by Martin Odoni

Quite startling to realise that V For Vendetta, the movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s popular 1980’s comic strip, has already celebrated its fourteenth anniversary. As a film experience, it is a bit of a mixed bag, with some slightly stagy over-acting by some of the cast as they try desperately to give the production a feeling of Hollywood ‘epic-ness’, while Natalie Portman, playing Evey, clearly concentrates way too hard on sustaining an ‘English rose’ accent, meaning that she periodically forgets that she needs to act as well. (Which is a shame really, because when she is on her game, or at least when she is not in a Star Wars prequel, Portman is usually a very good actress.) Equally, the scripted attempt at portraying a bleak, totalitarian future, done to death by British media since at least the 1930s, at time comes across as eye-rollingly generic. Curfews, political rallies attended by right-wing fanatics dressed in all-black uniforms, the church abusing its re-established authority, violent and corrupt state police enforcers with a ‘kewl‘-sounding vernacular name, obvious and crude propaganda filling the airwaves twenty-four hours per day (in the real world, we call this phenomenon ‘the BBC News Channel‘), a relentlessly angry dictator thundering his commands to the world through a gargantuan television screen etc.

V For Vendetta plagiarises Nineteen Eighty Four

The late, great John Hurt appearing in both movies was probably meant to reinforce the idea of a tribute, but all it did in practice was help draw attention to all the stolen ideas.

All very standard and hackneyed by 2006, and had George Orwell somehow lived into the new millennium, I have no doubt he would have sued. Indeed, some of it would be pretty routine fare just for Dr Who. Overall, quite a lot of overcooked acting trying to compensate for some rather undercooked writing.

Given the film is only of moderate quality, it is perhaps surprising what a sizeable pop-culture footprint it has left, in particular the interest it created in the Gunpowder Plot. Outside of the UK, almost nobody would ever have heard of Guy Fawkes until this movie hit the cinemas. Nowadays, you have to uncover a hidden tribe, who have never encountered the rest of the human race, in the depths of a vast South American rain-forest, in order to meet someone who does not know about the Seventeenth-Century Catholic conspiracy to blow up Parliament. From late-2006, the Fawkes mask of the eponymous lead character suddenly became the world’s favourite ‘anarchist uniform’ (if that is not a contradiction-in-terms), and it remains a frequent sight at political gatherings even now. That Fawkes was in no way at all a democrat, and was fighting for the restoration of the Pope’s authoritarian control over England, not for liberty in any social or class sense, was completely skated-over by the movie, and is still missed even now by many people both in Britain and overseas.

Penny for the V

‘V For Vendetta’ was a rather under-cooked attempt at dystopian film-making, but I must give it its due; the “Penny for the guy” line was rather neat. It’s just a pity that over 99% of its audience wouldn’t have understood it.

One aspect of note is the character of V himself. In the original comic, he was an anarchist. Here, perhaps playing to the US audience, he comes across as a more general freedom-fighter, albeit a ruthless one. One noticeable pattern in V’s general behaviour, especially when talking to Evey, is his habit of offering ‘pearls-of-wisdom’, and one of them has proven particularly popular down the years; –

“People should not be afraid of their Governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

And yes, it is a very appealing soundbite. A good slogan perhaps, very catchy, even a little Yoda-like.

Unfortunately, it is not true. And as Jonathan Cook points out in his latest excellent article, people all around the world are poised to face a lot of very frightened Governments indeed – ones that I daresay will only-too-readily prove V wrong. And yes, that very much includes Governments in Britain and the USA.

The problem with Governments that are afraid of their people is that they start behaving towards them in a very suspicious, intrusive and intolerant manner. Paranoia as to who ‘the-enemy-within’ might be leads Governments to increasing surveillance of their own population, to restrict free movement, to clamp down with excessive force on minor transgressions, and to regard any political opposition with great resentment and hostility.

While it is true that a people who are scared of their Government is not desirable either, it is always healthy that people should be skeptical of their Government, and not too trusting of it. But the pertinent point is that, like the cornered tiger of metaphor, the last thing anybody should want is a Government that is scared of its people.

If we look at the current developments with the Coronavirus CoVid-19, there is much to be both skeptical and scared of about the way the UK Government may choose to behave. Most worrisome are some of the clauses in the Coronavirus Bill.  The powers it gives the sitting Government are quite unprecedented in centuries, and they will last for two years, which seems likely to be roughly double the time the pandemic crisis will last. That is disturbingly excessive, especially as, in the event that the crisis lasts longer than twelve months, a new Bill to renew the powers could simply be tabled then. Why is Boris Johnson in such a hurry to secure an extra year of extraordinary powers?

The current ‘lockdown’, which I must reiterate I do believe is necessary and correct, even if it has been implemented in a very slapdash way, is another device that could easily be abused. Given the under-staffing I mentioned the other day of the police force, and the stress officers must therefore be under to try and restrict the movements of over sixty-six million people, the temptation to take ‘short-cuts’ must be immense.

When will the lockdown be formally lifted? Beyond very vague descriptions of “When the crisis is over” – always left undefined – we do not know.

What we do know is that Johnson is almost completely divorced from the concepts of right and wrong, and in his short time so far as Prime Minister, has already triggered a massive Constitutional crisis in his attempts to get his own way. We must, as I stated a few days ago, be ready for a fresh struggle to make sure that Johnson relinquishes those powers when there is no further need for him to hold them.

It is most important that people around the world are vigilant, because the current crisis has its upside. It has exposed the shallow illusion of capitalism, and particularly neoliberalism. The ideology is largely a naive exercise in dismantling the state in the belief that it ‘un-tethers’ the economy. In truth, the historic pattern has simply been to ‘de-democratise’ the country; as more and more of the country’s structures are sold off, less and less has been answerable to a state that is in turn, at least in principle, answerable to the people.

But more serious than that is that a toxic mixture of Thatcherism, Blairism and ‘Cameronism’ has more or less left the state so self-maimed that it is almost powerless in many situations for which it was once equipped. This is one of them.

The NHS, butchered by years of cynical under-funding and stretched to the limits by under-staffing, is already overwhelmed by the early demands of the pandemic. It is terrifying to speculate what will happen when the virus hits ‘critical mass’ in the UK over the next couple of weeks.

There are nowhere near enough ventilators, nowhere near enough supplies of Personal Protective Equipment for medical workers on the front line, because the Government has spent years restricting NHS budgets, forcing hospitals to choose between different needs, rather than cover all of them. A short-term cut in spending that will now be massively out-sized by the enormous bill for applying treatments after the illness has been allowed to get a lot worse. And more overstretch too, as medical workers are needlessly exposed to the virus and contract it themselves, meaning they are added to the long list of patients receiving treatment, and removed from the list of medics available to administer it.

Boris Johnson has called a nationwide lockdown. There are nowhere near enough police to enforce it. Probably, we need ten times more officers than the puny approximate one hundred and twenty four thousand currently battling just to maintain a typical level of law-and-order.

Large numbers of people are now losing their incomes, due to the lockdown closing their places of work. The only way for many of them to get money just to live on in this modern era of a ‘simplified’ (transl.: ‘reduced’) welfare system is the infernal Universal Credit. But there are nowhere near enough staff at the Department of Work & Pensions to handle the sudden ultra-spike in demand, with phone queues frequently extending into the tens of thousands.

The Government had an office at the Department of Health specially tasked with preparedness for pandemics. The Tories closed it in 2011!

The list of examples is enormous, but the above are key ones, most pertinent to the CoVid-19 crisis. Neoliberalism has taken away every weapon in the Government’s arsenal that might have mitigated the pandemic’s effects on society and the economy. It does not help that we have narcissistic salesmen, with no expertise in anything except self-promotion, heading up Governments in both Britain and the USA. But if the old structures had at least remained in place, a lot of them could have functioned pretty well automatically without needing any substantial direction from Downing Street or the White House at all. The result of these structures being downgraded or removed or out-sourced is that the legislators now have to figure out what needs to be done and order it before anything will happen. It can only ask the private firms that have taken over much of the duties to help, leaving itself at the mercy of such firms, who will likely take advantage by setting harsh terms. And if the top legislators are utter buffoons, like the Beavis ‘n’ Butthead double-act of Trump-‘n’-Boris, they will have no idea what is needed, and will make the sort of breathtaking mistakes that we have seen over the last three weeks on both sides of the Atlantic.

Social democracy is better than neoliberalism

We would have been able to mitigate the pandemic so much more if we had just spent a bit of extra money here and there to maintain our protections.

This leads not only to disaster and needless suffering for countless people, it also leads to a false economy, as the expense of treating those with severe cases of CoVid-19 soon massively outstrips the previous savings brought about by not having adequate containment, staffing numbers or equipment.

In some ways, it is somewhat amusing, and satisfying, to see how completely the Tories have given in to the reality of the situation. What they have done, at least in terms of practice if not in aim, is in effect implement a socialist/social democratic remodelling of the economy, for the duration of the crisis. With vast numbers of people now having to stay at home instead of working, and most employers unable to cover their wages when doing no business, the Government has been forced to do an Edward-Heath-style ‘U-turn’, and intervene directly in the UK economy on a scale not seen since the 1970s. It is paying large numbers of people’s wages, just so that enough of them can carry on buying goods to keep the economy from collapsing entirely. Between this and the UK’s hesitant half-step out of the European Union, our economy is now remarkably similar to the so-called ‘Norwegian Model‘ – leaning well to the left of centre, and the state keeping money circulating when the markets cannot. Ideologically, this is as far-removed from the current Tories as Heath’s mind-boggling ‘Dash-For-Growthprogram of 1973 was from his own Election Manifesto of just three years earlier. The UK is suddenly a near-socialist country, a three-month U-turn in itself, since it is only just over three months since these same ideas were foolishly rejected at the ballot box. After all he has been through, who can begrudge Jeremy Corbyn his satisfied ‘I-told-you-so!’ moment?

