Peter Davison was the best ever Doctor

•19 February, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is the fifth in a series of monthly articles.

By 1980, Doctor Who had become a cultural icon. It had been on British screens for seventeen years, and its charismatic lead had been playing the role for longer than the original two actors combined. Appearing out of nowhere and playing the role for so long, Tom Baker WAS Doctor Who. So how do you follow an act like that?

The BBC wanted the show to go in a new direction, to be fresh again. And lightning had struck twice in terms of the production team finding a Tom Baker to replace a lead as successful as Jon Pertwee. So they opted to cast a name in the role – Peter Davison, known for All Creatures Great and Small and at the time starring in two sitcoms (Sink or Swim and Holding the Fort).

Davison chose to play the role much in the vein of his “wet vet” character Tristan from All Creatures… For the Doctor, this was a return to the quiet scientific form of his sixties characters. It was a departure from the larger-than-life swagger that the Doctor had established in the seventies, and it allowed the show to evolve. A quieter Doctor could relate to his companions, allowing the show to deal with the emotional fallout that the high body count of these adventures in time and space was likely to engender. Could you imagine Tom Baker’s Doctor, he who said a muted ‘goodbye’ to Leela then chuckled and built a new K9, reassuring Tegan and Nyssa after the death of Adric? The television landscape was changing, and an action adventure series needed to engage realistically with human drama. Davison was the actor best placed to handle that change.

Everything that made Davison’s Doctor the best was distilled into his final serial in the role: Robert Holmes’s The Caves of Androzani. Here, the Doctor is lumbered with a new companion, a whiny American called Peri. It’s clear as they snipe at each other in the opening scene that they don’t really get on. But when she gets fatally poisoned on a remote alien world, the Doctor moves the heavens to save her. Dying himself, he staves off regeneration to keep control of a hijacked spaceship; negotiates with a corrupt politician, a hell-driven general, a band of thugs and a vengeful megalomaniac; and gives Peri the only dose of the antidote knowing that he may have held off regenerating for a fatally long time. Davison’s cutting sarcasm betrayed an inner steel that becomes so evident in Caves. The Doctor’s motivations as a champion of the underdog become more scrutable: he cares, and it’s clear that he cares.

Since the revival, the series has become more emotionally literate even than its eighties incarnation. Davison’s Doctor could transplant easily into this environment, reassuring his companions, fighting for the underdog because he feels that it’s right, and embodying the motto “never give up and never give in”. That same inner steel would also have driven shows of the earlier, more flippant, era.


The Soundwaves Music Competition

•12 February, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Those of you who have been following the activities of Harlequin’s Kiss via this blog may be forgiven for wondering what happened with our involvement with the Soundwaves Music Competition. Where I left the tale was that we had been involved in a live audition at the Victoria in Birmingham. Well, to cut a long story short, we passed the audition and the subsequent video submission stage, but we chose not to continue participating.

We had small suspicions about the organisation, but we could tell that it had expanded from a Glasgow-based contest to a national situation. The contest is not affiliated with the Soundwaves festival in Croatia (and maybe we should have questioned the choice of name), but the opportunities offered by the competition were still attractive: playing the main stage at the O2 Academy. That’s good exposure, right?

Pay-to-play and how reasonable such gigs are is an ongoing debate in the independent music community. The Victoria audition was technically pay-to-play, but the outlay of £20 with a mere 4 tickets to sell to break even seemed a reasonable way to cover the competition’s expenses to us. So we played that gig in November with little reservation. The next round would be a big deal in its own right, wouldn’t it?

Well, having jumped through the hoop of producing a video of our work at less than a week’s notice (a demand that they justified as being a test of our ability to work with the normal demands of the music industry), we were told that our participation in the regional final would require us to buy 30 tickets at £10 each that we could sell on to our fans. How many tickets we sold would contribute to our score in the final. A £300 outlay was bad enough but, just like the audition, we would only be playing a 10-minute set.

As far as we are concerned, we would not insult our fans by asking them to pay £10 to see us play for 10 minutes, especially when we can’t even guarantee who else is on the bill. Furthermore, we could think of better ways of spending £300 that we might not necessarily recover, including hiring venues that we could play in our own right with quality supports that we have vetted ourselves.

Having made the decision to make better use of the money, we are now considering what we can do with a gig that we have spent £300 putting on. This may turn into a show in a city centre venue in Birmingham once we have our new drummer settled into our show. We sincerely hope that the finalists who chose to participate got what they wanted out of the show, but we could not continue to participate in the Soundwaves Music Competition in good conscience.


