Two thoughts collided for me this week, following a couple of different Doctor Who discussions. The first is that somewhere along the way, the twelfth Doctor’s original costume:


Has clearly been ditched as a bad idea. It acted as a force multiplier, didn’t it? When Peter Capaldi delivered stern and acerbic lines, the stern and austere costume made them seem far more hostile than I’m sure was intended. Reading the scripts, he’s probably at his most misanthropic and grumpy in The Caretaker, but it comes across as comedy because he’s dressed as a caretaker (he’s not trying that hard: one of the jokes is that he’s wearing exactly the same costume, except with a different coat).


It struck me that Peter Capaldi had probably had something like his original costume idea since the eighties. The new series has a clear line with the costumes: the ninth Doctor wore a forties U-boat leather jacket, the tenth Doctor wore suits that wouldn’t be out of place in the fifties and early sixties, and the eleventh Doctor wore the tweed and bowtie that make him look like a seventies geography teacher. The twelfth Doctor’s original costume is a bit Spandau Ballet, isn’t it? It’s a bit early eighties.


So that was thought one.

And here’s thought two: when Peter Davison said he was leaving Doctor Who, then-producer John Nathan-Turner immediately thought of Colin Baker, a curly-haired man in (early) middle age. Davison had been twenty-nine when he was cast. All the other Doctors from 1963-89 were in their forties or fifties (Hartnell was playing at being a doddery old man, as he did in other things – he was only fifty-five when cast).

What if Davison had cemented the idea in either the audience’s or producer’s head that the Doctor was younger? Perhaps if he had stayed for a fourth or fifth season (Baker had been cast and announced and done a photoshoot before The Five Doctors, so it barely felt like Davison had arrived before he’d left).


So … it’s the mid eighties, the producer is scouring Spotlight for actors in their late twenties. Imagine, for a moment, that the producer was casting based on watching Channel Four at 10pm, looking at people from Peter Greenaway movies, other Channel Four films at the time, or alternative comedians.
The first thing to note is that it’s possible that Peter Capaldi could have made the cut. Here he is in the mid eighties, look.


Awwwww … I sense clickbait, so let’s do that again:


Holy Moley, he’s cosplaying Matt Smith, look, he’s got the stupid hair and chin and everything. In 1985, Capaldi was in pretty much exactly the same stage of his career Matt Smith was when he was cast as Doctor Who, he’d have told his agent he was keen. And imagine if he had been cast … well, he’d wear the same outfit he did in his actual first season, wouldn’t he? And it would look like a style evolution from Davison’s long coat, with touches of Pertwee, and a lad in his mid twenties would look really rather dapper in that, wouldn’t he? It wouldn’t make him grumpy, it would add a bit of authority.

But he would not be the producer’s only option. There’s a whole bunch of actors who ended up either playing the Doctor or seriously considered for it when they hit middle age: Richard E Grant, McGann, Rowan Atkinson, Lenny Henry, Hugh Grant, Fry, Laurie.



Doctor Who was popular in the Davison era, but of course it wasn’t the career stepping stone for the regular actors it is now (rather the opposite). So, yeah, sure, the immediate effect of casting, say, Gary Oldman as the sixth Doctor would be that it would have derailed Gary Oldman’s career and he’d have ended up playing Butch Dingle on Emmerdale or something (information: he was in one episode, his first wife, Lesley Manville, was a regular). But … Julian Sands, Rik Mayall, John Gordon Sinclair … Tim Roth. Yeah …


Imagine a 25 year old Tim Roth playing the sixth Doctor, as written (but not as costumed). Imagine him in Vengeance on Varos, or opposite Troughton in The Two Doctors. A hungry, angry, dangerous young future superstar, three years after he was in Made in Britain, on his way up. A Doctor Who that takes its cues from the British film industry at the time – the Handmade Films, the Channel Four Films, and, yes, Merchant Ivory.

In that light, the twelfth Doctor’s original costume feels a little like a relic from the show where that happened, where a twentysomething Peter Capaldi’s seventh Doctor got to visit a Paradise Towers and Terra Alpha shot like Derek Jarman or Stephen Frears had directed them, stark and neon-soaked.

