the Doctor, Amy and Rory arriving on the border of Mercy and strolling into town to check things out. As with most of the episode the western theme lent itself well to this scene. The glimpses of suspicious locals and the Doctor’s unceremoniously swift escort out of town could have seemed contrite and pantomime, but the ensuing sense of urgency, the appearance of the gunslinger and the genuine fear of the locals dispelled any fears of this episode being just a silly excuse for the Doctor to wear a stetson.
Throughout A Town Called Mercy the western setting continued to be the perfect backdrop for a well thought out story with a convincing moral struggle at its heart. It also managed this without resorting to caricature, which is something that last series’ pirate episode, The Curse of the Black Spot, struggled with. As an example, the young cowboy who challenged the Doctor outside the prison, although a bit of a stereotype, was nonetheless a believable character. He was afraid for his town and his friends and was trying to do something about it. On the other hand the crew of the pirate ship, although enjoyable to watch, were stereotypes that were sadly on the wrong side of farcical. That isn’t to say that The Curse of the Black Spot wasn’t fun – it was and even had a fairly strong emotional core to it – but it lacked the intellectual and moral depth of A Town Called Mercy. For my money, The Curse of the Black Spot was a good example of children’s television, whereas A Town Called Mercy was something that on some level will resonate with all audiences, on multiple levels, and which still enjoys the odd Stetson or two.
A town called…
The question of mercy was one of the main themes here, and specifically the juxtaposition of mercy with revenge. Devoted Doctor Who fans cannot have failed to notice all the references to sacrifice, war, betrayal and running away which will no doubt have struck a chord with the Doctor. Jex’s “you cannot apply the politics of peace to what I did” comment probably would have as well. When the young cowboy accuses the Doctor of “lacking the nerve to do what needs to be done“, i.e. let someone die so that others may live, we know that in the wake of the Time War this accusation will have been a painful one. Nobody but the Doctor is more aware of those he has let down. Maybe this is why he almost lets the gunslinger get Jex – in his words, honouring all the people who died because of his mercy – and why it isn’t until Amy says “we can’t be like him, we have to be better than him” that the Doctor changes his mind. This clash between Amy and the Doctor was particularly well acted by both parties, and I thought “this is what happens when you travel alone for too long” was a very effective throw-back to what Donna said to the Tenth Doctor in The Runaway Bride about him needing someone there to stop him.
However, in light of the above there is a notable disparity between the Doctor’s attitude here and in the previous episode. Here he relents and tries to save Jex. In Dinosaurs on a Spaceship he happily lets the missiles from the Indian Space Agency target and blow up Solomon’s ship, clearly killing him. I mentioned in my last post how this didn’t seem very ‘Doctorly’ of him and I had put that down to character evolution. Now I’m not so sure. Admittedly Solomon was a particularly nasty character who had threatened to kill the Doctor and his companions whereas Jex’s acts were committed in war and are arguably less morally culpable (“you cannot apply the politics of peace to what I did“), but even so having these two characters appear in concurrent episodes and having the Doctor react so differently to them does seem a bit inconsistent.
And while we’re talking about references, the other one that I enjoyed was about there being two alien doctors and the Doctor’s comment “we’re like buses!” Keen fans will have spotted a parallel here with the Christmas episode The Next Doctor, though frankly the less said about that episode the better.
The Best in the West
Turning to the episode generally now I must again commend the production team for their efforts. This was another very well put-together episode from the props and costumes to the staging and effects. I particularly liked the scene where the Doctor was in Jex’s space ship looking at his personal files. Even though the only thing we saw was the Doctor’s face and his reactions we knew full well what he was looking at. As anyone who’s ever seen The Woman In Black on stage will tell you, never underestimate the power of effective lighting and sound.
A Town Called Mercy was also very well paced. In a way the twist when we find out who Jex really is was quite obviously coming, because without it everything would have been sorted out less than halfway through and there wouldn’t have been anything to do for the rest of the episode. The way the plot emerged from this twist was very cleverly managed and meant that the audience had time to appreciate the moral implications of what was going on as well as enjoying all the cowboy and I-speak-horse stuff.
The use of the narrator at the end of the episode was a perfect piece of closure, rounding off the gunslinger’s story with what I suppose is the closest thing he could get to a happy ending.
- “I’ve matured, I’m 1200 years old now, plus I don’t want to miss the archers.“
- The stetson with a hole in reminded me of how River shot the stetson of the Doctor’s head at the start of The Impossible Astronaut.
- The undertaker taking coffin measurements for the Doctor gave some good moments of light relief
- The horse called Susan (“and he wants you to respect his life choices“) was very “I speak baby” a la A Good Man Goes To War and Closing Time.
- “He’s programmed to take innocent lives only if absolutely necessary.” “Oh we’ll colour me reassured!“
- The frightened villagers were reminiscent of the passengers in Midnight.
- “He may be a criminal and a bit creepy…” “And still in the room!”