The danger in all this is that we need to understand that this is meant to be entirely temporary. Johnson, a man who has called for the privatisation of the NHS itself in his time, will certainly not want to keep a left-leaning system of social democracy in place beyond the pandemic, even though the crisis has demonstrated how much it is needed. And here is the point that makes Johnson a danger; when people see social democracy in action, they will learn that not only does it not bring about ‘stagnation’ and ‘national bankruptcy’, as the anti-1970s urban mythology would have us believe. In fact, it has kept the country alive, re-stabilising the economy when it was heading into free-fall, and will prove beneficial to many people abandoned by the neoliberal set-up. This realisation will terrify the Government, and the elite more widely.

When the metaphorical genie is out of the bottle, the fearful Johnson will fight tooth-nail-knuckle-and-elbow to force it back in. That is when the emergency powers the Coronavirus Bill will grant will become a terrible danger. They give him the ability to outlaw many forms of peaceful and legitimate opposition. He will lie, cheat, and bully, as he has always done, to force the country back into its neoliberal dystopia. This is why we do not want a Government that is scared of its people.

Interestingly, the aforementioned V For Vendetta portrayed the dictatorship of the ‘Norsefire Party’ – an extreme right-wing break-off from the Conservative Party – as coming about because of a pandemic that terrified the population into submission. The plague was blamed on minorities. Given where we are now, the movie may be more prescient than it sometimes gets credit for. Beyond doubt, after the dust has settled, the Tories will exploit the terrible difficulty the NHS has had fighting the pandemic, using it as a pretext for saying, “Look this nationalised system just isn’t working,” and then sell off the last of it with all the cynicism avarice can bring. All mention of how the NHS is almost certainly blameless on every level for this crisis, and how privatisation has, for reasons outlined above, played a substantial role in making the pandemic uncontrollable, will simply be shouted down.

Yes, the CoVid-19 pandemic does have an upside, in that it has demonstrated an economic truth that the political elite have tried to make unthinkable for generations. That will be of little consolation to those who have lost loved ones to the disease, but it has re-opened the door that appeared to have been closed for another generation with Corbyn’s defeat in December. But for this second opportunity to be taken, we cannot allow the Conservatives, or the Blairite/Brownite infestation in the Labour Party, to stifle all discussion of it. If they are afraid enough, they will use force to do so.

We have to be prepared for a potentially-violent pushback from a Government that will have a lot more unaccountable power than any administration should be allowed to wield, and enough fear of its people to use it.



News has broken while I was writing this that Boris Johnson has gone down with the virus. In expressing my sincere hopes for his eventual recovery, I would just like to say to the Prime Minister a heartfelt, “Take it on the chin.”

Take it on the chin, Boris

Hey, BoJob, you wanted to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people by asking the nation to take it on the chin. Now you get an idea of what that entails.


Luke Skywalker is an idiot

December 1, 2019

by Martin Odoni

[Conference room. Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and Lando are sat around the table.]

LEIA: Okay, everybody, Han is frozen in carbonite and is being held by Jabba the Hutt. But the good news is, they’re on Tattooine, a planet Luke knows very well. And he tells me he has a plan.

LANDO: Well terrific, let’s hear it.

LUKE: Okay, gentlemen, Princess… it really couldn’t be simpler. In the first stage of my strategy, Lando will dress up as a guard in a costume that only covers about half of his face. He’ll use this impenetrable disguise to infiltrate Jabba’s Palace, where he’ll stand around for days doing nothing. In the second phase of my strategy, I will disarm myself by hiding my lightsabre inside Artoo Detoo’s secret compartment. Then I will send him and See Threepio to the palace, where they will serve as a gift I am donating to Jabba. Once there, it is absolutely guaranteed that Jabba will recruit Threepio as a translator droid, because I mean, it absolutely goes without saying that he must have disintegrated his most recent one, right?

[Chewbacca whines non-comitally.]

LUKE: And it’s also a mathematical certainty that Artoo will be assigned to serving drinks aboard Jabba’s sail-barge, and not, say, to perform cleaning duties in the prison cells below the palace, so he’ll be perfectly placed to help out with the critical part of my plan later. Next stage of the plan, Leia, I want you to dress up as a male bounty hunter, and pretend you’ve captured Chewie, whom you will take to the palace and hand over to Jabba in exchange for a bounty.

LEIA: A male bounty…?

LUKE: I haven’t got to the good part yet. After Chewie is handed over, we can be confident that Jabba won’t choose to have him summarily executed on the spot or anything because he’s such a nice chap, so just wait until absolutely everyone has fallen asleep, then find where Han is hanging from the wall – it’s bound to be somewhere real nearby so there’s no danger of you having to search all over the palace and risk getting caught – and you can release him. Oh, I want you to make sure you activate the defrost mechanism straight away, so it’s real noisy and wakes up everybody in the palace. At this point, you’ll probably be captured and your real identity will be revealed, but don’t worry, no one will kill you or Han, because they’re really nice guys in that palace. I suspect Han will get thrown in the dungeons and Jabba will probably insist you get dressed up in a really demeaning sex-slave outfit which chains you to his throne, but that’ll come in handy later so don’t worry. Next stage, in the morning, I’ll arrive completely unarmed, but absolutely certain the Gamorrean Guards won’t slice me up with their axes or anything. They’ll politely take me to the throne room where I will confront Jabba and try and talk him into letting everyone go. Don’t worry if I happen to stand on a trapdoor or anything, and just happen to, say, get dropped into a pit with a ravening giant Rancor in it or anything, I’ll be fine. I am certain to survive even without my lightsabre. Next stage….

LEIA: When do we get to the good part, Luke? I haven’t heard anything good yet.

[Chewie growls in agreement.]

LUKE: Oh soon. So next stage, I calculate that when Jabba has captured all of us, he will not have any of us killed on the spot, and instead he will sentence me, Han and Chewie to get eaten alive by the Sarlacc creature in the Great Pit of Carkoon. He will not have Leia join us, and he will carry on trusting the two droids, even though they were an explicit gift from us. Jabba will choose to take almost the entire staff of the palace with him on his sail-barge to the pit, while the prisoners are shipped there on a skiff, to which there is every likelihood he will just happen to assign Lando to keep watch over us. From this skiff I have reasoned that Jabba will choose to have us walk a plank into the pit. At this point – and this is the good bit – Artoo will find a spot on the sail-barge where, even with his very diminutive stature, he will be able to get a clear line-of-sight over the side towards the skiff so he can launch the lightsabre to me, without anyone around him noticing him opening his secret compartment or telling him off for not concentrating on serving drinks. Jabba will definitely choose to send me to die first, by the way, so there’s no danger of Han or Chewie getting eaten alive before I can spring into action. So when Artoo launches the sabre, I step off the plank, spin 180 degrees in mid-air without any of the guards managing to push me any further or interfere with my movements in any way, then grab hold of the plank to perform a full body flip-somersault and land back on the skiff, catching the lightsabre on the way. Lando and I will then kill every single guard on the skiff with my sabre and his halberd, because even though Boba Fett will probably be there shooting at us, he’s certain to miss every shot. Don’t worry if you fall off the skiff at any stage by the way, Lando, Han will be on hand to help you out, even if he’s suffering from freeze-blinding or anything. You okay with that, Lando?

LANDO: Well, I… uh…

LUKE: I knew you would be. At this point, Leia, in all the confusion, you can hurl the chains that have fastened you to the throne around Jabba’s neck and strangle the life out of him. Don’t worry, everyone else on board the sail-barge is guaranteed to be up on top deck by now, no one will notice you trying to do it or try to stop you. And I have every confidence you’ll have the strength required to asphyxiate a creature that is approximately seven times your body-mass. By this point, the guns on the sail-barge are likely to be deployed to try and blow the skiff away completely, but no need to panic, it’s certain that all the guards are such lousy shots they’ll miss often enough to give me time to just leap across to the barge and kill absolutely all its crew first. Then we’ll get Leia to take over the guns and aim them at the deck to make the sail-barge self-destruct. We won’t get caught in the blast, of course, because we’re certain to find some ropes that will allow us to Tarzan-&-Jane our way back to the skiff before it’s too late. There, like I say, gentlemen and Princess, it couldn’t be simpler.

LANDO: Uh huh, “couldn’t be simpler“, yeah.

LEIA: Luke, it’s very… imaginative. But, and here’s a suggestion. How about you just mind-trick the guards to let you into the palace during the dead-of-night with your lightsabre, then you sneak into the throneroom and cut Jabba’s head off while’s he’s asleep?

LUKE: … … … Oh. Yeah.

Luke Skywalker is an idiot

“LUKE! DON’T FOLLOW! IT’S A TRAP! IT’S A TRAAAAAP!” What does Luke do….?

by Martin Odoni

FOREWORD: Today is the 16th of August 2019, and it is the bi-centenary of a notorious atrocity committed by the British Government against its own people in Manchester. A peaceful pro-democracy rally at St. Peter’s Field (very roughly the site of St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding streets today) was broken up by British armed troops on horseback, indiscriminately attacking the crowd with sabres. At least fifteen people were killed, probably more, and over six hundred were injured.

Given that the slaughter happened just four years after the great British victory at The Battle of Waterloo, and reflecting the fact that some of the protesters had served in the armies that fought Napoleon, this infamous act of state ruthlessness was rapidly named, with grim humour, ‘The Peterloo Massacre‘.

Last year, Mike Leigh directed a film chronicling the events that led to the Massacre. I saw the film shortly after its release, and wrote the following review of it on social media. I now reproduce it here to mark the bi-centenary.


All-in-all, certainly not a bad film. The Peterloo Massacre was a critical turning point in British urban history, even more so in the history of Manchester (my adopted hometown), and with the bi-centenary now just months away, this is an appropriate tribute.