Insomniac Ramblings

•9 February, 2018 • 2 Comments

So here I am, drunk at 6am. It’s been a funny couple of months, and unfortunately blogging has had to take a back seat. You see, I realised as Christmas was approaching that I had to call a halt to most of my life before it all came collapsing around my ears. Imagine a plate-spinner – one of those people who balance plates on wobbly sticks: one plate goes up at a time, and they have to wind the sticks under each plate up periodically or the plate comes crashing down. I had too many plates up, and realised that I had to take almost all of them down before they broke. So I had to keep the band ticking over at a bare minimum, and the job hunt on the go, and also had to finish the seemingly endless task of getting my bedroom decorated and my stuff sorted so I could move in properly and start to really sort my life out.

It’s February now, and I’m very close to finishing the job of sorting out what I can keep in my room and what has to go in the loft. You’d think that the weight would be lifting off my shoulders as a result, but something seems to be wrong at the back of my mind. I’m getting tense and bad-tempered. I’ve broken the back of the insomnia that’s been plaguing me since the end of August, but my sleep has gone weirdly out of whack – I’m sometimes not sleeping and sometimes oversleeping, feeling like I could sleep for a week even after I’ve finally woken up. And tonight I’ve just let the Monster take over, allowing myself to drink like a maniac and indulge whatever whim comes into my head. Right this second it seems to be writing, but earlier it was dicking about on the internet and listening to eighties ballads on youtube. I’m not sure what to make of this.

I regard some of this as the swings and roundabouts of depression and anxiety. Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of indulging this the way I used to. When I was a student, I had only six hours of lecture commitments per week and a job that took up two seven-hour shifts. I could afford to work in lumps, writing and researching like a maniac when I was high and scaling back to the minimum when I was low. Unfortunately, I have to make some attempt to conform to the nine-to-five so it doesn’t destroy me when I get back into paid work.

In reality, I need to finish at least one of the novels I’ve been threatening to write for the past sixteen years. In an ideal world, I could work as a writer and go back to working in the lumps I used to. And at night, when my creativity is at its best. Wish me luck, because careers in music and writing are as much that as judgement.

Tom Baker was the best ever Doctor Who

•29 January, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is the fourth in a series of monthly articles.

Jon Pertwee had changed Doctor Who, or rather, redefined it. Still a scientist and a moralist, Pertwee’s Doctor was a man of action who leapt off the screen. The show had become more violent and the lead role had been played by a sparkling, charismatic actor for almost as many years as his two predecessors put together.

After several casting false starts, the producers settled on a virtual unknown to replace him. Tom Baker was a jobbing actor, sleeping on a friend’s sofa and working as a builder’s labourer when his recent film role as Rasputin got him the call to play one of the most iconic roles in British television. What is truly remarkable about Baker is that he hit the ground running. He was immediately Doctor Who, from his fist appearance in 1975’s ‘Robot’. He had all the screen presence of Pertwee. And something more.

We knew that Doctor Who was an alien. That had been made clear to us over the course of Troughton’s tenure. Troughton conveyed it by seeming to know more than the characters around him about what was going on. Pertwee conveyed it by his aloofness and his unshakeable belief in a “united world” morality. Tom Baker simply was alien. His boggle-eyed looks when he was reminded of human concerns, his disarming bohemian behaviours, and his sense of being not on the same wavelength while still being very believably a part of what was going on made Baker seem more like he came from another planet than any Doctor before or since. Doctor Who had turned around in the early 1970s and became an icon for a new generation of TV viewers. With Baker in the role, the show grew from strength to strength.

Over the course of seven years, it was clearly Tom Baker who was at the centre of the show’s popularity. Through a series of producers, the tone of Doctor Who shifted from Hammer lite, to kids’ action, to fantasy with a sci-fi bent. All the while, Baker never seemed out of place on the changing show.

One of the key factors in Baker’s success is that he loved the role. Even though he wasn’t very familiar with Doctor Who before being cast (he tended to be drinking in Soho on a Saturday evening), he put his heart into it. He could be difficult, but at the same time, camera rehearsal footage from 1977 serials is very telling. Famously, he and his co-star of the time, Louise Jameson, didn’t get on, but what carries across in the rehearsal footage is Baker’s sheer professionalism, and the desire to give the best performance and best shot. No tension between Baker and Jameson is evident.

Tom Baker’s Doctor is not a product of his time, and as such is timeless. He defined Saturday evening television in the late 1970s and, transplanted to now, could still lay down the blueprint for how to play a Time Lord among humans.

Jon Pertwee was the best ever Doctor Who

•4 December, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is the third in a series of monthly articles.

It was 1969. BBC TV was about to become all-colour and Doctor Who’s future was in question. Its star, Patrick Troughton, saw himself as a jobbing actor, and therefore didn’t do chat show appearances to promote the Saturday night staple. Ratings were in a steady decline, Troughton was leaving, colour filming was expensive, and a new production team were coming in to face these challenges. In a million universes, Doctor Who limped on for a year or two in the seventies before being shot like a lame horse.