- “Our friends are going to start noticing that we’re aging faster than them.“
- “I am a creature of war, I have no role to play during peace.” “Except maybe to protect it.“
Try as I might I don’t think I can come up with a more fun title for my (admittedly belated) review of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship that the one given to the actual episode, so it will have to do. In a fortuitous turn of events the episode itself was rather excellent, really well paced and very enjoyable with a lot for us fans to dig our teeth into. So, like a triceratops in pursuit of a dirty golf ball, let’s get on with it shall we?
Call a Doctor!
For a second time in the new series Amy and Rory are not with the Doctor at the start of the episode. Rather than being kidnapped, this time he’s been summoned by the Indian Space Agency to help them deal with a spaceship that’s on a crash course with Earth. But let’s just pause there for a second, because I can’t be the only one who was wondering who on Earth the Indian Space Agency are, and why it’s them liaising with the Doctor rather than, say, UNIT or some other familiar military body. Admittedly I did miss the bit of text saying 2367AD so I was really confused about how the ISA had such good technology in 2012, but even so I did think it was a bit of a weird for the first few minutes of the episode to be centred around a new and largely unexplained military body who have the power to summon the Doctor whenever they need him.
I also noticed the parallel here with the start of Asylum of the Daleks where Darla von Karlsen summoned the Doctor to Skaro. In a way this sort of opening is good because there are fewer instances of the Doctor et al just happening upon some alien monster somewhere in time and space, and doing so just in time to do something about it all. However, if the Doctor can suddenly be summoned so easily doesn’t it undermine some of the intrigue of him being this lone traveller figure, not to mention the fact that the universe is supposed to think that he’s dead now? The format of having to go and fetch Amy and Rory at the start of each episode is a bit weird as well, though here it did work rather well for getting Rory’s dad into the TARDIS (but more on him later).
One other parallel that I spotted was with Solomon’s “Argos for the universe” scanner. When it couldn’t find any record of the Doctor Solomon declared “You don’t exist…” This goes back to what I said last time about memory as a theme (see? It’s everywhere!) and shows why the Doctor wanted to be forgotten after the end of the last series. Given how insistent Solomon was about owning Nefertiti imagine the lengths he’d have gone to to profit from the Doctor if he’d known who he was!
The Doctor’s Queen?
At first I was a little confused by Nefertiti and her flirtatious relationship with the Doctor. Admittedly he has had dalliances with famous historical women before (notably Elizabeth I as referenced in The Shakespeare Code and The End of Time) but this seems like something more. It also reminded me very strongly of the relationship that the Doctor has with River Song, although that said the actress Riann Steele did manage to make Nefertiti a distinct and believable character far removed enough from River to avoid treading on most of her toes. Happily for River, the flirting between Nefertiti and the explorer John Riddell and their joint departure from the TARDIS indicates that River doesn’t have anything to worry about from Nefertiti. Probably just as well too. Imagine a face-off between those two! Phwoar!
“…the new us?”
Early on in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Amy brings up a poignant issue when she asks the Doctor whether Nefertiti and Riddell are “the new us”. Given that the Doctor’s over 1000 years old at this point she knows that he will have other companions, but she clearly didn’t expect them to appear so soon or to overlap (somewhat echoing the audience’s reaction to Jenna-Louise Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks). This is one of a number of nods towards the departure of Amy and Rory, first hinted at within the show in the brief flash-forwards in the Pond Life mini-series. When the Doctor tells Amy “You’ll be there ‘til the end of me” and she replies “Or vice versa!” the look on his face was reminiscent of the tenth Doctor when he had this same conversation with Rose in School Reunion. Not long afterwards Rose found herself trapped in a parallel universe, though on the bright side she did have her family there with her. We can only speculate about the fate that awaits Amy and Rory but it seems that the Doctor knows something about it given his expression in this scene and again at the end of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship when he’s stood behind the Ponds at the door of the TARDIS. However they depart the show I’m not expecting much in the way of silver linings for the Ponds. That’s more of a Russell T Davies ending. Stephen Moffat, for all of his “everybody lives” storylines, doesn’t seem so forgiving.
But enough of the gloomy stuff. Let us now take a moment to appreciate the brilliance that was Mark Williams as Rory’s dad, Brian Williams (or Brian Pond if you like). He fitted in wonderfully to the wacky world of the Eleventh Doctor and provided some great moments of light relief with his golf balls and bewildered looks. He also provided some emotional depth to the story when the Mitchell-and-Webb-bots shot him, and in the subsequent pocket-pack bonding between himself and Rory (“You get to see my awesome nursing skills in action for once”). By far my favourite Brian moment however was when he and Rory were flying the Silurian ship. This bit was so much fun to watch and was really well acted by both of the male Ponds with the visual effects complementing their performance superbly. In fact while I’m on that point the effects in the whole episode were outstanding, especially with the dinosaurs and the external shots of the Silurian ship. The episode was also really well paced and was consistently engaging, and given this and the high production values on the series so far I’m impressed and excited to see this trend continue.