As an historical account, it’s reasonably accurate (at least by the dismal standards of cinematic historicals), with the known order-of-events broadly presented correctly – potato hurled at the Prince Regent notwithstanding. (The event that’s based on happened around two years before this.) The script does a very correct and skilled job tying in the terrible events of August 1819 with the backdrop of the Battle of Waterloo just four years earlier. As the film explains through the story of a soldier with shell-shock called Joseph, the rise of political radicalism at the time was largely fuelled by the return from the war of tens of thousands of British soldiers. They had fought long and hard in the Napoleonic Wars, but found when they got home that the economy had become so heavily-geared towards supporting the war-effort that there were now no jobs for all these extra workers. The Government of the era cared not a jot, and the only gratitude they felt for the wartime exploits was directed solely at the Duke Of Wellington. Poverty and deprivation became widespread across Britain, problems that are perhaps described more than portrayed here, but nevertheless accurately so. That poverty led to a growing radicalist movement, demanding suffrage for all working men (women, alas, would have to wait another century, although it is to the film’s credit that it makes clear that women played a very substantial role in the post-Napoleonic radical movement), relief from the high price of bread caused by the Corn Laws, and a fairer wage for workers. This all led to the remarkable mass public meeting at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester in August 1819, with tens of thousands arriving from all over Lancashire.

So the film more or less succeeds as a history lesson. It further has fine visuals, and a feel that is very authentic, with both costumes and scenery that convince that this really is Manchester in the Hanoverian era, and not Lincoln in 2018 (which is where and when it was really filmed).

However, it does less well in other departments. It is a little over-long, with the early stages meandering and cumbersome at times. Several scenes could easily have been cut away with no real loss. And the characterisation as performed on screen is questionable.

The magistrates in Manchester, who gave the order to attack the demonstrators, would be difficult people to feel much sympathy for, but they are so pompous, venal, officious and degenerate here that it almost dehumanises them, to the extent of offering the wrong lesson; the sorts of leaders who order the deaths of innocents are, whether we like it or not, as human as you or I. But the Dickensian-bully stereotype here would have us believe that only caricatures would behave in such a fashion, potentially catching us off-guard in the real world. In particular, Victor McGuire (the guy who played Jack Boswell in Bread) is really quite absurdly over-the-top as Detective Chief Constable Nadin, almost turning him into a Dirty-Harry-with-a-Scouse-accent bad-cop.

Equally, there is little doubt that the real Henry Hunt did let his popularity go to his head. But the way Rory Kinnear portrays him here, he is so vain and so contemptuous of other campaigners that he almost seems like a prima donna celebrity from the 1990s. Samuel Bamford comes across as a likeable buffoon rather than a formidable campaigner in his own right. We can’t say this characterisation is exactly ‘wrong’ because no one alive today would ever have met him, and therefore no one can say for sure that he was all that different from the merry loudmouth seen here. But it doesn’t altogether tally with what we know of him, which suggests something more akin to Wolfie Smith.

Even allowing for the very dark subject matter, the film lacks a degree of humour. There are a couple of mild moments of comic relief, such as the maid, Bessie, apparently thinking the painting of portraits works like a camera would today, and some of the crowd, unable to hear the speeches, grumbling about it like it’s the start of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. But in a film lasting two-and-a-half hours, it gives the sad and very wrong impression that jokes weren’t invented until the 20th Century. It doesn’t need to be treated as a comedy film of course, far from it, but when the grimness is as unrelenting as this in a film as long as this, it starts to tire the audience.

I like Tim McInnerny being cast as the indolent Prince Regent, a role he performs to perfection, and there is a lovely irony to it. He of course found fame back in the mid-1980s in the first two seasons of Blackadder, playing the Percies of the Wars of the Roses and then Tudor eras. When the third season, set in the Regency period, was being planned, McInnerny was expected to be cast in it as Prince George, performed as another Percy-type figure. But scared of becoming typecast, while also becoming increasingly bored of the character, McInnerny decided to drop out, and so Hugh Laurie was brought in to replace him, playing the Prince in a very different style. Playing the Prince now, and in a style completely removed either from Percy or from Laurie’s George IV, seems to have filled a ‘What-if…?’ gap in McInnerny’s CV rather beautifully.

The portrayal of the Massacre itself is harrowing and haunting, and had me shaking with quiet anger as I watched, clearly what the director intended. Horribly, the notorious – and very real – moment when a baby was trampled to death by a horse is included, although thankfully it is not made graphic, with the baby shown to be wrapped up in a blanket, and so we can’t make him out.

The true death-toll that day at St. Peter’s Field will never be known. It’s officially always been set at fifteen, with over six hundred injuries, but my suspicion after studying the event in school has always been that it was quite a lot higher. The indiscriminate aggression with which the Yeomanry ploughed into the crowd suggests that the minimum death-toll would have to be closer to fifty. It should be remembered that the hundreds of injuries, many with stab wounds from Yeoman rapiers, were just as terrible as the summary deaths, in an era before real hospitals were available to provide effective treatment.

Today, the site of St. Peter’s Field has become St. Peter’s Square and its surrounds. A plaque hangs on a wall of the Radisson Hotel on neighbouring Peter Street as a tribute to those who died or suffered injuries, although sadly, it gets the name of the site slightly wrong. The Square today is a frequent venue for political protests.

The red plaque commemorating Peterloo

A few dozen metres down Peter Street from St. Peter’s Square, this memorial plaque can be seen on the wall of the Radisson Hotel. Note that it wrongly pluralises the name of the site of the Massacre as “St. Peter’s Fields”. There was an earlier version of the plaque, which included the same mistake.

The name ‘Peterloo’ is of course a very dark joke, made in the aftermath of the tragedy, to drum home twin points. Firstly, that some of the victims of the Massacre were themselves soldiers who had fought for their country at Waterloo, and that country, which by any standard should have been taking care of them after they had given so much to protect it, had instead turned swords on them on St. Peter’s Field. Secondly, that after the British Army had been glorified in the four years since Napoleon’s defeat, the soldiers of the Yeomanry had sullied that Army’s name irredeemably thereafter by using the same militaristic approach on a peaceful crowd of protesters – all of them fellow Britons.

The outcry that followed the Peterloo Massacre started a kind of domino effect across the country over the next decade or so, with resistance to Government and industrial oppression becoming angrier, sterner and more pro-active. It ultimately led to the Great Reform Act of 1832, the first in a slow but unstoppable series of electoral reforms that would, by 1969, create suffrage for all British adults over the age of 18. Even now, it is not yet sufficient for what I would call a ‘democracy’, but half a loaf is still better than no bread.

The relevance of Peterloo to modern Britain perhaps needs underlining, but the film fails to join those particular dots. It’s not just that many of our social and political rights today were won partly through the blood of those who fell fighting for suffrage, and that they deserve to be remembered. It’s also that these sorts of crimes of the British state against its own people have never entirely stopped happening. The Bloody Sunday/Bogside Massacre in Derry, in which British soldiers ruthlessly took fourteen lives during a largely-peaceful protest, was less than fifty years ago, and still in the memories of many people alive today. The Battle Of Orgreave, in which the South Yorkshire Police on horseback violently attacked picketing miners and then tried to falsify evidence in order to convict their victims, was as recent as 1984. The strength of Trade Unions was almost completely destroyed in the years that followed. Right now, we have a Government that is trying to sweep away workers’ rights almost entirely. Years of malicious, toxic Government Austerity have crushed many of the working poor into increased poverty and destitution, leaving them in a situation not entirely dissimilar to the one Wellington’s soldiers returned home to two hundred years ago.

We are in danger, as a country, of sleepwalking into the same kind of situation, where we will have to fight the same battle once again that led to the Peterloo Massacre. If we want to prevent it happening again, we have to stop the surrender of our rights now, before we become as vulnerable as the people of Manchester were on 16th August 1819.

by Martin Odoni

(Re-post and re-edit of a review posted to )

Official book description:-

THE HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER – Saturday, the 15th of April 1989 – when 96 innocent men, women and children lost their lives, in Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster. WITH HOPE IN YOUR HEART: A HILLSBOROUGH SURVIVOR’S STORY, THE DENIAL OF JUSTICE & A PERSONAL BATTLE OF PTSD – is the REAL, SHOCKING STORY OF HILLSBOROUGH. It is unique as it is written through the eyes of a survivor. It is told by someone who witnessed at first hand all the death and carnage from Pen 4 – one of the two central pens in which the majority of the 96 died. It shockingly tells of the glaring police failures, the lies, the cover ups, the fabrications, the suppression of evidence and the blatant denial of justice over almost a quarter of a century in the biggest single miscarriage of justice in the history of the British legal system. It tells of the bravery of the survivors and the bereaved families in their quest for truth and justice, and tells the shocking reality of what lengths that government, the police, the judiciary, writers and the media will go to, in order to hide the truth.

My view:-

Christopher Whittle is not a professional writer*, and he wrote this account, not for literary or commercial reasons, but to give himself a catharsis from his past trauma. Sadly it does rather show, for this is an awkward, at times inarticulate work, which shows unfortunate symptoms of being published without the help of an outsider editor. There are spelling mistakes, questionable word-selections, a tendency to jump from subject-to-subject, and an overriding tone of aggressive-defensiveness, which, although understandable given everything Whittle has been through, is to the book’s detriment. Also mildly brow-furrowing is Whittle’s needless habit of ‘highlighting’, for the benefit of the reader, any moments of comic-relief by punctuating the relevant sentences with triple-exclamation-marks. Frequent and unnecessary capitalisation of words for the sake of emphasis, a habit of writing that really should be left behind in the schoolroom, also detracts from the text’s readability. Less sympathetic readers may come to regard his writing style as petulant, whiny, or even, in a strange way, somewhat bullying, in tone. It is entirely unintended, I am sure, but even so, there is an unmistakeable air of a writer who does not wish to be argued with.