Outgoing producer Derek Sherwin had created a new format for the show. To save money, it would be set on Earth and would centre around a military organisation set up to deal with the top secret and the paranormal. The production team’s choice for a new Time Lord to replace Troughton was… Ron Moody.

Moody would have likely played a character in the vein of the two previous incarnations. Not very physical, mostly cerebral, a Quatermass figure among the military hardware of early seventies Doctor Who. We can only speculate whether the series would have survived with Moody at the helm. When Moody declined, the role was offered to light entertainment actor Jon Pertwee. When he asked the production team how to play the character, he was told to play it as Jon Pertwee. He later said that he had to work out who “Jon Pertwee” really was.

It turned out that ex racing driver and Naval Intelligence operative Pertwee was a Venusian martial artist, car enthusiast, protector of the underdog, and advocate of peace and co-operation. His personality leapt off the screen and his man-of-action persona made for a smooth fit with fictional military division UNIT.

The new, colour Doctor Who quickly moved from being a flagging teen show to once again being a British cultural icon. This was in no small part due to the sheer charisma of its new lead. Never having worked in drama before, Pertwee’s natural talent as a character actor lent itself readily to both his gritty first series and the more child-friendly tone that the production team moved to as the decade continued. Doctor Who was still Doctor Who: despite the car chases and fight choreography, the character was still at heart a scientist. He designed gadgets, tinkered with computers, and pushed for the non-military solution in the face of alien invasion. Over the course of five years in the role, Pertwee’s Doctor Who was a show that went from strength to strength.

Despite Pertwee being a seventies alpha male, he had his female co-stars’ backs on set. Likewise, he saw the character as something of a “mother hen”. This action Doctor with both charm and a huge heart could stand today, even away from seventies mores. I could see Sean Pertwee reprising the role, maybe annoying Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor some with his patronisation, but still showing the strong moral centre of the character and his never-say-die approach to saving the universe.

Animal Sentience and Clause 30

•30 November, 2017 • Leave a Comment

And so, apparently, I’m back to politics.

Late to the party though I am, I want to talk about last week’s hoo-ha because the entire media coverage of it has been misleading. And the way Caroline Lucas MP has presented this personal little commons defeat has been downright disingenuous. Worse still, the government are in such a position that a media soundbite can’t explain what’s happened, but nobody in the general public is prepared to listen to an explanation longer than the original headline.

What categorically did NOT happen was the Evil Tories voting that animals are not sentient.

I’ve read the legislation now – namely the clauses of the Lisbon Treaty and the Animal Welfare Act (2006) – and I’ve read Hansard’s transcript of the debate. So I’d like to tell you what really happened and what the implications are.

Bear in mind at the start that the purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill is to make sure that things don’t drop out of British law just because we’ve left the EU. It is to give us time to make our own, proper legislation and take as long as we need to do so properly. Yes, it could be fucking decades before every clause is repealed, but this bill exists to be repealed. Anything in the bill is intended to be temporary.

Lucas proposed a clause, Clause 30, that would include as part of the copying over of EU law a guideline in the Lisbon Treaty, namely Article 13. The text of Article 13 reads as follows:

In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.

What happened next was that the Temporary Chair added that alongside this clause, a handful of other environmental clauses would be discussed. After three hours of discussion, Clause 30 was put to a vote and voted down at 295 ayes to 313 noes. That Clause 30 specifically went to a vote is because the legislation that the environmental clauses were intended to cover was already a work in progress (Michael Gove has been a very busy bunny since he became Environment Secretary) and risked passing through parliament at the same time as the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would make a mess if either contradicted the other.

Lucas had hoped that Clause 30 would be formality. I mean, we all agree animals are sentient, right?

Parliament certainly does. The key issue here is that the government’s position is that the Animal Welfare Act (2006) already recognises animals as sentient. Lucas’s beef with that is that the word “sentient” isn’t actually used. Let’s look at the wording of the Act for a moment:

1 Animals to which the Act applies:

(1) In this Act, except subsections (4) and (5), “animal” means a vertebrate other than a man.

(2) Nothing in this Act applies to an animal while it is in its foetal or embryonic form.

(3) The appropriate national authority may by regulations for all or any of the purposes of this Act–

(a) extend the definition of animal so as to include vertebrates of any description;

(b) make provision in lieu of subsection (2) as respects any invertebrates included in the definition of “animal”;

(c) amend subsection (2) to extend the application of this Act to an animal from such earlier stage in its development as may be specified in the regulations.

(4) The power under subsection (3)(a) or (c) may only be exercised if the appropriate national authority is satisfied, on the basis of scientific evidence, that animals of the kind concerned are capable of experiencing pain or suffering.