Turning to the episode generally now, and as usual I thoroughly enjoyed Matt Smith’s quirky Doctorisms such as using his tongue to check where the beach was, making comments about his Christmas list and doing inappropriate jokes about monkeys. Also, as per usual, his switch between comical and serious when he realised who Solomon was and what he was doing was superbly performed, and in dealing with Solomon we saw some of the same wrath that the Doctor displayed in episodes like Human Nature/The Family of Blood. Some have said that the Doctor’s attitude here wasn’t very ‘Doctorly’, especially after all that was said by the Tenth Doctor about how he was the “man who never would” (in The Doctor’s Daughter after Jenny had been shot). This is a noteworthy point, but I think that this is a natural part of the evolution of the character from his tenth to eleventh incarnation and that it gives a fresh angle to his personality. You could say that he’s less predictable now. In a very Batman Begins sort of way, although would never kill you that doesn’t mean he has to save you either.
Another quirk that I enjoyed was Mitchell and Webb as the voices of the robots, providing a few great one-liners and some fun bickering throughout the episode. However, if I’m honest I wasn’t a huge fan of the fun Mitchell-and-Webb-bots becoming remorseless killing machines at Solomon’s whim. For me as a fan of the comedy duo I did think this took their involvement a little bit beyond comfortable, and as a result I was glad that the robots weren’t talking when, for example, they shot the triceratops. (As an aside, triceratopses do seem to be the go-to dinosaur for emotional scenes don’t they? Remember that sick one in Jurassic Park? Maybe it’s the same one trying to break back into acting. Good luck to it if so!)
I was also a fan of the plot generally, especially the Silurian Ark aspect of it. To summarise what I know of the history of the Silurians, they are a pre-historic Earth race some of whom left the planet while others migrated underground and went into suspended animation to avoid extinction from the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Given this, the idea of them building an Ark to preserve the species that were alive at the time seems a very realistic one. Well, as realistic as it can be when it’s a TV show about a mad-man in a box traveling through space and time. But the thing that I most like about the use of the Silurians here is that it makes them into a more consistent presence in the New Who canon (i.e. the series from 2005 onwards). Before now we’ve only had one proper Silurian story (The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood), and despite glimpses in The Pandorica Opens and the strong female Silurian character in A Good Man Goes To War they haven’t really featured in New Who. Using them here as a plot point but not as a direct antagonist that needs to be ‘defeated’ is a good way of keeping them on the audience’s radar. To build on what I said about the Daleks in my last review, the reason I’m a fan of maintaining a consistent presence for classic Doctor Who monsters is that that’s what they are – classic! New monsters are all well and good (the Weeping Angels in particular are excellent) but the Doctor has so much history with his classic foes that it seems a shame that we don’t see as much of them. As a fan of New Who who’s seen hardly any of the classic series (I know, shame on me) I really like being introduced to classic monsters like the Silurians as it gives me a connection to the old series that I can then explore. Doing this with more of the classic monsters will give newer fans like me that link to Classic Who, and in my mind this is a Good Thing.
- “I had two very disappointed dancers on my hands. Not that I couldn’t manage.“
- Everything about the triceratops. I was so upset when it died!
- “There’s so much to discover, think how much wiser we’ll all be at the end of all this!“
- The Doctor saying “Where’s a Silurian audience when you need one!?” after his monkey joke fell flat.
- Although it turned out not to be very relevant, when we first see Solomon watching the Doctor on the TV screen the console that we can see around it looked very like the one of the other TARDIS that we saw in The Lodger.
- “What sort of man doesn’t have a trowel?!“
- Filch (David Bradley) was very good as Solomon!
- “I’ve spent enough time with the doctor to know that when you enter somewhere you press buttons.” This line was one of many bits that showed a really clever and resourceful side of Amy. Seeing her like this here has convinced me that if she was left to her own devices (as in The Girl Who Waited) then she would learn how to kick some serious robot arse.
- “Dinosaurs ahead, a lady at my side, about to be blown up, not sure I’ve ever been happier.” “Shut up and shoot.“
Doctor Who’s highly anticipated return to our screens last Saturday reminded the audience that even in the run up to its fiftieth year this show is still king. Asylum of the Daleks, the first Dalek episode penned by head writer Stephen Moffat,was an ideal opening to the series that struck the delicate balance between emotional, intriguing and hide-behind-the-sofa frightening. Let’s get stuck in, shall we?
“They say you can help.” “Do they? I wish they’d stop”
It seems that Stephen Moffat is still playing with his favourite theme, that of memory. Toying with memory has been his favourite thing since he invented the Weeping Angels to terrorise Carey Mulligan back when David Tenant’s was still playing the Doctor. Since then, and since Moffat’s move to head writer of the show when Matt Smith came in, we’ve see the use of memory become increasingly prominent. At the end of Smith’s first series it was Amy’s memory of the Doctor that saved him from being deleted from history. In the next series the Silence were the latest monsters to manipulate memory, influencing the human race without us even realising it. Even when we finally think that the Doctor’s about to meet his maker all that’s really happening is an elaborate plot to make people think he’s dead, which will lead to people forgetting him and being left instead with that immortal question, “Doctor Who?”. This question, having previously been a bit of a throw-away line for when people aren’t satisfied with “Doctor” being his name, was suddenly very prominent at the end of The Wedding of River Song and has now been highlighted again in Asylum of the Daleks. If Moffat was one for series long plot-arcs as Russell T Davies was I’d suspect that “Doctor Who?” was this series’ buzz-word. Maybe it still it, or if not a buzz-word per say maybe it’s leading up to a fiftieth anniversary spectacle where memory and the identity of the Doctor both play key roles. Maybe we’ll even find out his real name, although I doubt that would really happen.