While the book is still a valid addition to the wide body of written work available on the subject of the Hillsborough Disaster, and does have a few useful personal insights to offer on the background to what happened, the actual description of the events on the day of the Disaster is far too brief and feels rushed. Whittle may still be too traumatised by the memories to be willing to dwell on them, which again is entirely understandable, but ultimately his account offers only a cursory summary of what happened on the day, one that imparts very little useful information that cannot be found from countless other sources.

Whittle not only offers his memories on Hillsborough, but also offers his thoughts on the Heysel Disaster of 1985 (at which he was not present). Now his views on it are sustainable, but are perhaps a little one-eyed. He claims, as though it is a matter of categorical certainty, that the tragedy in Brussels was provoked by the Juventus fans and not the Liverpool fans. To be clear, this version of events is entirely possible; there are famous assertions from various independent eyewitnesses that a young Liverpool fan, stood in the wrong section of the terrace where the riot broke out, was being attacked by Italian supporters, and other Liverpool supporters only started fighting when they moved to intervene. However, it is only a possible explanation of what happened, one that has never been established as definitive **, and Whittle is perhaps guilty of being defensive of his club colours by making it sound as though it has.

Later sections of the book discuss Whittle’s post-Hillsborough struggles with Post Traumatic Stress, not to mention the cruel brutality of battling against the vicious smear campaign in the police and media against the victims. These parts are actually better-written and, perhaps ironically, more moving than his description of the Disaster itself. Maybe this is just because the struggle with PTSD is the aspect of the story that is most unique to himself, but whatever the reason, these chapters add a much-needed air of earnestness that earlier chapters lack, and it is really at this point that the reader will start to feel a deep sympathy for what Whittle has gone through.

Towards the end, Whittle offers a list of people he holds responsible for the Disaster. Some of his assertions, especially one he makes against Margaret Thatcher, really need reliable sources. Unfortunately, what endnotes the book has are so broadly-framed that it is extremely difficult to verify any specific claim Whittle makes.

Would I recommend the book? Well, it depends on what you are looking for. Strangely, as a source or authority on Hillsborough, or even on stadium disasters more widely, ‘With Hope In Your Heart’ is of very limited value or use, at best. It is equally meagre fare when judged purely as a work of literature. However, if we remove it from the context of the ‘Hillsborough library’ so to speak, and instead view it as an insight into the long-term struggles of coping with trauma, and of battling against unfair public stigmatisation, it becomes worthwhile. And to anyone who is new to studying the Hillsborough Disaster, it would provide an adequate ‘starter’ that covers the basics, albeit not a terribly well written one.

All-in-all, it is just about worth a look, but it adds little to public knowledge, and is a very uneven read.

* Whittle in fact states that he is working on writing some fiction titles for the future under the pseudonym ‘Christopher Corcoran’, so perhaps he is planning to turn pro. Mind you, what point there is in using a pseudonym when he just goes and announces it on the Internet in his real name, I really cannot say…

** To give my own position on the causes of the Heysel Disaster; my suspicion is that this version of events is probably correct, for two reasons. One, there are different witnesses who claimed to have seen it, and they appear to have arrived at the same conclusion completely independently of one another. Two, it is the only version of what happened at Heysel that I have ever heard that gives a clear ‘trigger’ moment for the start of the fighting. Most other versions tend just to be fans from one side or the other pointing at their rivals and crying out, “Well, they started iiiit! They were throwing stones at us! They charged at us!” etc. To be fair, these versions are also likely to be true as far as they go, but the people saying them are probably unaware of what the stones that struck them were being thrown in response to. The story of the Liverpool boy being attacked by Juve fans would certainly account for the earliest missile-throwing, and the Juve fans attacking him would be the result of typical football-fan territorialism.

Even so, the story is not definitive because evidence is so vague, and the fact that nobody has ever been able to establish what happened to the boy whom the Ultras were supposedly attacking – no dead body (he clearly was not one of the thirty-nine people who died running away from the fighting), no trace on hospital reports, and he has never come forward in the twenty-eight years since to set the record straight – means it has to be treated with rather more caution than Whittle’s writing allows for.



POSTSCRIPT 18-1-2013

Christopher Whittle has responded to this review as posted on the Amazon website. Now with his history of censoring people who disagree with him, I thought it best I copy-&-paste the developing ‘discussion’ onto this page, just in case he finds a way of convincing Amazon to remove my review. Please be aware, the following text is complete and unedited; –

Christopher Whittle: “Are you a writer? The work is far from child like. Verification? Read the Taylor Report, read the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, read other publications. The work is all fact. If you look at what is written you can clearly see it ties in with all of the recent evidence submitted by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. I feel that the reviewer has some bias against the writer. Check out the other reviews, and the fact that the book has sold very well, not just purchased by Liverpool fans but the general public and non-football fans.”

Martin Odoni: “Are you a READER, Mr Whittle? I didn’t say the work as a whole was child-like, I was referring to your habit of CAPITALISING FOR EMPHASIS.

Whoever told you I haven’t read the Taylor Report or the Report of The Hillsborough Independent Panel clearly does not know me. My point about verification is that when you make an assertion, you are supposed to be provide a specific citation. Saying, “Look at the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report” doesn’t cover that, as the Report is hundreds of pages long. You need to provide not just the report’s name, but also a page and a section number. You do that with precisely nothing that you assert in the book. Hence, you claim that Thatcher said she wanted to make sure no policeman was convicted for Hillsborough. Where is your evidence for this? It sure doesn’t mention it in the Taylor Report.

Your response to my review seems deeply defensive. If, as you claim on your profile, you are planning to write more books, you are going to have to get used to receiving occasional negative reviews. It just goes with the territory; not everybody is going to like everything you write.

I have read the other reviews, thank you. I respect their opinion, but I do not altogether agree with them. I am under no obligation to do so.

The book may have sold well, but that does not necessarily make it an accurate or top-quality book. It’s a fair bet that most of the people buying it won’t actually have read it until after they have a copy of it.

Perhaps you could try taking things a little less personally, and just take some feedback on board?

Incidentally, if I was holding a grudge against you, as you, in your paranoia, are complaining, why would I give your book three stars instead of only one? Why would I describe it as ‘worthwhile’, at least in some circumstances, instead of advising people not to buy it?”

Christopher Whittle: “If you are trying to come across as all intelligent you have failed, miserably. This was the first piece of writing that I have had published, at my first attempt. The publishers deemed it as acceptable and good enough to be published, and I do not see how you can mask behind a very debatable ‘professional reviewer’ persona, trying to use big words and points that go beyond the realms of fantasy. It is all FACT what is written in the book. I know this through my own experiences and wealth of knowledge of Hillsborough. Of course it is accurate. As I have previously stated, the evidence in the book ties in with the Independent Panel’s findings, which were released a few months after my book was published. And it is also a known FACT that Thatcher did say those things about protecting the police. What part of the TRUTH do you not understand?”

Martin Odoni: “If you are trying to come across as all intelligent you have failed, miserably” – It never takes you long to retreat into ad hominem, does it?

“This was the first piece of writing that I have had published, at my first attempt. The publishers deemed it as acceptable and good enough to be published” – Acceptable, yes. That sort of tallies with my use of the word ‘worthwhile’. That doesn’t mean it’s actually ‘very good’.

“and I do not see how you can mask behind a very debatable ‘professional reviewer’ persona, trying to use big words and points that go beyond the realms of fantasy.” – I have never claimed to be a professional reviewer. For you to try and force such a pretence on me is just plain dishonest of you.

“It is all FACT what is written in the book.” – Says the person who wrote it. Ever heard of the term, ‘circular reasoning’?

“I know this through my own experiences and wealth of knowledge of Hillsborough. Of course it is accurate.” – I’m not disputing anything you state *within the confines of your own experiences*.

“As I have previously stated, the evidence in the book ties in with the Independent Panel’s findings, which were released a few months after my book was published.” – Are you paying attention, Christopher? I wasn’t necessarily saying that what is in the book is inaccurate. I said, it does not include citations. When you make assertions outside your realm of first-person experience, you need to *cite your sources*. Your book does not do that, except in extremely broad terms. Telling people, “Go look at the Taylor Report” etc is not a citation. You need to make clear which part of your sources you are referring to.

” And it is also a known FACT that Thatcher did say those things about protecting the police.” – No, it is not. It is a possibility, no more than a very common rumour, and once upon a time I believed it myself. Nowadays I am unconvinced, because every time I try to find a source for it, I come up blank. Every time I ask the people who keep announcing it – people like you – they keep dodging the question – again just like you have even on this discussion thread.

“What part of the TRUTH do you not understand?” – I understand the truth very well. Do you understand it? Do you understand, for instance, that claiming something is a fact when you have never been able to cite any evidence supporting it is lying? [And] it is a frequent mistake to think that if you put words like ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ in capitals, that somehow makes them more definitive. Instead, it just makes you look like you’re trying to bully people into agreeing with you; see the point I made in the review.

By the way, I paid for a copy of your book out of my own money. That means I am your customer. If you are going to take this attitude with paying customers when they give you feedback, you will lose a lot of readers.

Christopher Whittle: “What sickens me about this over elaborate, mythical review, is that the reviewer not only has no clue about Hillsborough, he also quite clearly does not have any idea about writing and indeed, forwarding a proper review. He describes my work as cathartic, yet does not back up this statement. He also needs to read other publications, most notably the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, which, as I have previously stated, ties in perfectly with my book. He describes my writing as ‘child like’ in what sense? That is so very wide of the mark. He claims that my description of the actual day of the disaster as ‘not very moving.’ Well, Mr. High and mighty Odoni, I have had comments from bereaved families and survivors who actually praise my description of the day as totally factual and beautifully written. He describes the book as having no value in relation to other books written about Hillsborough. What utter rubbish. It is the first book written about the disaster through the eyes of a survivor. I have had nothing but positive comments from everyone who has bought the book. I would really like to know what literary experience Mr. Odoni has? Or maybe he just likes to play with words. Maybe, just maybe, he holds a vengeful grudge against me because I removed him from a Facebook page a few months back due to his behaviour, his arrogance, and his disgraceful attitude. And yes, the evidence is all there about Hillsborough and what and who caused it. And yes, I will point out AGAIN that Thatcher stated, ‘I do not want any policeman prosecuted over Hillsborough.’ There are some secret papers which were not revealed to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, regarding government meetings. We are still pressing for those to be released. Next time you want to challenge someone, Mr. Odoni, please make sure it is not someone who was not only at Hillsborough, but who also has a breadth of knowledge of the disaster, the aftermath, the lies, the cover ups, the smear campaigns, and who has been involved in the campaign for justice for many years.”