(5) In this section, “vertebrate” means any animal of the Sub-phylum Vertebrata of the Phylum Chordata and “invertebrate” means any animal not of that Sub-phylum.

Sure, the word “sentient” isn’t used. But a definition of “sentience” is given (“capable of experiencing pain or suffering”) and all vertebrates are assumed by the Act to be sentient in that respect. Furthermore, the definition of “animal” in the act is extended by the recognition of an invertebrate’s sentience. Compare this and the provisions of the body of the Animal Welfare Act to the insipid provision of the Lisbon Treaty, and it’s fairly obvious that Article 13 of the Treaty is already more than covered. In fact, the Animal Welfare Act would be the legislation that would include the repeal of Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill if it hadn’t already been enacted in 2006.

There are two ways to read last week’s media blow-up and Caroline Lucas’s part in it: the mean-spirited way, or the deeply cynical way. The mean-spirited way would be to read from this that Lucas has pushed for this clause and cried to the papers when it didn’t go her way because she is simply not intelligent enough to read and understand all the big words in the Animal Welfare Act. The cynical way is a bit more convoluted.

Caroline Lucas is the only MP for the Green Party, a party that is always in danger of being rendered irrelevant under media coverage of the Labour Party. She is also a voice for remaining in the EU (a worthy cause, as far as I’m concerned). As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despite half-arsedly campaigning to Remain, is a Eurosceptic at heart, Labour have provided as less-than effective opposition to the government’s cack-handed handling of the exit negotiations. This leaves people like Lucas to do that work.

Clause 30, because we already have a comprehensive Animal Welfare Act, might never be repealed. Dominic Raab called it a wrecking clause, and he is right insofar as it would leave us with a legislative tie to the Lisbon Treaty that we’re never going to get around to an Act to repeal – the bill that such a repeal would be contained in is already law. But Lucas may be playing a shrewder game than that.

She campaigned in the 2017 General Election as a Labour shill, calling for left-wing coalition against the Tories despite the fact that a winning Labour Party would never let her anywhere near the top table. Her share of the vote in her constituency grew, so at least virtually campaigning for Labour didn’t backfire for her. And as UK politics is becoming more tribalised, she needs to keep a high profile. Clause 30 may have been for bragging rights. If it goes through, she gets to claim that she struck a historic blow for animal rights (despite the reality that it was a petty and unnecessary piece of legislation). When the vote failed, members of the Green Party got to write articles in the Guardian and Independent about what unspeakable bastards the Tories are. It’s been win-win for Lucas if she is indeed a political operator.

Harlequin’s Kiss in Autumn – Part Three

•30 November, 2017 • 1 Comment

Continued from last Monday.

So the day of what we knew was going to be our biggest gig this year had rolled around, and we were missing a support act. Our original support gave me a recommendation, and it turned out to be a guy that I’d seen before and enjoyed. So I dropped him a message on facebook, along with putting out some posts on the various West Midlands musician groups I’m part of. I took three calls that afternoon. Two were from pro covers bands that were demanding higher fees than the venue could support, and hadn’t twigged (despite my saying that I was looking for a support act) that I wasn’t looking for the last-minute replacement of the whole show. The other was from a guy that I’d had the fortune to work with before.

Dylan O’Dell is the events organiser for the Queen’s Head in Redditch, and he had picked us up earlier in autumn to open a Saturday night there. It was a fun night, and the venue had a great vibe – I look forward to a future gig there. Anyway, Dylan is also involved with an acoustic rock covers combo, and he offered their services to save my bacon. Relieved, Ed and I headed out to the studio to do some last minute rehearsals with the band before heaving the gear to the Gunmakers Arms.

The pub doesn’t really have an indoor stage, and the layout, what with the venue having expanded across three narrow houses over the course of two centuries, is not conducive to the visual side of our show. That said, the area we had to play in was surprisingly spacious, and it was nice to use our own gear to put on a show with the sound that we get every week in the rehearsal studio. There has been an association between Harlequin’s Kiss and the Gunmakers Arms for five years, and their Sunday night events have been pulling crowds for a few months now, so we knew that we were going to be showcasing our best sound in front of a big audience made of both well-wishers and people discovering us for the first time.

Act of the Risen, Dylan’s group, arrived in good time, and we were able to get them set up relatively easily given that I’m not a trained sound engineer. They entertained the crowd with a barnstormer of a forty minute set of alt-rock covers, including some old favourites of mine that you don’t hear live often. And then, after a short break, Harlequin’s Kiss took the stage.

The feedback we had after the show was gratifying, to say the least. As well as the drinks and the back-patting, we were also glad to receive some constructive feedback from some long-standing regulars. Across the show, we saw many people gathered around the bar singing along to our covers, and just plain rocking out to our original material. And we even sold some t-shirts and CDs to boot.