Whatever the significance of this question though – and I’m sure that it is significant – it was certainly strange heading the Daleks asking it. Doctor Who’s most notorious monsters, the existence and very identity of the Daleks is tied up the Doctor’s own history. Oswin even tells the Doctor that his arch enemies have grown stronger in fear of him, although to be fair this is also true of the Silence according to Madam Kovarian in A Good Man Goes To War, and his enemies’ shared hatred of him played a significant part in the alliance of monsters who tricked the Doctor into the Pandorica in The Pandorica Opens. However, despite ‘strength in hatred’ being a fairly common theme in new Doctor Who, making the Daleks forget the Doctor is an incredibly significant thing to do within the Doctor Who canon as a whole, although it’s also a very clever thing for Moffat to have done specifically within new Doctor Who. Since Christopher Eccleston stepped into the TARDIS the Daleks had menacing points – 2005’s Dalek was a cracker of an episode – but on the whole the Daleks in the new series have been too numerous and too easily defeat-able. For all the criticism of last 2010’s Victory of the Daleks, in a strange way I was glad that they’d finally won. It meant that the next time we saw them there didn’t have to be this big reveal about how they’d managed to return after the last time the Doctor had defeated them, which has happened a lot. What Victory of the Daleks did achieve, which was also a theme in Asylum of the Daleks, is to restore the Daleks to being a more consistent presence, and a more threatening one. They’ve returned from the brink of pantomime villany to become a proper threat once more. Not having to rely on elaborate plots about how they’ve been revived/restored/rebuilt/reborn, and not having the Doctor easily defeat and destroy them all over again, has saved the Daleks from the sort of bathos that has rendered the modern Cybermen largely un-frightening. The whole “Doctor who?” thing has also introduced an entirely new dimension to the Daleks. I for one can’t wait to see what happens with them next time in their post-Doctor existence.
And while we’re on memory, and in case you missed it, “remember me” is the last thing Oswin says to the Doctor before he flees the doomed Asylum. Given this line I’d say we’re definitely going to be seeing Oswin again. However, that’s not the only thing we have to base this assumption on…
The Girl and the Dalek
If you’ve been following the Doctor Who news then you’ll know that Jenna-Louise Coleman, the actress playing Oswin Oswald in this episode, is lined up to be the Doctor’s next companion and will enter the TARDIS in this year’s Christmas special. Seeing her pop up in this episode was a big surprise, and one that the show’s writers and producers had somehow managed to keep a secret. This poses something of a conundrum. We know that Oswin will be back at Christmas, yet we’ve also seen the planet that she was on blow up. Then there’s the small matter of her being a converted dalek when it happened (which I thought seemed a very Cyberman thing to do) and the fact that she doesn’t recognise the Doctor. Barring some sort of memory wipe this does seems to rule out a younger version of Oswin joining the TARDIS at Christmas. Plus, even if she had already travelled with him and somehow forgotten, that would mean that when he meets the younger Oswin he’ll know how she is going to die, and I’d be willing to bet that Moffat doesn’t want this sort of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey relationship with another companion given that the Doctor already has it with River Song.
Working on this basis we must assume that he somehow saves her from the Asylum moments before it is destroyed as well as saving her from being a dalek. Given that he’s a time traveller and does this sort of thing all the time this first problem may not be too difficult to overcome. It’s the second, more dalek-y problem that might prove trickier. However, aside from some flashback shots of Oswin with her head some sort of machine we didn’t actually see her get converted. What if the dalek that the Doctor encounters in the room where Oswin thinks she’s hiding is actually some sort of relay, and she’s actually controlling it from elsewhere? The room with the soufflés that Oswin thinks she’s in could be real. Or, taking inspiration from the Teselecta and the Doctor’s own escape in The Wedding of River Song, maybe Oswin has been shrunk and is driving the dalek from inside it but remains fully human, just smaller. These theories may solve the conversion issue but problems still arise when we remember that the Asylum was blown up, that nothing within the Asylum could get out, and that the forcefield would probably prevent someone controlling a dalek remotely.
It’s a tricky one then, and Moffat will have to work hard to get himself out of this corner he’s written himself into, but then he’s no stranger to doing that. I reckon that the very fact of Oswin’s ship crashing on the Asylum when it’s supposed to be impenetrable will have some significance. There are also several indications that Darla von Karlsen, the dalek puppet who first met the Doctor on Skaro, is Oswin’s mother, despite the fact that she says her daughter’s name is Hannah. Did the Parliament of the Daleks know that Oswin was in the Asylum and use her mother to bring about her demise? If so, was their plan really to destroy her and the Asylum was just collateral damage? And if they did want to destroy her, why would they wait a year to do this and not call the Doctor in sooner? Maybe the Parliament converted her themselves and then banished the dalek that she had become to the Asylum, placing it right in the centre, because to them was the most dangerous dalek of all (she is, after all, “a total screaming genius that’s also a little bit sexy“). There is much food for thought here. Sadly we can do little but wait to see if any of this is anywhere near the truth.