Martin Odoni: “”What sickens me about this over elaborate, mythical review, is that the reviewer not only has no clue about Hillsborough” – – – How would you know whether I have a clue about Hillsborough? You have never made any attempt to assess my knowledge. All you are doing is being patronising.

Not the first time I’ve caught you doing that, is it, Whittle?

What’s so ironic about all your ad hominem aggression and dishonesty, is that if you ever paused to find out what my actual opinions on Hillsborough are, you’d find I in fact agree with you on about 99% of it. The only bit I don’t agree with you on is the subject of whether Margaret Thatcher actively colluded in the cover-up.

“he also quite clearly does not have any idea about writing and indeed, forwarding a proper review.” – – – By ‘proper review’, you mean, ‘a review that tells the author how wonderful he is’, or ‘a review that blindly agrees with everything the author says’.

Whittle, a proper review is where the reviewer says what he/she really thinks of it, and backs it up with an explanation why. I would say I have done so. Your objection isn’t about how ‘proper’ my review is, it’s because you just don’t like criticism.

“He describes my work as cathartic, yet does not back up this statement.” – – – You know, it seems very strange that you find that word objectionable. Do you even know what cathartic means?

[NOTE not from the argument itself: Just to point out, catharsis does appear to be the gist of what is said in this interview Whittle gave to a local newspaper in early-2014, which describes the book as “a bid to overcome his demons.”]

“He also needs to read other publications, most notably the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report” – – – You clearly should not be an author, as being an author requires literacy, and it is increasingly obvious from your remarks that you cannot read. I have already stated very clearly that I *have* read the HIP Report.

“which, as I have previously stated, ties in perfectly with my book.” – – – Well actually it doesn’t quite – for instance, you state in the book that Thatcher definitely aided the cover-up and that the documentation the Panel were studying would say so, whereas the HIP have explicitly stated that there is no evidence of that at all.

But anyway you keep deliberately ignoring my point. I never actually said that your assertions are wrong as such, What I said was…


Whether your assertions are accurate or not is beside the point. You don’t provide a clear reference point for any specific assertions you make. The only references in the Bibliography at the end of the book just name publications, but you never state where any particular assertion you make can be verified.

“He describes my writing as ‘child like’ in what sense?” – – – No, I didn’t use that term. You did. I said – and again I’ve already corrected you on this in an earlier comment – your habit of CAPITALISING FOR EMPHASIS is a schoolchild habit. I did not say your writing as a whole was like that, just your needless capitalisation of words.

“He claims that my description of the actual day of the disaster as ‘not very moving.'” – – – No I didn’t. You’re just lying now. You claim to be a devoted Catholic, and here you are, breaching the Ninth Commandment left right and centre. I said your description of the day was too brief and feels rushed.

“Well, Mr. High and mighty Odoni, I have had comments from bereaved families and survivors who actually praise my description of the day as totally factual and beautifully written.” – – – I’m glad they enjoyed it. Sadly, I do not altogether agree with them, and I repeat that I am under no obligation to do so. Nor am I under any obligation to remain silent about it.

Could you please stop resorting to bandwagon fallacies? They prove nothing.

“He describes the book as having no value in relation to other books written about Hillsborough.” – – – No I didn’t. I said it is of *limited* value, not of no value at all.

If you’re so sure that you’re in the right and I’m in the wrong, why do you feel the need to keep misquoting me?

“It is the first book written about the disaster through the eyes of a survivor.” – – – And that is the limited value it offers. But that’s all. More importantly, it really doesn’t tell us anything that can’t be found in loads of other sources. This may be the first *book* from a survivor, but it is a very, very long way from being the first account to reach the public domain. Consider Rogan Taylor’s book, “The Day Of The Hillsborough Disaster“, just for one. It contains many survivor accounts.

“I have had nothing but positive comments from everyone who has bought the book.” – – – And now you have had a couple of negative ones. (Well, half-negative. Seeing I described your book as ‘worthwhile’, it clearly hasn’t been castigated.) Live with it. Take them on board. Stop being so bloody egotistical that you feel that you have a divine right to go uncriticised.

“I would really like to know what literary experience Mr. Odoni has?” – – – Ah, interesting double-standard here. Have you challenged the people who have given you positive feedback for their credentials? Or did you accept their praise wholeheartedly and without pausing to ask? Is it only when someone says they have negative feedback as well that you start asking for quaifications?

If you go to a restaurant and don’t enjoy the meal, would you expect the chef to take your complaint on board? Or would you expect him to point to the kitchen and cry out, “Well let’s see you do any better!!!”

No, I am not a published writer, (although I do write on a non-professional basis, and have had fictional scripts turned into radio plays) but it’s beside the point.

The point is, I *paid* for a copy of your book. That’s money in your pocket from mine, which means I am your customer, therefore I am entitled to give feedback.

You just can’t take criticism, or people disagreeing with you, can you?

Grow up, Whittle.

“Maybe, just maybe, he holds a vengeful grudge against me because I removed him from a Facebook page a few months back due to his behaviour, his arrogance, and his disgraceful attitude.” – – –  Yes, well if you’re going to drag that up, I will now link to a blogpage I wrote itemising what *really* happened on that FB page. Your liberal over-use of foul language, dishonesty, intimidation and high-handedness will be there for all to see. Including your decision to delete people’s comments – not just mine – when they were not convenient to you.

Note that another user who witnessed the dispute has commented, confirming that my description of the argument is accurate.

“And yes, the evidence is all there about Hillsborough and what and who caused it. And yes, I will point out AGAIN that Thatcher stated, ‘I do not want any policeman prosecuted over Hillsborough.'” – – –  Yeah yeah, we know that you said that. What I’m asking for is a citation of evidence that she said it. It doesn’t become true just because you say so, no matter how many times, or how stubbornly, you keep repeating it.

“There are some secret papers which were not revealed to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, regarding government meetings. We are still pressing for those to be released.” – – – So in all that self-righteous ranting, you now admit that you don’t have a source for the quote. Are you by any chance just *guessing* that it’s in the papers that weren’t released?

I will also point out that in the past you have claimed that you were there when she said it. And yet you don’t mention that detail in the book, nor on this thread. So obviously that was another lie on your part.

Interesting that you keep pontificating in the name of the truth, and yet you feel it was okay to lie about that.

“Next time you want to challenge someone, Mr. Odoni, please make sure it is not someone who was not only at Hillsborough, but who also has a breadth of knowledge of the disaster, the aftermath, the lies, the cover ups, the smear campaigns, and who has been involved in the campaign for justice for many years.” – – – And, apart from the bit about physically being at Hillsborough, which I openly state I was not, what makes you think those descriptions don’t apply to me? Do you really imagine I haven’t studied anything about Hillsborough?

I have studied Hillsborough, and I have supported the justice campaigns, for over twenty years. Keep in mind that that means I have supported *you* in that time.

Am I the only one who, when reading Whittle’s responses, is reminded of the Shakespearean phrase, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”? Most of his arguments are appeals to false authority and bandwagon fallacies e.g. the book sold well, therefore it must be a reliable source; the publishers approved it, therefore it must be a good book; Whittle was at Hillsborough, therefore everything he says on any subject connected to Hillsborough must be accurate; large numbers of people believe such-and-such an idea, therefore the idea must be true etc. (Given his own struggles against the urban myths of Hillsborough over the last quarter of a century, Whittle of all people should be keenly aware of the dreadful untruths that can prosper when this sort of ad populum fallacy is given credence.) His paranoid complaints of bias are laughable, given that some of the accusations he makes in his book are unsupported, and yet he maintains they are fact – sorry, I mean, he maintains they are FACT – for no better reason than his own towering certainty. In other words, he has prejudged them, and he cannot bear being made to rethink. What greater bias is there than that?

The sad truth in all these nasty exchanges between myself and Whittle is that there is very little reason for them. He simply has to do one of two things to settle the dispute. One, he can admit that he has no source for his claim, and that therefore the Thatcher quotation is nowhere near as definite as he has been making out. Two, if he really does have a source, he could stop stalling and finally tell me what it is; I have asked him again and again and again for a dependable source for the quotation, and he has only ever answered once, and that was with a flagrant untruth; he claimed he had been present when Thatcher said it, a claim that is implausible, and that does not even tally with the contents of his own book (which makes no mention of him ever being in her presence at all). (See  and I am quite confident he has no real source though, because quite simply, if he had, he would have cited it by now, and he would not have resorted to lying.

Ultimately, Whittle’s objections to my review betray his own insecurity. It has become very clear to me in recent exchanges with him that he cannot endure being criticised or argued with. He cannot tolerate honest, constructive feedback that tells him that the quality of his writing was, at best, indifferent. Nor can he tolerate the suggestion that he might be wrong on any Hillsborough-related issue. To this end, he shows that he is perfectly prepared to attack his own readers when they say they are unimpressed. Effectively at his bidding, I bought his precious book – the book he has pompously invoked as what makes him an unbeatable authority on Hillsborough – making me his customer, so to speak. Surely as a paying customer, I have a right to say what I genuinely think about what he wrote? No, Whittle has taken angry exception, and once again he tries to compel me to agree with him, and to say what a fine piece of literature it is. If I say anything different, he gets angry, accuses me of pretending to be what I am not, and pours scorn on my intelligence.