Um … yes, please.



For sake of argument, this panda’s drinking coffee.

Hello. You’re doing coffee wrong.

You’re drinking Arabica beans, probably. 80% of the coffee drunk around the world comes from the coffea arabica plant. Virtually all the rest come from the coffea robusta. Robusta has a little more caffeine, but a more bitter taste. It tends to be used as filler in coffee ‘blends’, but it’s the main coffee bean used in Vietnamese coffee. That’s (the main reason) why Vietnamese coffee tastes different.

Coffee originated in Ethiopia, all commercial coffee plants are descendants of ones from Ethiopia. But Ethiopia has far more than just two types of coffee plant. There are possibly hundreds of them, and very few of them are cultivated … abbayesii, benghalensis, congensis, dybowski, eugenoides, fadenii … there are whole alphabets of varieties. The reason not all of them are cultivated is that, well, not all of them taste very nice.

One that is very nice indeed is Liberica.

Less than 1% of coffee grown is from the liberica plant. The liberica tree is much taller than the others, its beans are larger.Here are what the various coffee beans look like:



It is grown commercially in very few places in the world – basically a handful of farms in a couple of provinces (Batangas and Cavite) in the Phillippines.

Some people don’t like the taste. There is a word for those people, and it’s very rude, so let’s substitute the word ‘wrong’. Those people are wrong.

What does it taste like? Coffee, but somehow more delicate than you’re used to, with a subtle taste that people have identified as ‘nutty’ or ‘blueberry’. In hot coffee, there’s a sort of cinnamon, spicy note to it. The taste changes as it cools.

It tastes of coffee, but nicer. It’s essentially the coffee they’d drink in Narnia.

As cold brew coffee, it tastes different again … there’s almost a whisky flavour to it.

(How to make cold brew coffee the extremely easy way: put an equal volume of coffee grind and water in a container, seal it, put it in the fridge for about 18 hours. Strain it. Put the liquid back in the fridge for at least twelve hours. You can probably make coffee from the sludge left in the sieve. The liquid is concentrated to about espresso level. When it’s ready, you can drink a shot neat, pour nearly-boiling water on it to make regular coffee, and it’s the only way to make actual iced coffee).

And here’s the time for the call to action: this coffee is so rare that the very few plantations where it’s grown aren’t sure it’s commercially viable. Unless you buy some of this coffee, now, the species may go extinct. And then, if you don’t buy this coffee, you will be as morally culpable for the extinction of a whole species as you would be if you went around strangling pandas.

So, don’t be a moral monster, do your bit for the planet, and give the ridiculously poncey coffee I drink a try. Heirloom Coffee sell it. I have not been paid by them to say that. Hmmmm … I should have asked about that beforehand, I bet they’d have thrown me a couple of bags in exchange for the plug. Damn.

Thank you.

Whoniverse Preview



WHoniverse Cover

Next month sees the publication of Whoniverse, an unofficial guide to the Doctor Who universe written by me. It’s not, not, not an encyclopedia of every single planet ever mentioned in Doctor Who, or a geographical version of Ahistory. It’s a guide to the main points of interest and some of more out of the way places, with lots of lovely pictures. It hopefully wanders a little further from the beaten track than you might expect – the Marinus spread below should give you some idea of the ground it covers and what it looks like.

This is a book that I hope will square the circle of being a great introduction for new and relatively new fans; something fun for long-term fans, with plenty to argue about and what I hope are some genuine ‘what the cruk?’ style surprises as to what’s in there. It’s also a book you can hand to kids who enjoy the show, I hope.

Doctor Who is fun, the universe of the series is vast and colourful and weird, and I hope I’ve captured some of that tone. It’s released in mid-October in the UK, and the plan was to release it in November in the US, but a little bird tells me they might be able to get it out next month there, too. If you don’t find it in your local bookshop, handcuff yourself to the railings outside and say you won’t leave until they stock it.

