THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK WILL MAKE YOU SEE BLADE RUNNER IN A WHOLE NEW WAY

Blade Runner looks nice, but it doesn’t make much sense. “I’m Lance Parkin. I’m a blogger. Stands for ‘Web Log’.” Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve accidentally put out the Theatrical Cut of this blog post. “I was typing words about Blade Runner when-” That’s quite enough of that.

Hang on. Before I start. OK, Blade Runner is set in 2017. Not long now. It’s the exact opposite of ‘weird’ that a movie made thirty-four years ago, set thirty-five years in the future is set next year. That’s how numbers work. But it is a little weird to think that the first time most people born after, say 2005, watch the movie, it’ll be set in the past.

So, OK. Blade Runner doesn’t make much sense. The entire point of this character:

blade-runner-1982-10-g

Is that someone else’s memories have been transferred into her, that they live on in android body. And the whole point of this character:

b143c671d0440b4869dd3aaa122dd14b

Is that memories absolutely can’t live on, that when he dies, it’s all gone. See? Makes no sense. And the ending really is awful, overblown nonsense. But let’s look at that ending again. Perhaps something’s going on that we’ve never noticed before. In the last sequence, Roy Batty goes … well, batty. He does this:

Roy-blade-runner-31051286-1024-673
He sticks a nail in his hand because he doesn’t want to die. Because, as you know, sticking a nail in your hand increases your health.

blade-runner-031-roy-batty

He also, for no obvious reason, takes all his clothes off.

blade-runner-deckard-e-roy-rain
And suddenly, he’s holding a dove.

th

And, out the blue, just randomly starts quoting Roy Batty’s monologue from the end of Blade Runner .

ed0b10856f123447f1b3ad24bcdb1970

None of this makes sense. Any sense. Unless. Let’s think this through. Why would Roy Batty do any of those distracting things? And the answer is ‘to distract’. So what’s he really up to, while you’re going ‘WTF? Why is he howling like a wolf?’.

Let’s start with the dove. Most of the real animals are dead in Blade Runner because reasons. The dove that Roy Batty suddenly has is an android dove. And you can transfer your memories into androids. Remember?

blade-runner-1982-10-g
Or do you really remember? Perhaps it’s not your memory, perhaps it’s Tyrrell’s niece who read the beginning of this blog and you had those memories implanted.  Anyway: so, Batty releases the dove, and suddenly dies, and the rain is symbolic of his tears, although the rain in the rest of the movie is probably just rain.

800px-Tears_In_Rain.png

And even Harrison Ford, in the voiceover, doesn’t get why he let Deckard live.

But it’s obvious, isn’t it? The dove isn’t symbolic of Batty’s soul departing his body. It’s his actual soul, copied over to the android dove, making his escape.

dove-1

It’s a shame the dove doesn’t go ‘Meep Meep!’ like Roadrunner, to get this point across better. But that’s it, isn’t it? All the howling and running around in his underpants is what he’s doing to hide the fact he needs a few minutes to cut and paste his soul into that android dove. And as Deckard and Rachel [do whatever they do at the end of the version you’re watching], somewhere in Los Angeles in the distant space year of 2017, there’s a dove flying around with Rutger Hauer’s soul.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Or does it? Is it you thinking that? Aren’t we all replicants, deep down? Ooh, Blade Runner is so profound.

ACCEPTABLE IN THE EIGHTIES

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:

190bc68cb11abc605b96b25c7af69e95

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).

doctor-who-caretaker-broom

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.

MI0001399600

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).

2drwho7-any-20130226125859550590-300x0

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.

e13c55eaa1588227cde7116a573aedfe

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

tumblr_nx00t55MBc1unhqj4o1_500

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.

best-1980s-british-films

a-bit-of-fry-and-laurie-now-tv

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 …

tumblr_ng1yqyVS4k1tx7zmio1_1280

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.

YOUR COFFEE IS NOT AS NICE AS MY COFFEE, BUT I HAVE A SOLUTION TO YOUR PROBLEM

panda2R_350x249

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:

full-bean

Source

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

whoniversepress

WHONIVERSE – OUT SOON

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

marinus

612Fx4JcfjL

AV MINUS – A PROPOSAL FOR ELECTORAL REFORM

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

spock

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.