Whether he is right about my intelligence or not – and I have made no claim one way or the other about that – the reality is that his accusations are wrong. I did my very best to write a considered and objective review of his work. This included stressing that his traumatic past and circumstances, as well as his inexperience, are extenuating factors when considering the modest quality of the writing, and above all, not allowing personal animosities to intrude on my thoughts. (I did not mention in the review, for instance, that I have clear evidence that he is perfectly prepared to tell very public lies in order to incriminate someone he has long harboured suspicions towards, nor did I mention that he has a history of rude, bullying and high-handed behaviour towards people he disagrees with.)

Conversely, it is quite blatant from his own paranoid, boastful and fallacious responses that he has made no such effort when considering my feedback; he even uses those same personal animosities as an excuse to dismiss and misrepresent what is in my review. He does not even make the small effort required to treat his own customer with due courtesy or respect.

It seems Whittle’s view of the author/reader relationship is quite different from mine. He feels that when I bought my copy of his book, I was unknowingly paying for the privilege of being compelled to agree with him, and to tell him what a fantastic writer he is. He apparently feels I violated the terms of the deal by telling him what I actually think.

I am reminded of the command issued by Franz Liebkind in The Producers; “Shut up! You are the audience! I am the writer! I outrank you!”

Not that I was exactly scathing about With Hope In Your Heart anyway, I simply pointed out that it has failings, especially some inexcusably bad spelling and punctuation* , which is very distracting, and that most of the assertions made, whether they are contentious or not, are not cited. When any writer makes an incriminating assertion about a fellow human being, surely the very minimum standards of decency would demand that the assertion be backed up with evidence? This never really happens in With Hope In Your Heart, and that is just one of the reasons that it is a mediocre book, to which I gave a mediocre rating. If I were truly trying to pan Whittle, as he is trying to make out, I would have rated the book far lower, mentioned none of its redeeming qualities at all, and made no attempt to mitigate his amateurishness as an author. (For that matter, if I was really as hung up on ‘vengeance’ as Whittle asserts, I would hardly have waited three months to give his book a public trashing. And for that matter, if I had underhand reasons for writing the review, I probably wouldn’t even have written it in my real name, because it gives him a pretext to respond in precisely this petulant way.) 

If Whittle cannot deal with criticism as mild as this, he really should get out of the authoring business in a big hurry. Otherwise, given the unrestrained harshness of real professional critics, he could be in for a horrible shock when he reads reviews of the future titles he is promising.

In conclusion, given his attitude towards his readership, I would discourage anyone from purchasing any titles written in the names of Christopher Whittle or Christopher Corcoran.

* As an example, the word “it’s” is a contraction of “it is”. But Whittle keeps using “it’s” throughout the book as a possessive pronoun, which means the apostrophe should be dropped – “its”. (This is the impersonal equivalent of “my”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “our” and “their”, none of which uses an apostrophe.) Whittle is also frequently guilty of apostrophising plurals, which would be a grotesque error even by High School standards. 

These apostrophe errors are endemic in With Hope In Your Heart. They happen over and over again, page after page, which is the main reason why I doubt that the book was ever subjected to a proper external editing process before publication. And if it was, shame on the publishers for being so casual.

Whittle also does not appear to know the correct spelling of “analogy”, which he seems almost to confuse with a negative reaction of the immune system; “anallergy”. He further talks about the Liverpool team doing well under Bob Paisley’s “managership”. Not technically wrong – and it is at least correctly-spelt – but it is a questionable choice of words, as “managership” means merely the position of a manager, not so much the application of the role, or their tour-of-duty. “Management” or “stewardship” would both have been more suitable.

On page 55, he says that the Home Secretary of the time, Douglas Hurd, was “compelled to tow the party line”. But the correct term is “toe the party line” i.e. the expression has nothing to do with tugging on ropes. Instead, it is an athletics allusion to runners, prior to the start of a footrace, not letting any part of their body bar their toes be poised on or beyond their marks. If any part of the foot is positioned beyond the line, they are considered to have ventured outside the rules. Thus, ‘to toe the line’ simply means not stepping outside the exact wording of a rule. Whereas ‘to tow the line’ means… well, probably nothing at all.

Sentence structure is often clumsy as well, to the point that some passages are quite difficult to follow. One sentence on page 53 reads, “As regards Hillsborough, those responsible were never convicted in a court of law for something which many held them accountable, and the fact that there is hard evidence to convict them.” The final sub-clause of the sentence appears to be incomplete, the word ‘accountable’ should be replaced with ‘responsible’ (seeing the whole issue around the Hillsborough cover-up is that no one ever did hold the South Yorkshire Police to account), and the word ‘for’ should probably be added in immediately after ‘responsible’.

Page 63, Whittle dramatically announces, “The inquest into the biggest sporting disaster in British history were about to take place.” Surely, when talking in the third person, the word ‘were’ should only be used if the subject noun is plural? Now that is a schoolchild error.

On page 66, Whittle writes, “The way the inquests were run was another indisputable fact that they were not wholly impartial, or without bias and prejudice.” I agree with what he is trying to say, but this is scarcely a sentence at all. Surely he needs to replace his favourite pet-word ‘fact’ with ‘indicator’?

On page 72, Whittle states, “two video tapes, which filmed the horrific events unfold, went missing from the police control room at Hillsborough during a ‘break in’.” The word ‘unfold’ destroys the grammar of the sub-clause – Whittle probably means “which filmed the horrific events as they unfolded” – but the assertion is also very misleading. By putting the words ‘break in’ (which should be hyphenated, by the way) in speech marks, he is implying that this is a quote of an official explanation. But no one, be they at the football club or in the police, has ever officially declared that the disappearance of the two CCTV tapes was the result of a break-in. They have simply been declared ‘missing without explanation’. (It is scandalous that no one among the authorities has ever bothered to find an explanation of course, but let’s get the facts right.) Furthermore, to the best knowledge of Roger Houldsworth, the CCTV technician at the club, the tapes did not contain footage of the Disaster unfolding, as he understood that the camera feeding them was from the Kop End of the ground. Oh and, even if it had been true, it’s also silly wording on Whittle’s part to suggest that the tapes, not the CCTV cameras, were what filmed the Disaster.

On page 119, Whittle defiantly announces that, “my love for Liverpool never died, nor never waned.” A double-negative means a positive, so “nor never waned” means Whittle’s love for Liverpool did wane, which is clearly the polar opposite of what he intended to say.

Page 129, when recalling the experience of revisiting the Medico-Legal Centre in Sheffield in June 2011, Whittle describes “a red-bricked building” that “looked cold, grey, inhospitable, callous…” A red building looks grey? I imagine he means ‘grey’ in an emotional sense i.e. a feel to the place or an atmosphere, but his use of the word ‘looked’ means it comes across as just another physical description, contradicting the previous one.

On the same page, he says that this visit to Hillsborough was 23 years since he had last been there. But his last visit had been about seven months after the Disaster, for a league match between Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool in November 1989 i.e. 21-and-a-half years or thereabouts. He then goes and contradicts himself on the very next page by saying the gap between visits was 22 years. Then on page 132, he says it was 23 years again.

Again on page 130, Whittle states that Gate C is still in the Leppings Lane concourse. It isn’t. There is a turnstile bank close to the spot where Gate C stood, and rather insensitively it is in fact called Turnstile C, but the nearest exit gate to that notorious position is called Exit Door 5. These changes to the lay-out were made back in the mid-1990’s.

And finally (for now) Whittle writes on page 149, as he comes to the end of his book, “This has been very much a personal account, and something which has been very difficult to write. Some might call it a remarkable achievement, but I will let you, the readers, be the judge of that.” No grammatical or spelling mistakes in there. It’s just, as we see from the argument above, it is simply untrue. Whittle does not allow readers to be the judge of whether the book is a good job or not. He will only allow them to applaud it.

You might argue that I am largely quibbling, when comparing punctuation errors, spelling mistakes, scrappy grammar, half-remembered names, and dodgy definitions with the enormity of the tragedy that the book discusses. But as we have seen above, Whittle does repeatedly ask me to justify my assertion that his writing is schoolchild-like. It is not quite what I said anyway, but one way or the other, I would argue that these are just a few very pertinent examples. And there are plenty more where they came from.


More Whittle shenanigans here.

Review by Martin Odoni

Let’s start at the beginning shall we? They could hardly have made Matt Smith’s double more obvious, during the moment when the ‘Ganger Doctor is grabbing the original Doctor by the lapels, without dying his hair bright ginger. The back of the double’s head is almost completely different from Smith’s. For heaven’s sake, BBC Wales, try a bit harder will you?

To the episode itself, hmm hmm. I was extremely impressed with it on first viewing, and indeed on subsequent sittings it still has points going for it. But I have to say that the flaws in it become a lot more noticeable too. In particular, The Almost People displays an occasional tendency to throw in a sudden plot-twist, as if to say, “Hah! Bet you weren’t expecting that, were you?” No, we certainly weren’t, chiefly because one or two of the twists stop the story making any sense.

The main one is the revelation that the Doctor and his duplicate swapped places. It shames Amy for her prejudices in a delicious manner, but it also suddenly makes the prior behaviour of the other ‘Gangers very difficult to fathom. They invite what they think is the Doctor’s ‘Ganger to join them. They weren’t there when the Doctor’s duplicate first showed up, so the only way they could realise he might have been a ‘Ganger is if they could in some way ‘sense’ something about him, almost on a genetic level. But if it then turns out that he isn’t the ‘Ganger after all, but the original, well where did they get the idea from? And how do they manage to make exactly the same mistake Amy was making all along? And how can the original Doctor sense the torment of the Flesh more keenly than the ‘Ganger can?