Buy it at Amazon UK – WHONIVERSE at Amazon UK

and at Amazon US – WHONIVERSE at Amazon US




The problems with the First Past the Post system are well-known and well-rehearsed. The main issue is that a candidate can win with a tiny overall share of the vote, if the opposition is split. The more competition, in fact, the fewer votes you need to win. One of the features of FPTP is that it magnifies slight advantages, leading to a point that, well, as we saw in this year’s election, the winning party can win more than half the seats on only around a third of the vote. For all the talk of hung parliaments and minority governments, the result in 2010 was a fluke, like a coin landing on its side, and the chance of it happening again was always remote. FPTP wasn’t ‘designed’ to create majority governments out of not very much, but it’s always tended to. John McCain was crushed and humiliated by Barack Obama in the US Presidential election of 2004, but got a higher share of the vote than Tony Blair’s Labour Party when it won its massive 1997 landslide in the UK.
The alternative system on offer, though, was soundly rejected in a referendum nearly five years ago. This was AV, and something like it is used in a number of places around the world. The basic principle is that you vote for someone, but you register a second preference. If all goes to plan, the ‘winner’ is someone acceptable to most people who voted.

Psephologists have spent a great deal of time talking through the pros and cons of AV. The arguments tended to be dry and technical. What I’ve not seen discussed very often is that a big problem with AV is that it’s based on the premise that the problem with current British politics is that there are just so many great parties and candidates that it’s really unfair to expect people to pick just one.

Is that how things feel to you? If you just voted in the UK elections, did you stand with your pen poised thinking it was so hard choosing between so many awesome, talented and inspirational candidates, and somehow deeply unjust that you only got to vote once? Did you think ‘gosh, I wish I had two votes, here, this is like trying to pick between Sgt Pepper and Revolver?’

I humbly suggest that the ballot paper did not resemble the dessert menu at the Ritz, and that instead you went: ‘Seriously? In a country of sixty four million people, this shower is the best we can do?’ That looking at the potential Prime Ministers – there were two – that your reaction wasn’t ‘my god, Ed and Dave are both titans among men’ and you probably didn’t watch the televised Leaders’ Debate, and conclude ‘I firmly believe every one of those people could lead the country to a new golden age’.

You don’t have to outrace the lion in a British general election, do you? To win, David Cameron had to look more Prime Ministerial than Ed Miliband. This is an almost proverbially easy task. In fact, I suggest that from now on we use the ‘miliband’ as a unit of measurement for whether a candidate has reached the absolute minimum level of viability. Think of it as a line on a graph, and if you’re above that line, you can be treated as a serious candidate because you are at least ‘not unelectable’. Use it in a sentence as you might use ‘rubicon’ or ‘jump the shark’. ‘Andy Burnham obviously crosses the miliband, but does he have what he takes to win in Scotland?’; ‘Jeb Bush’s statements on Iraq this week have left people wondering if he’s sinking below the miliband’; ‘the televised debate will include all the candidates above the miliband’.
So what’s the solution? Here’s my proposal, a system I call ‘AV Minus’.

  • 1. A voter gets two votes.
  • 2. As now, they place an X next to the candidate they want.
  • 3. As with AV, they also place a second vote. This, though, they mark ‘FO’, and this stands for ‘FOrgive me, sir or madam, I’m sure you are a lovely person, but I do not wish you to represent me in the House of Commons’.
  • 4. Candidates get one vote added for every X, and one vote taken off for every FO. The winner of the election is simply the candidate with the highest net total of votes.
  • 5. Here’s the best bit: when the returning officer declares the result, he turns to the candidate with the most FOs, raises two fingers at him and snarls ‘FUCK. OFF’. That person then has to walk out of the hall, like the losing contestant on The Weakest Link.

See? It’s brilliant, isn’t it?