Trouble in paradise
Moving from the new companion to the current ones, surely we we’re all asking what’s happening with Amy and Rory? So far in the new series we haven’t seen a future companion crossing paths with an existing companion in the same episode, but in Asylum of the Daleks this worked rather well as it gave the Doctor a reason to rush off, leaving Rory and Amy alone to talk things through. I’ll admit here that I had agreed with Rory when he said that he loved Amy more than she loved him. From the start of her time in the TARDIS Amy has been flighty, flirty and aloof, and it wasn’t until Amy’s Choice when she thought she’d lost Rory that we properly saw that she loved and needed him. Subsequent episodes like The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang and The Girl Who Waited have seen Rory and Amy’s relationship deepen, and the Pond Life mini series (which I highly recommend because it’s brilliantly funny!) showed us some of their life when the Doctor isn’t around.
After all this, seeing them divorcing at the beginning of Asylum was really surprising. In the Asylum we find out why. “You want kids, and I can’t have them” Amy tells Rory, “and I didn’t kick you out, I gave you up”. This was pretty heavy going for what is still in essence a children’s television show, and kudos are due to Moffat and his team for not talking down to the audience when it comes to such adult themes. This scene added a huge amount of emotional weight to the episode and to the start of the new series, and gave more depth to Rory and Amy’s relationship ahead of their imminent departure from the show. We still don’t know how this is going to happen, all we do know is that it’s going to be tragic. The winding road of Rory and Amy’s relationship so far has proved that both Karen Gillen and Arthur Darvill are actors capable of pulling of heavy emotion as well as light relief, and whatever happens to their characters I for one am really going to miss their presence in the TARDIS.
Asylum in action
Turning to the episode generally now, I have to say that the special effects were top notch. Reviews and previews that I’ve read have talked about the new series being more about stand-alone stories than series plot-arcs, and the production team’s efforts to make each story feel like a mini movie are definitely showing. The effects in the scene where the daleks wake up and attack Rory were great and did a lot to make the daleks feel threatening again. I also thought the episode was really well paced which was really effective for balancing the action and suspense with the emotion and intrigue of the episode. My only criticism with this point was that maybe they were too ambitious in trying to get everything in. In a 45 minute episode it must be really difficult to find the time to pull off properly tense action scenes, provide a heartfelt emotional resolution, set up a convincing conundrum and then a reveal and squeeze in the usual amount of classic Stephen Moffat witty dialogue. To be fair though, the fact that the team have managed a really good balance between all of them is still a remarkable achievement, and in my opinion the only real flaw with this episode was that the Amy and Rory plotline and the Oswin plotline dominated to the point of almost relegating the daleks to second fiddle. A particular illustration of this is that we saw so little of the Parliament of the Daleks that I only noticed two dalek models, both of which are from the new series, despite the rumours that we would see daleks from across the show’s 50 year history including a Special Weapons Dalek. I also thought the appearance of Skaro at the start of the episode was a nice but slightly gratuitous nod given that it was destroyed back in Remembrance Of The Daleks and the Doctor doesn’t explain how it exists again apart from saying “look at the state of it”. However, given how much commentary I’ve seen about Asylum of the Daleks (a particularly good Den of Geek review can be found here) I think it’s done more than enough to rejuvenate the Doctor’s oldest foe and make them scary again, despite a couple of plot holes. Good work!
- Even though they’re divorcing Amy still signs the form with the name ‘Amy Williams’
- “You think hatred is beautiful.” “Perhaps that is why we’ve never been able to kill you.“
- Oswin calling Rory and the Doctor the Nose and the Chin. Normally it’s the Doctor saying stuff like this so it was quite funny to see it being used against him for once.
- “What colour?… Sorry, there weren’t any good questions left.“
- The Doctor using the dalek’s self destruct program to defeat a whole group of other daleks.
- “Don’t be fair to the daleks when they’re firing me a planet!“
- Amy’s speech about what the Doctor’s doing when he first arrives in the Parliament of the Daleks, and the shot of him fixing his bow-tie after he’s helped Rory and Amy talk through their problems without even being in the room.
- “You’re a tricycle with a roof!“
- The nano-cloud that converted the crew from the other ship was reminiscent of the nanogenes in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. I like nods to technological consistency between different episodes.
- The Doctor arriving back to find Amy and Rory kissing moments before the planet was destroyed. “Oh for god sake” indeed!
- *Rory dances as he follows Amy back into their house* “I can see you.” “Sorry.” Rory’s still my favourite!
So, the Daily Mail have (unsurprisingly) done it again. If you’ve been watching the news recently you’ll have noticed the furore over the anti-gay bus adverts that rip-off Stonewall’s “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!” adverts that currently adorn a number of London buses.