I know he’s never going to challenge the leader-board on Mastermind, but this episode really does Rory no favours at all. It’s nice to see him getting a pro-active role for the first time in a long while, but in the event, the activities he gets make him look like a love-sick cretin. How much of a fool does he have to be to go along with everything Jennifer’s ‘Ganger tells him? Providing muscle to help turn the wheel is one thing, but does it really never cross his mind to ask why she needs him to place his hand on the palm-reader? Not realising how easy it would be for the Flesh to emulate a burn is also pretty thick. I’m sorry, like I say, Rory’s no intellectual heavyweight, but he’s not that stupid.

Some of the guest-acting is, again, terrible. Sarah Smart in particular, who was dodgy enough in the first episode, is just awful when playing Jennifer’s ‘Ganger. The face she pulls before she attacks Buzzer looks so over-the-top it’s embarrassing, while the moment when she snaps her fingers, points, and tells the Doctor to “Join the Revolution” is so corny and stagey I winced. Her whole ‘descent-into-revenge-driven-psycho’ arc is not at all believable. Raquel Cassidy is again wooden as both incarnations of Cleaves, although her performance is mitigated somewhat by how inconsistently her role is characterised in the script. She was a cold-blooded murderer at the end of the previous episode, ruthlessly gunning down one of the ‘Gangers for no reason at all bar her own paranoia. This detail seems to be totally overlooked and forgotten in episode 2, as she and her ‘Ganger almost take on the role of reluctant warriors trying to keep the conflict from getting any further out of hand. But then the original still instructs Buzzer to attack (what she thinks is) the Doctor’s ‘Ganger, and the duplicate still invites the Doctor to change sides with talk of “you’re one of us”. Indeed, the script can never make up its mind whether Cleaves is supposed to be sympathetic or cynical. The male guests are also uninspired – Marshall Lancaster is a complete plank as Buzzer – except again Mark Bonnar is quite impressive when he has fatherly moments to act out.

The regulars on the other hand produce perhaps their best work of the year to date. Matt Smith is tremendous in a dual role that calls on him to portray many characteristics. The torment of the Doctor’s ‘Ganger as it struggles with past-regenerations interfering with his present form is superb. Look closely at his eyes while he’s at the throat of the original, and the anguish and terror will make you flinch, right up there with the very best eye-work that Karen Gillan has done. Smith does the quirky, wittering eccentricity of the Doctor with his usual aplomb, and it makes appearing alongside himself very engaging where it might easily have been irritating. He also shows great hurt and resentment at Amy’s apparent rejection of the ‘Ganger, and desperation and anger in the scene when he nearly attacks her; a moment disturbingly reminiscent of the Sixth Doctor trying to throttle Peri. At the end, when ordering Rory to stand away from Amy, his authority is both fierce and sinister. Time and again, Karen Gillan once more shows her great talent for portraying fear, but reveals equal skill for playing a stubborn bigot. Arthur Darvill maintains his usual fine standard, especially in the scene when he confronts Jennifer’s ‘Ganger about tricking him, though by now he may be forgiven if he feels his efforts are wasted on scripts that give him so little reward.

This episode really is swimming in superfluous backward references. “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow,” from Jon Pertwee. “Would you like a jelly baby?” from Tom Baker (that scene is very reminiscent of Peter Davison’s debut in Castrovalva, when the Fifth Doctor went around impersonating his earlier selves). “No let it go, we’ve-we’ve moved on!!!” he screams in a noticeable parody of David Tennant. “Where’s my Daddy?” asks Adam, loudly echoing, “Are you my mummy?” The Doctor is “John Smith”. The TARDIS is “reliable” and “sexy” once more. Yes, I share the continuity thrill other long-time viewers get, but I still don’t think it’s a good idea for the series to play that card so strongly. The more continuity-dependent the series becomes, the more danger there is of it alienating people who have never seen older stories. (Should just mention that at a lot of moments in this episode, Matt Smith really does look like Peter Davison at his dazed best. Keep an eye out for them.)

The ending is not too clever. Cleaves again has a fundamental personality change and turns into a hardcore pacifist again to scupper Jennifer-‘Ganger’s plans. Exactly how Jennifer-‘Ganger turns into the giant animal isn’t very clear; if she’s able to do that, why didn’t she just do so hours earlier? The TARDIS’ energy ‘just happens’ to be exactly what is needed to make the ‘Gangers become real people, and the Doctor ‘just happens’ to have a cure for blood-clots on the brain tucked away in the TARDIS console? Handy. (Not that the blood clot really has any significant role to play in the story.)

Re-set button city. Give me a break…

But the story is not a write-off by any means. It has many good and valid things to say about the twin follies of prejudice and paranoia, as well as their causes and how inseparable they are. And the startling ending has more than a tinge of clever irony to it, given that Amy, who has spent most of the episode giving one of the Doctors the cold shoulder for supposedly being a ‘Ganger, turns out herself to be a ‘Ganger. When exactly did Amy become duplicated? Where is the original and when did she become cut off from Rory and the Doctor? Might it even have been before she met the Doctor? (It must have been before meeting the Silence as that was when she first saw the Eye-patch lady.) The ominous, bleak tones of the season are again sustained and enhanced by the gloomy, cold visuals, and the chilling atmosphere of danger and unsure perceptions started in The Doctor’s Wife has been carried over. The setting of a castle for a factory is very neat for adding to the ‘haunted house’ scenario, and there is a consistent undercurrent of foreboding. In short, even if it’s not all that intelligent, it remains genuinely dark and scary, and it always resists the option to be wilfully silly. Its most powerful redeeming feature is that it tries to be a drama, and largely succeeds in doing so. A flawed drama, perhaps, but exciting and never a farce.

The episode also gets fresh points for demonstrating this season’s willingness to break formula. In previous seasons of NuWho, the story arc, such as it is, has usually been made up of a long string of repeated references thrown into most episodes, none of which have ever actually developed or explored the idea at its heart in any detail. Furthermore, the string has only ever culminated at the end of the season. In this case, the string of hints has culminated at the midway point of the season instead, which is another breath of fresh air.

In the end unfortunately, a little like The Doctor’s Wife, the episode is far too deeply flawed for me to rate it higher than a 6 out of 10, even though I can’t deny that I would have liked to. The two-parter averages out at a respectable 7.

A decent return to form to open the mid-season two-parter, after Neil Gaiman’s brave-but-clumsy attempt at psycho-surrealism. Although it had a few moments that caused me to roll my eyes, the prevailing attitude in this old-skool base-under-siege storyline was thankfully not silliness. To its credit, the current season has had the courage to stick to its guns and continue its dark vein, and with The Rebel Flesh, we have a tale that focuses on the themes of paranoia, terror, prejudice and arrogance. It doesn’t handle any of them with ground-breaking sophistication or depth, but it resists most of the opportunities to lodge the tongue in the cheek, and so sudden ill-timed moments of twee ‘humour’ are in a tiny minority here.

The only one that really jarred was the Doctor’s bloody awful pretence of doing a northern accent. It was ill-timed, served no purpose other than to slow down the storyline at a critical moment, and stands at stark odds with the Tenth Doctor’s equally tiresome “Don’t-do-that-no-seriously-don’t-do-that!” stance when his companions tried to mimic other accents. This is a shame, as it completely ruined a well-developed moment of friction and confrontation between the humans and their doppelgangers.

The scenario is not madly interesting in itself. Duplicate people wanting their freedom, and even to replace the originals, has been a staple of sci-fi and horror for so long it amounts to a cliché. Even the considerable effort that the script goes to to make the ‘Gangers sympathetic victims rather than insidious monsters is hardly new. But it all happens in such a well-cooked atmosphere of unease and mutual suspicion that it seems not to matter very much.

Jennifer introduces an angle that had genuinely not occurred to me until this point, which is that a threat to Amy and Rory’s marriage might come from the opposite direction to the ones that have emerged to this point. Up until now, Rory has been the one feeling threatened, inadequate, fighting a torrid but successful battle to keep the heart of the girl of his dreams, whose head had been turned more than once. Now Rory is the one who finds a new object of affection in the shape of a vulnerable girl who takes an immediate shine to him. Although Amy makes commendable efforts not to become jealous when she sees him comforting Jennifer, she is still visibly shaken and hurt by the sight. That Rory quickly becomes very protective toward the replicate-Jennifer, and even taking enormous risks to help her, suggests that his head has now been turned as well.

None of this is to say that Jennifer is an interesting character. On the contrary, she is the kind of dreary, helpless-female-Dr-Who-character that Jo Grant and Peri Brown used to epitomise in different ways; confused by everything around her, sporadically inassertive, all wrapped up in whiny self-pity, and always in need of help and comfort from the big male. Given her greater drive and authority, I’d argue the duplicate Jennifer is more interesting and worthy of greater respect.

The duplicates might show evidence of sharing the memories of the originals, but it’s noticeable that they don’t necessarily share all the same personality traits. As  I say, Jennifer’s duplicate is more assertive and aggressive, more authoritative. Cleaves’ duplicate appears more peaceable and less bigoted or arrogant than the original. Buzzer’s duplicate seems less clumsy but more emotionally vulnerable. With this in mind, while the ‘Gangers can fairly claim they have a right to life, their claim to being the people they are duplicated from is not true. Biologically and genetically they may make such a claim, but philosophically they are different people.

This episode reverses the trend of The Doctor’s Wife, in that the performances from the regulars are largely excellent, whereas the guest actors are a bit too soap-ish and folksy. Sarah Smart, who seems to have a resemblance to Janet Ellis, starts poorly, but improves without ever rising to real heights. Raquel Cassidy is a bit too self-consciously stony-hearted as Cleaves, perhaps underlining that the character isn’t anything very meaty (the stereotype of the arrogant, reckless, “no-one-may-question-me” corporate-scientist-leader), and Marshall Lancaster seems unsure about how to play Buzzer, as his sneezing fits appear to be the only characteristic to get hold of. Mark Bonnar is predictably good as Jimmy, but then he also has a stronger role to play i.e. his characters are the ones who find a bond of common ground.