Consider the following scenarios:

  • 1. You are a Labour supporter in a constituency where the Conservatives are ahead, but UKIP are nipping at their heels. Labour are a close third, but you really, really don’t want UKIP to win. Under FPTP, you have to vote Tory. Under AV-, you can vote Labour and go FO UKIP. The Tory may still win, but you wouldn’t have voted for them. And there may be scenarios, in fact, where the UKIP and the Tories FO each other to such an extent that Labour win.
  • 2. You’re a Tory in Wales. No, you actually live there, you’re not on holiday. It happens. You’re resigned to the fact your lot won’t win, but you don’t want Labour to win. But they’ve got a massive majority in your constituency … well, you can vote tactically: vote for whoever’s second and FO the Labour candidate. That’s basically two votes against Labour.
  • 3. You really, really hate Tories or the SNP. You’re indifferent about who wins, as long as it’s not them.
  • 4. George Galloway. I mean, seriously. Shouldn’t there be a constitutional mechanism that lets us tell him to fuck off?

It is possible, of course, to get the most FOs with this system but still win the election. This isn’t a problem – the MP knows that they won, but also that a great swathe of his constituents actively loathe him.
The only downside I see is that people might forget to put down the X, or that they might just endlessly find themselves scrawling FO next to all the candidates. Or that joke candidates might seek la lanterne rouge.
We are in an era of British politics where the electorate need a degree of damage control. We need to be able to say ‘no, not him’. Instead of the rather grubby spectacle we saw this time of parties saying ‘vote for us, that way you won’t be voting for them’, you can vote against someone without endorsing their rival.

Tony Benn always used to say that the mark of a good electoral system wasn’t that it allowed you to vote someone in, it was that it allowed you to vote them out. That has always been the problems with AV, AV+, PR and related proposed reforms – they’ve always been set up in a way that would create mushy coalitions, fosters a lukewarm centrism. There’s that old joke ‘don’t vote, it only encourages them’ – well, AV Minus squares that circle, allows you to go ‘for god’s sake, not him’. And, in the end, don’t we want an electoral system that creates stable governments and humiliates wankers?

Leonard Nimoy


An outpouring of grief is highly inappropriate, of course, but Leonard Nimoy’s death is a significant event. If nothing else, we might note that the cast of the movie Boyhood recently wowed critics by essaying the same characters for twelve years, but Leonard Nimoy was Spock for fifty. And Spock, in that time, evolved as a character, grew old and died. Although not, as it happens, in that order. Spock was portrayed with care and nuance by an actor who embodied a role like few actors ever have. He had a relationship with the character as up and down, as tempestuous, as Richard Burton did with Elizabeth Taylor, and who wrote two autobiographies about that struggle.

Spock’s character was assembled on the fly, his devotion to logic, his ‘half-breed’ (it was fifty years ago, the term was used) nature, his perpetual state of comradeship and yet simultaneously utter alienation … none of these were part of the original plan. They emerged in performance, Leonard Nimoy taking on a role that saw him caked in make up and glued on ears, and somehow being the most dignified presence on the screen. The writers loved him, the kids loved him, a whole new form of love called ‘fandom’ had to be created to express the response a portion of viewers had for Spock, and characters like him.

This is, for some of us, an event with the same sort of moment as the death of a monarch, or the assassination of a President. If the internet had state funerals, then we’d be lining the route. An exaggeration, surely? Wasn’t this guy just someone from an old TV show? No. Social media today is full of responses from some of the hundreds of thousands of people who met Leonard Nimoy, talked to him, were inspired by him. Spock’s example helped them cope when they were lonely children, or inspired their studies and career, brought them into a community and camaraderie that spans the globe, or just gave them some catchphrases they could bandy around with their mates. If nothing else, it gave a lot of people who are by temperament not the emotionally expressive type a good cry at the end of Wrath of Khan.

Entertaining a billion people, inspiring millions … this is significant. There are those artistic or historical figures who will endure. The author Ken MacLeod has a nice phrase for it: ‘the names that will be remembered on the starships’. Leonard Nimoy was, to coin a phrase,  in a starship before most of us were in diapers.   

Alan Moore Interview, Part V: Underland, Hancock, Jerusalem, Literary Difficulty

The fifth and final part of my Alan Moore interview.