But the purpose of this post is not to argue back against Mr Boot, the ‘writer’ of the ‘article’ in question. That is an exercise in futility, given that the only reason he wrote what he did was to get hits for the Daily Fail’s website. Apart from commenting ruthlessly on celebrities’ weight and poor fashion choices, all the Fail exists to do is stir up excessive controversy and, through the ensuing online indignancy from those not stupid enough to actually buy the Fail, generate advert revenue from the visits to its website. Observe, if you will, the following diagram (I found it on Twitter, if it’s yours and you want acknowledgment then say so and I’ll put a credit up for you):
In a move designed to thwart this endeavour, I have copied Mr Boot’s idiotic diatribe in full and reproduced it here so you can read it without giving the Fail the hits it desires.
Also, if anyone disagrees with this and is thinking about bringing legal action for copyright infringement or whatever, I’m sure that the defence of fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review under s 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 will protect me as long as I acknowledge the source of the original work. Given the absolute rock-bottom moral, journalistic and literary standards displayed in the following piece of writing it could hardly have come from anywhere else but the Daily Mail really, could it?
“Homosexuality IS a departure from the norm: We must beware of our civilisation being battered by the PC brigade
By ALEXANDER BOOT
Boris Johnson is a long-standing champion of sexual tolerance – at least that’s what he seems to expect from his poor wife.
This time he has shifted his innermost convictions into the public arena by banning from London buses a Christian campaign aimed at reforming homosexuals.
‘London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance,’ he said. I agree.
London is so tolerant it could be twinned with Sodom – or alternatively with our neighbourhood French villages called Orgy and Anus (I’m not joking, they are both next door to us).
True to his word, the good mayor found nothing wrong with the blatant propaganda of homosexuality launched earlier by Stonewall, the charity devoted to promoting homosexual agendas, such as same-sex marriage.
The thrust of their campaign was the probably correct message that homosexuality is innate and therefore irreversible.
In response, Christian groups created a campaign typified by the ad saying ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ That’s where Mr Johnson drew the line on his tolerance.
‘It is clearly offensive,’ he thundered, ‘to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.’
Our erudite mayor is a writer, but he’s clearly not a reader. For anyone who actually read the ad would know it says nothing of the sort. Any reasonably educated person will be aware that homosexuality isn’t a disease. It is, however, an aberration.
Now before I’m tarred and feathered as yet another manifestation of the prevailing tolerance, I hasten to add that I use the word ‘aberration’ strictly in its dictionary definition: ‘a departure from what is normal or desirable’.
Since only about one percent of us are that way inclined, homosexuality is obviously a departure from the norm. Surely, 99 percent are in a better position than one percent to judge what is normal?
The constructive campaign from Christian groups telling gays that they have the choice to ‘get over’ their homosexuality. And, indulging in a bit of reductio ad absurdum, reversing that proportion would spell the end of the human race, which is clearly undesirable. So the dictionary definition applies in its entirety.
It may well be true that a propensity for homosexual, which is to say aberrant, behaviour is innate.
And it’s indisputable that people ought not to be reproached, much less punished, for the way they are born. They can, however, be legitimately asked not to act on their aberrant tendencies.
A kleptomaniac only becomes reproachable when he actually steals. A man who’s violent by nature is on safe grounds until he commits a violent act. We aren’t responsible for where we begin in life. But we are responsible for where we finish.
The campaign that offended the Mayor enunciates the traditional Christian attitude to homosexuality. Rather than regarding homosexuality as a disease from which one could be cured, Christianity regards it as a sin from which one should abstain. It’s only in this sense that a homosexual can ‘get over it’.
Abstaining from sex for moral reasons is tantamount to heroism, and most people can’t be expected to be heroes. That’s why I don’t think homosexuality should be banned, or homosexuals in any way abused.
But Christianity would be remiss in its mission if it didn’t call on them to adhere to the absolute moral standards stipulated by the founding religion of our civilisation.
And all of us, Christians or otherwise, ought to be wary of the systematic campaign to destroy everything our civilisation stands for.
It’s not only our religion but also our constitution, our aesthetic sense, our education and our general morality that are being smashed by the battering ram of PC modernity.
That propaganda of homosexuality can be used in this capacity is beyond question. Witness the fact that the first European country that liberalised homosexuality was Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1934 – neither the time nor the place known for an all-consuming love of Western civilisation.
In parallel, the Bolsheviks, who were almost as tolerant as Mayor Johnson, abolished marriage, and Lenin’s mistress Inessa Armand likened sex to drinking a glass of water.
The Bolsheviks were aware of the destructive potential of sexual licentiousness in all its forms, and they were out to destroy.
Boris Johnson doesn’t want to destroy. He just wants to be re-elected – as a Conservative (!) candidate.
To establish his conservative credentials, he is flaunting his moral relativism, what he calls intolerance of intolerance.
In doing so he denies the right of free speech to a constructive campaign asking homosexuals to reform and suggesting it’s possible – while affording this freedom to a campaign that’s utterly deterministic and destructive, in effect if not in intent.
I’m willing to accept for the sake of argument (and only for its sake) that, rather than simply indulging in full-time electioneering, Mr Johnson really does disagree with the sentiment expressed in the ‘Get over it’ campaign.