Matt Smith is much better here than in his misfortunate detour into emo-ham in The Doctor’s Wife. His acting as the ‘Ganger Doctor seemed exceptionally sinister without being in any way different from the Doctor’s usual behaviour, which is a neat trick if you can do it. Karen Gillan does what she does best (facial acting to die for), and Arthur Darvill once again shows his real versatility, varying between the clumsy, inassertive follower and a protective, confident near-rebel, without any impression of inconsistency.

It’s an interesting rather than thrilling cliffhanger, but it’s certainly engaging enough to demand the audience keep watching. But at the same time, I do get the worrying impression that most of the plot-life has already been used up, and so there’s a real danger that part two will be yet another let-down. I hope not of course, but I fear there’ll be a lot of treading-of-water in part 2.

Promising, if not madly deep or original, and full of dark atmosphere and refreshingly little silliness.  I’ll give it an 8 out of 10, though not by much.

Review by Martin Odoni

Well. Given how twee the title sounds, this episode was incredibly dark at times. The premise was completely bananas of course, in fact one of the more fairy-tale-like episodes in feel and tone since the production changeover, and it still had its share of too-pleased-with-itself dialogue. But in any case, it was dark, dark, dark! We should expect no different from Neil Gaiman, the man who gave us the Sandman comic series. But, given his impressive CV, should we have expected something better? Despite enjoying the episode, I’d have to say the answer to that is yes.

It’s by no means a terrible episode. It’s frequently chilling, imaginative and thought-provoking. But it’s also drearily sentimental, continuity-dependent (albeit in a subtle manner), pseudo-scientific in a very “there’s-no-difference-between-technobabble-and-real-science” kind of way, clumsily-articulated, and sporadically silly. In other words, it’s custom-built NuWho. And just like last year’s misfire by RIchard Curtis, it seems an odd description to apply to it, given that we’re talking about a script by a world-class guest-writer. Shouldn’t formula be the first thing that gets abandoned in those circumstances?

The story idea is a good one, but the execution is wobbly. For a start, the idea of the TARDIS actually possessing an immortal soul of some kind is an unwanted revisit to the messianic/sorcery buggerations of the RT Davies era. For another thing, the technobabble, used as a substitute for an explanation of how the TARDIS was transferred into Idris, is some of the most appalling, meaningless waffle that the series has ever been guilty of, worse even than the Doctor’s pseudo-mathematical gibberish to Adric when trying to repair the chameleon circuit in Logopolis. (And on that occasion, at least the babble wasn’t something that the plot was dependent on.)

The continuity references are not exactly hammered over our heads, and crucially the audience probably doesn’t need to recognise them to understand the story. But even so there are quite a few in there. Mentions of different control rooms aboard the TARDIS (firmly established by the Fourth Doctor during his times with Sarah Jane and Leela), and actual portrayals of older control rooms (the walls of a 70’s-style TARDIS surrounding the Doctor’s makeshift console, as well as a brief return to the control room of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors) might have been confusing to younger viewers, while a not-altogether-necessary appearance by an Ood, and witterings about getting rid of the swimming pool (another link back to the Fourth Doctor’s time, as well as Matt Smith’s debut) seem a little forced as well. Also referencing Smith’s debut is another mention of fish fingers.

Performances are notably better from the guests than the regulars. Suranne Jones is absolutely excellent, her performance as Idris suspiciously reminiscent of (the almost-identically-named) Sidriss from Knightmare. She also has very similar eyes. But original or not, the confused, alarming eccentricities of the character are portrayed with exactly the kind of nervous energy needed. Michael Sheen as the House, sounding and acting much like the Justice Computer in the Red Dwarf episode Justice, manages to be both sinister and threatening, yet uncertain of himself and feckless, a difficult trick. Auntie and Uncle are half-amusing bit-parts, competently performed. By contrast, this is one of Matt Smith’s worst performances so far. Very stagey, over-excited, much too loud over and over, and shedding gratuitous tears aplenty at the end. With his repeated compulsion early on to declare that, “That’s impossible!!!!” it really does feel like the episode was written for David Tennant, and Smith appears to give in to that. Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan do rather better, largely because Rory and Amy aren’t given much opportunity to be silly, seeing all the really scary stuff in the story happens to them, but even so, they do get a bit stagey and ‘lay-it-on-with-a-trowel’ sentimental in the later stages as well.

Rory really is being reduced to the Arthur Dent of the series. His main role seems to have become standing around and letting bad things happen to him, so that Amy has something to burst into tears about. The proactive, assertive version who had been emerging recently didn’t last. Although he did well with his, “Killing us quickly wouldn’t be any fun” line. Pity about the follow-up PE teacher reference. Silly and ill-timed.

Indeed, ill-timed silliness gets in the way quite a bit, which is another same-old-story. “Look at that! What could possibly go wrong?” *A PIECE OF THE MACHINE FALLS OFF WITH A PATHETIC CLUUNKING NOISE* is an ancient joke that could’ve been written in HG Wells’ time. It’s also silly. “Actually… I feel fine…” *DROPS DEAD* is a joke from the Palaeolithic era of comedy, painfully similar to Sir Talbot Buxomley’s death in Blackadder The Third. Even if it wasn’t familiar, it’s silly. “I think you call me… sexy,” irritates. Because it’s silly. The Doctor and Idris bickering like a married couple as they try to build a new TARDIS could have been lifted from a number of the Doctor’s conversations with River Song, or even from Mr & Mrs Smith. And again, it’s just silly. Standing around applauding the worthy opponent is silly. “I’ve got mail!!!” Silly, silly, SILLY!


When is the modern series going to learn to stop ruining the drama of a story with badly-timed set-piece gags or self-conscious quips? Some stories do not need, or benefit from, being zany or whacky, and this was one of them.

And so much sorcery-babble is needed to carry the plot; the makeshift console powered by a kiss from Idris, and able to keep her and the Doctor breathing in space, despite the mini-TARDIS lacking a couple of walls. Telepathic security systems. The soul of the TARDIS just ‘phases’ back into the console, and the House is invisibly ‘dispersed’. Magic re-set button time again.

The plot resolution is not well-written at all in fact. At a crucial stage of the story, we have a familiar moment of the villain stopping to talk to the Doctor when he’s perfectly placed just to kill him. “Why should it matter to me where you die?” Why should you stop to ask that question at all? Why not just kill him and speculate about the options some other time? No? You want to carry on talking to him. To learn… what? Um, not much it seems. “Enough!” thunders the House. “That is enough!” Oh, so you don’t want to talk to the Doctor after all? Well why don’t you silence him by killing him then? Nope, you’re going to carry on talking to him anyway. O-… kaaaay… But I thought you just said that was enough?

This is followed by one of those verbose, unnatural info-dump speeches by the Doctor for the benefit of the audience. Very clumsy.

But it’s by no means all bad news. The darker, scarier edge introduced this season is maintained, in fact enhanced, with the sequences when Amy and Rory are trapped by time anomalies in the TARDIS corridors being unusually brutal and chilling for 6:30 on a Saturday night – all the more so, given all they’re doing for the most part is the timeless exercise of “running down corridors that all look the same”. (By the way, aren’t the hexagonal corridors of the TARDIS very reminiscent of the interior of the Liberator in Blake’s 7?) The mind-warping tricks the House plays on them are very surreal and unsettling, The Game Of Rassilon from The Five Doctors, only done right. The ‘Kill Amy’ graffiti on the walls is startling, and the sequences are filmed with real skill and flair. In style and impact, the story has strong tones of the no-holds-barred approach to horror that the series had back when Bob Holmes was script editor.

The plot may be disjointed and poorly-connected, but as a scenario, it is one of the more sophisticated ideas we’ve seen in some time, at least psychologically. Entertainment for the House only ever takes the form of ‘it’s-nothing-personal’ cruelty, hence the fear and torment Amy and Rory experience being little different to the agonies of Auntie and Uncle. The notion of people being assembled from the body parts of dismembered Time-Lords is enough to make the audience’s skin crawl – yes, that’s definitely an endorsement. And the TARDIS being given an outlet for its persona has considerable charm. It might have been more interesting if the story had kept us guessing a little longer before revealing to us who Idris really is.

The actual personality of Idris makes for easily one of the most interesting and sympathetic guests the series has had in years; quirky, jumpy, almost multiple personalities constantly catching each other by surprise with jumbled, confused words of wisdom. “Biting’s… like kissing, only there’s a winner” is a nice line, quirky and slightly macabre rather than whacky. “Are all people like this… so much bigger on the inside?” is one of the best self-referencing ironies Doctor Who has managed in a long while.

The Doctor’s decision to send Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS on a wild goose chase says a lot about his superiority complex. He clearly feels as keenly as ever that humans are beneath the business of Time-Lords. How arrogant he remains.

Some of the sets and effects are outstanding. The griminess, the broken landscape, the wreckage, and the overpowering, dark gloominess of the environment all really contribute to the sinister, doom-laden atmosphere. Also, fairness to Murray Gold, his music score was generally less over-cooked than usual, but I still think he would have been better-advised to keep the music quieter and more sombre for longer.

The Doctor’s Wife is therefore one of those episodes where, when it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s not, it’s very much not. It is perhaps the most original and imaginative episode of the current season, and as chilling as any of them. The potential in it is there for all to see. However, the suffocating sentimentality of the ending does it no favours, the clumsy methods of conveying information are jarring, the occasional silliness undermines the main strengths on offer i.e. the dark atmosphere and an intriguing guest character, and the plot is incoherent and advanced mainly by contrivance. These are all weaknesses that it is very difficult to see past, and that is why ultimately the episode promises more than it delivers. Given who wrote it, it has to be seen as a disappointment, albeit a worthy one.

Bottom line, 6 out of 10. I wouldn’t say yet that we’re in another slump as we head into mid-season, but the standard is gradually and recognisably declining.