As I was finishing up the book, I was re-reading an interview with you [in Reflex, December 1991] and there was a one line reference to a project called Underland that I’d never seen mentioned anywhere else.

That may even have been a follow up to A Small Killing for Gollancz. Somewhere around that time. I had a book called London Under London, that Neil Gaiman had sent me when I was researching From Hell. I wanted to do something with Steve Parkhouse, and I came up with the idea of a subterranean world under London that linked up all these interesting underground spaces and had its own inhabitants and its class system. It was going to have a girl whose sister had vanished, been spirited away into this underland, and the girl – I meant it as a grown up children’s story, the adventures of this girl exploring this world and finally rescuing her sister. The same length as A Small Killing, something like that. I mentioned this in that interview and I got a phone call from Neil Gaiman saying he’d signed a deal with Lenny Henry’s production company to do Neverwhere. Given that Neil had sent me the book originally, I felt duty bound to say ‘oh well, you were here first, so I guess I’ll forget Underland’.

You’ve not done many children’s stories, is it a genre that appeals?

I submitted a proposal, I forget who to, to someone who was looking for a children’s book. This was prior to Bojeffries. It was about an unprepossessing, oddly willful child like a younger Ginda Bojeffries who was a belligerent genius who could have adventures on the Moon. It wasn’t what they were looking for, they wanted something for very young children. I got the impression I wouldn’t be that good writing for young children, I’m a tiny bit bitter and ironic. That said, Blanket Shanty with Shawn McManus, that was a Tom Strong story done as a bedtime story.

You’ve got Timothy Tate and Lobelia Loam in 2000AD …

They were still horrific stories. Blanket Shanty was aimed at small children … I probably could do children’s material in the right circumstances. Whether I’ll get round to it now, I don’t know. I avoided it for a while because it was trendy. I like some of the things about children’s stories, but I didn’t want to be jumping on a JK Rowling bandwagon. The whole middle section of Jerusalem is about a gang of children running around time in a four dimensional afterlife. It reads like a children’s book, but it’s not because it’s a much stranger story, it’s adult, it’s not meant for children.

One thing I can’t work out is where your music fits in. Clearly some of the recent work is linked to the magical … project, if that’s the right word. But with things like the Emperors of Ice Cream, is that a hobby, is that you letting off steam, or is that part of your serious artistic endeavours?

I’m basically still at the Arts Lab, it’s just an incredibly enabled Arts Lab with whatever contributors I want. With the Arts Lab all of my needs to express myself, all my urges, had an outlet. I could do comic strips, I could do poetry, I could do music. My emphasis has had to be on writing, but I’ve never abandoned drawing or performance. There’s never been a need to. I don’t define myself purely as a writer. ‘Magician’ is a handy word, as it’s almost the same as saying ‘artist’, but artist sounds so pretentious. Like Tony Hancock in The Rebel. My approach has always been the same, and I’m more mature and capable, but it’s the same impulse.

I don’t feel I’m part of the comics industry, any more than when Jerusalem is done I’ll feel like I’m part of the literature industry. I certainly don’t feel part of the music or film industry. I am probably at an Arts Lab in my head. An enthusiastic amateur. Yes, I get money for it now, but in my heart I’ll always be an amateur – someone who does it for the amour, for the love.

So, do you have hobbies that aren’t artistic?

(Laughs) No. I don’t have time for anything other than reading, and that generally ends up being unexpected research. Just read a book today, by my friend the magician Joel Biroco, A World of Dust. Interesting, really good stuff. I continue to enjoy books and the very occasional film. The last enjoyable film I saw was A Field in England. So, I don’t really have hobbies. I’ve taken to going for walks lately, generally with Alistair Fruish, a very knowledgeable young man, we have walks all around Northamptonshire. I’ve known him since he asked me back to the Grammar School to talk to the kids. He works in the prison system now, he took me over to Wellingborough nick a couple of years ago, the lifers. They don’t get much entertainment, but I’ve apparently got a strong part of my readership inside. And these are ordinary blokes who had a really bad day and did something fucking stupid and after that point they would never be ‘not a murderer’. For the rest of their lives they can’t ever be ‘not a murderer’.