But that’s no reason to ban it. For freedom of speech to mean anything at all, it ought to cover the freedom to say things we don’t like. After all, allowing only those statements that please us involves no hardship at all.
Judging by his action, Boris Johnson is rather vague on our constitutional liberties, Western moral and intellectual tradition, and the boundaries of his remit as a politician.
His response to what the ads actually say also betokens a need for a remedial reading class. An ideal future candidate for Prime Minister, I dare say.”
There you go then. What a ****.
Update: I recently received a ‘pingback’ on this post from the Jamtheory blog (see below and here) and I would encourage anyone who’s considered making a complaint to read that post as it details the PCC’s relevant complaints procedure. Specifically though I’d like to point out something said in the last paragraph of that post, which is the quote “just because homophobia is everywhere doesn’t mean it’s ok”. Sadly this is true, as homophobia is everywhere even these days, but just because it’s common doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make it ‘normal’. Contrary to Mr Boot’s definition-twisting use of ‘aberration’ above, I would say that homophobia itself is an aberration from normal morality, as well as being an abomination, an atrocity and a downright shame, and is something that all of us could happily do without.
((Update: See after the video for more information.))
What do Justin Bieber, Madeline McCann and Adolf Hitler have in common?
The answer of course is very little. For many people the only real common thread is that they’ve heard of all of them. Though this might not seem like much of a theme to build on, but in light of the video below awareness is one of the most important things there is, especially these days.
They say knowledge is power, and if you believe that then you need to watch this video. And then you need to share it. Use that incredible power at your fingertips to do something relevant instead of twittering on about Justin Bieber. The internet is a tool for spreading knowledge all over the world. Let’s use it for something important.
And do it now, because it’s important now. Madeline McCann’s abduction was tragic, but it wasn’t new. That sort of thing happened to children a lot, the only difference with Madeline was that her case made headlines. It shouldn’t take another Madeline before the world can wake up to a tragedy that already affects thousands of children in other countries, and which is happening right now as you’re reading this.
As for Hitler, he was undoubtedly a tyrant but now he’s dead and gone, safely confined to history. But there are other tyrants who are living now, doing things as bad if not worse than the things Hitler did, and we shouldn’t have to wait for the history books to be written before we can know about them. That would be too late.
That’s what this video is about; knowledge, tragedy, tyranny and power. You probably don’t know who Joseph Kony is, or what he does, but this video will tell you, and then you’ll wonder how you hadn’t heard of him before. It’ll only take half an hour out of your life, but at the end of that half hour you’ll see how important this is. I can’t explain it in words in a way that will have the same impact or make it seem as important as the video does, so I’ll stop trying. The link for the video is below. Please watch it.
Update: As I’ve said before, I like how the internet and Twitter in particular can be used to spread important information, and the Kony 2012 movement is a prime example of this. However, in the post I’ve just linked to I also stated my frustrations when information is spread unchecked, presenting only one side of an argument and ultimately not really doing much good at all.
I’m not saying this is the case here. From what I can see of it, I think the ‘Kony 2012’ project is still an important one, due largely to what Tim Minchin just said on twitter:
“The central thesis of #Kony2012 is that social media can be exploited to place great crimes in a bright spotlight. Hard to criticise that.”
Though this in an important example of the use of social media for useful, productive and relevant causes, it MUST be remembered that every story has at least two sides. To that end here is another article that Tim Minchin just posted. As he says, “things are ALWAYS ethically complex“, and although few doubt that Joseph Kony is a Bad Man, the Invisible Child movement/group isn’t exactly doing things in a perfect way either. If you want to get the best view about this issue then read as much as you can, starting with the video and this article together.
Another article linked to in that one is here, again very rational but pointing out the other side of what’s going on behind this (undoubtedly pretty amazing) video.
Update 2: The Invisible Children organisation has responded to some of the criticisms and observations raised in the wake of the Kony 2012 video hitting the intertubes this week. It’s a brilliant response too, it’s very transparent and up front and addresses pretty much all the points raised against them. If you want to be informed about this read the response, because it looks to me like the best place to get the truth about what’s going on here is from the people who brought it up in the first place. That makes a nice change doesn’t it.
Update 3: There’s now been some fairly prominent backlash against the video. Here is the latest article denouncing the campaign as ‘at best ineffective, at worst dangerous’. Though it does raise some valid concerns about legitimacy and factual inaccuracy these are concerns that have, on the whole, been addressed in the above response from Invisible Children (which seems odd since the article itself strongly advocates fact-finding and enlightened decision making). Again I’d say read it and see if it changes your view on things, but also again remember that everything we’re seeing is coming from one perspective or another and that nothing is impartial. I still think the Invisible Children response is the most concise piece on this issue since the video initially hit the interwebs.
