Travesty! When you lose control and you got no soul, it’s travesty!

brigThe following contains spoilers for the “Death in Heaven” Doctor Who episode, and before anyone says anything, YES I KNOW IT’S NOT REAL.


Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was a childhood hero. His character, intended as a one-off in Troughton’s days, had already been popular enough to be dusted off for a second Troughton outing, and then came back again to provide the sole continuity between Troughton and Pertwee Who. Nicholas Courtney played him as courteous, friendly, intelligent, brave, honest, a very good soldier, and fundamentally decent. In fact, as TV father figures go, he was more accessible than the Doctor, being strictly human and of our time. I think part of his popularity was that, like Sarah Jane Smith, you always got the impression that the character was an extension of an equally likeable-in-real-life actor, and like Sarah Jane Smith, I was actually sorry to hear the actor in question had died.

Giving the Brig a daughter to take his place in latterday NuWho was a clever stroke, and Jemma Redgrave convincingly plays the part of a woman who might actually have been brought up by that particular man. She filled a Brigadier-shaped hole in the series.

And that is why it is so unconscionable that they turned him into a cyberman.


And not even handled with any kind of sensitivity, or a way that respects me as a viewer who has tuned in for entertainment, expecting my intelligence to be engaged with and by the plot. It wasn’t “Ooh, this will be a good plot twist”, it was “Wevs, let’s throw in the kitchen sink and make the fans gasp, ‘cos that’s what they do.”

When Jean-Luc Picard was turned into a Borg – back in the days when such procedures weren’t as easily reversible as changing your socks – fandom was riveted to see what would happen next. If there had been a Troughton/Pertwee/Baker era plotline where the Brig met a similar fate, I’m sure it would have had the same effect.

But, this? A 30-second knock-off to justify an utterly disposable line earlier in the episode? If there wasn’t a dry eye in the house it was only because they were tears of rage.

Until yesterday my lasting memory of the Brigadier was of him in a green pullover, lips curled wryly, moustache bristling, probably a pair of binos round his neck, hands on his hips, barking orders like “chap with wings, five rounds rapid”. He was the immovable object that any alien invasion had to get through; and we, the viewers, knew the aliens never would in a million years.

Now, my lasting memory will be of him as a soulless cyborg, a fate that is like re-animating Nelson and conscripting him into the French navy.

How dare they do that to my hero? How dare they?


So, Dr Who is off with a swing. It took its time, though. It’s good to be thrown into the middle of the action … but it helps to know why we’re meant to care first. Last week’s episode wasn’t really the start to a series; it should have been about three quarters of the way through, having previously introduced Amy + Rory + River to any new viewers. It’s nice to have my intelligence respected by a TV producer who expects me to work it out, but if I was a new viewer starting from scratch, I expect I’d have got about halfway through “The impossible astronaut” before turning off out of irritation. Hey look, they’re all upset that their friend’s dead. But he’s not! Oh, he’s a younger version. So why not tell him what happened anyway? Since when did this guy, of all guys, pay close attention to the sacrosanctity of the timelines?

But that was a blip. Last week was worth persevering with and this week we strike gold, with creepy tensions and some laugh-out-loud moments, the first of which was River’s means of not dying by falling from the fiftieth floor of a building. And the mystery of finding out who the little girl is will keep me more hooked than the weird crack in the wall from last year.

The Moff does have a few leitmotifs up his sleeve that he likes to reuse, doesn’t he? Decaying, creepy locations, possibly with cryptic messages scrawled on the wall. Inscrutable aliens who are nasty because they’re scary and inscrutable but not very good at explaining their motives. Small children in danger. The inability of two people to have a simple conversation going: “look, please can you explain what’s going on?” / “Why, certainly. As you can see, I’m in this spacesuit …” He’s good at juggling them but he doesn’t have that many opportunities to use them left before they start being boring …

So, as the late Nicholas Courtney’s most famous character would have said, onwards!

Fezzes are cool

Okay, I know everyone was waiting for my reaction to the Dr Who finale, like my good opinion is the sole decider on whether there’s a new series.

Well, you can all relax because I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it because it wasn’t as sheerly awful as the last few DW finales have been. Enjoyed it because faith in the Moff has been vindicated. Enjoyed it because it was heart warming and well acted. Enjoyed it because after far too long we finally get a vaguely menacing Dalek – ironically, after their relaunch in new child-friendly dayglo colours, in monochrome.

(When this one is up for a Hugo (as I suspect it will be), and they play a clip from it, I hope they show the bit with River and the DalekEdited update that occurs to me hours later: “One alpha meson burst through your eyestalk would kill you stone dead.” So why doesn’t it just look away? HA-HA! I AM TURN-ING MY HEAD! YOU CAN-NOT SEE ME!)

But, it was still just as silly as all the other finales – just better done. It’s still TVSF, a medium on which I have previously recorded my thoughts. So I will spoil everyone’s fun and pick holes in it.

First of all – my one disappointment – I was hoping that the extremely unlikely grand alliance of unholy races at the end of last week was yet another illusion because it was just so unlikely. But no, apparently not. We’ll put that to one side.

Now, 1800 years ago, it appears, every star in the universe was unmade. I lost track of whether they subsequently never had existed at all, or whether they just exploded, which would have bathed this world in a sterilising wash of radiation that burned the very microbes off the topmost layer of rock. Never mind. We can assume that since then Earth has developed more or less as before but with absolutely no knowledge of stars. Heat and light in the meantime provided by a permanently exploding TARDIS.

Yet everything else we saw about history seems exactly the same. They had World War 2. They have Richard Dawkins. Did they have Copernicus? Galileo? The heliocentric theory came about as the only one to explain the movement of stars, sun, Earth and other planets all in relation to each other. Did that happen? Somehow during WW2 fleets of Luftwaffe bombers still managed to find their way in the dark to London. Handy things, stars, if you’ve got them. Not easily replaced if you don’t.

(Besides, it’s an established fact that a race which grows up with no knowledge of stars turns into a race of charming, delightful, intelligent, whimsical, manic xenophobes.)

I know, I know. Wibbly wobbly timey wimey. But like so much TVSF, it all falls apart if you look too closely; and while the logical treatment of time travel verges on Einsteinian by RTD standards, Bill & Ted did it all more funnily a long time ago. Books will always be better …

But, it was a very nice bit of TV, for all the above reasons. However, I do hope that people stop phoning the Doctor up with their problems – he’s not Batman, you know. His adventures work best when he turns up at random. Much more of this and they’ll be summoning him by beaming the image of the Seal of Rassilon onto a planet.

We have an interesting dynamic in the TARDIS crew, with a married couple now on board, but as it is still their wedding day I hope the Doc allows them a little privacy. I don’t believe there’s any canonical record of that kind of activity on the ship before now but there’s a first time for everything.