The other day, on a riverside in Northampton, Alistair and me found the source of the industrial revolution and capitalism. Check out the cotton mill founded in 1741, the first powered mill in the world. So there’s the birth of industry. Adam Smith heard about it or visited it, and said ‘all these looms work without anyone to manage them, it’s almost like an invisible hand’. So that’s the central metaphor of capitalism.

[Discussion has turned to Jerusalem, a massive novel Moore has been working on for many years which is set in Northampton.]

You’re nearly finished?

I’m on the last chapter, but then there’s an epilogue. So about one and a half chapters to go.

What are your hopes for it? How do you think it’s going to be received?

With Jerusalem, I embarked upon it purely because it was the book I wanted to write. It’s about the neighbourhood I grew up in and its very fascinating history, also the history of my family in the area which has its unusual side. Lots of lots of fantasy is mixed in there, and theories of the nature of time and life and death. When I was speaking to Melinda [Gebbie – Moore’s wife (and the artist on Cobweb and Lost Girls)] about it, she very perceptively said that it sounded to her like ‘genetic mythology’, and I thought, after all why should it be only aristocrats and pharaohs and monarchs that have genetic mythology? Shouldn’t people in slums be entitled to their own? So that was part of the urge, and in writing it, I realised that this is exactly the novel I wanted to write.

I am really proud of it, I think it’s sensational. That is, of course, just my own opinion. I am aware that conventional criticism will probably say that it’s about ten times too long, that it’s difficult in places, that some of the passages were deliberately alienating.

Actually I’ve just discovered – I’ve been reading lots of books of literary criticism, mostly about HP Lovecraft to do with Providence, which is a really big job that I’m about halfway through. My armchair is walled in with Lovecraft reference books, I’ve got everything. And I’m starting to pick up ideas from literary criticism, which I’d previously dismissed as poncey because I hadn’t seriously looked at it.

The concept of ‘literary difficulty’ – doing something that will put off a percentage of the audience but will force those who remain to engage with the work on a deeper level. It will challenge people. Now, if I’d had that concept before I’d written the first chapter of Voice of the Fire [told as the first person narration of a Neolithic settler, using a limited vocabulary], I’d have done it exactly like I did, except even moreso. That’s exactly what I did it for, even though I couldn’t have explained it like that.

There will be elements of literary difficulty with Jerusalem – actually lifting the book will be among the difficulties. It’s going to be a very forbidding book in terms of its sheer size and because it’s about the underclass. There is no better way of ensuring that you don’t get a readership of your book than making it about underclass people. In the current climate getting any fiction published is difficult.

I can take unfair advantage of my position. Only I could do this, only I could spend eight years of intense work on it, only I could actually recount what happened in that neighbourhood with those people, and only I am in a position where I could do that without worrying about getting it published. I don’t need to go with a big publisher, they don’t really have anything to offer me. It’s not a big, popular book or a beach read, I’d much rather have a small publisher who had some understanding of what I was doing.

The only ambition I have for Jerusalem is for it to exist. I’m under no illusions that anybody is going to say this is the greatest book of the century. No, no, it’s probably far too difficult for that. It’s just an accurate expression of part of my life and part of my being that also includes lots of other subjects that have become part of that: history, economics, poverty, the Gothic revival, the Gothic movement which started in Northampton with James Hervey, Charlie Chaplin, wars and ghosts, psychological and factual. Family and famous people who’ve passed through this neighbourhood.

Beyond that, fate will have to take its course. I don’t have another prose novel in mind after this. Maybe a really big poem at some point in the future, I have an inkling for one. There’s more League stuff, there’s the book of magic, there’s Providence which I want to be – in my terms – the definitive Lovecraft story. Then there are the films, we’ve got the Kickstarter money for that, and then there’s the possibility of a feature film and TV series after that, both called The Show. Pipe dreams at the moment, they may not come in to land. But a lot of things that have been brewing for years are falling into place.