Earlier today (23/1/2012) infamous and recently discredited media tycoon Rupert Murdoch tweeted the following tweet:
Mr Murdoch, clearly peeved at the negative attention his corporation has received following allegations of questionable journalistic practices, presumably wanted to highlight the hypocrisy of condemning phone hacking while excusing widespread copyright infringement. This of course relates to the recent furore surrounding the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) that caused considerable online debate, leading Wikipedia and several other prominent websites to block access to their content in protest of the proposed bills. These protests and the surrounding debate recently led to both bills being shelved, much to the delight of the online masses. “Hooray”, you may be thinking, “internet censorship is dead! Long live the internet!”, etc etc.
The debate, though, is far from over. SOPA and PIPA’s proponents, which include the Motion Picture Association of America (a fairly powerful bunch), will undoubtedly be back at some point with another bill, or reform, or ban, or case, or prosecution, or something that will help them protect their intellectual property interests. SOPA and PIPA are only one chapter in the long and evolving history of law in the internet age.
So what’s my point? Well, contrary to popular opinion, I did not fundamentally disagree with these bills, and neither do I disagree with Rupert Murdoch’s tweeted opinion above. Now, don’t jump to conclusions just yet. I do not like Rupert Murdoch. Everything I’ve seen of him points to a power-hungry, outdated media tycoon with very questionable morals who I really don’t think I’d get along with if I met him in a pub. However, just because I find him fairly intrinsically evil doesn’t mean he’s always wrong. His point about ignorant argument could be a valid one. I happen to think it is.
Just to illustrate that I’m not totally full of hot air, I’ll point out now that I am a law student, I have studied UK intellectual property law and I’ve been following intellectual property issues in the news for a while. SOPA, PIPA and the demise of Megaupload are just the latest developments in a looong history of copyright issues around the world. Remember Napster? Remember PirateBay? Remember when iTunes discontinued its protected downloads and introduced DRM Free content, largely because it knew that otherwise customers would just buy music from other online providers? And that’s in the context of legal downloads, with people actually paying for what they consume! From what I gather about the normal habits of digital content consumers, most of you don’t pay for what you take. Yes, I did say “you”. I do pay for what I download. I am not a fan of hypocrisy. But please understand that this is not me having a go about illegal downloads from some ridiculous moral high ground stance. I don’t particularly care how the music that’s on your iPod got there. But when the habits of internet users become so widespread and so commonplace that the masses will gang up on a pair of bills that were predominantly designed to protect the interests of authors, musicians and film makers, I can’t help but feel that something is going wrong here.
That was the point of SOPA and PIPA after all. They were, initially, intended to protect intellectual property rights. They were not intended to censor the internet. I am pleased that they are no longer being pursued though. In my opinion, and the opinion of many people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do (including some of those who proposed the bill in the first place), SOPA and PIPA went too far, asked too much, and encroached too many liberties of regular internet users. But in the wake of these bills I still think that something is needed to bridge the void between internet censorship and internet anarchy – where nothing is paid for and that’s the norm, stifling creative contributions because of a lack of legitimate resources making their way to those who actually produce the things we want to download.
Yes, I know that a lot of the money stays with the publishing companies and never makes it to the authors. Yes, I’m aware that most musicians earn a pittance when they’re starting out. Yes, I realise that unless you sign up with a fairly big-time film studio and agree to license your soul to them you’re unlikely to get anywhere fast. But that isn’t always the case. There are plenty of grassroots movements, plenty of ventures designed to get new creative works out there for people to enjoy. If it was you that was trying to make it in the creative industry how would you feel about people demanding the right to take all of what you create without paying for it?
That’s why file-sharing is illegal, and why I think that it is morally wrong when it infringes copyright. Laws aren’t just there to piss consumers off. They’re there for a reason, and in the case of copyright laws they’re there to protect the rights of the people who created the copyright works that you want access to. SOPA and PIPA going down is a Good Thing, but it wasn’t internet users, as the proverbial David, going up against the Goliath that is the “industry” and winning. It’s much more complicated that than. This was the consumers’ personal (and I think selfish) interests going against the legal and moral rights of all those people who are trying to get somewhere by doing something that they love. Not everybody’s Beyoncé, JK Rowling or Steven Spielberg and can afford to have a few of their works pillaged. Most people need you to pay for their stuff, otherwise they have to stop making it.
I’m painfully aware that a lot of people I know will disagree with what I’ve said, or will think I’m having a go at them personally, or just that I’m being a dick because I think I know what I’m talking about. None of this is my intention. All I’m doing here is stating my opinion of what’s going on in the copyright world in light of the facts available to me. I welcome dissenting opinions. If you think file-sharing is brilliant then please say so, as long as you can back it up with some solid reasoning.
But if you’re thinking of commenting on this post because it’s made you angry, and all you would be doing would be telling me to mind my own business in various, less euphemistic turns of phrase, then please don’t bother. That’s not a conversation either of us are going to enjoy, be it in a comments page or over a pint. I’d rather leave you to it and go outside to the smoking area to hang with Rupert Murdoch.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog and a Doctor Who fan you may be wondering where my review of the season finale is. Sadly I’ve not been able to get it written up thanks to a busy weekend and some pretty heavy duty uni work this week. Tax law. ‘Nuff said.
I’ll do my best to get the review done before the weekend, and to make up for it being late I’ll do my best to make it extra good. I hope that’ll do.