by Martin Odoni

(Re-post and re-edit of a review posted to Amazon.co.uk. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hope-Your-Heart-Christopher-Whittle/dp/0755214781/ )

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.

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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…

YOU DON’T PROVIDE CITATIONS IN YOUR BOOK.

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.

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/hillsborough-whittles-claim/

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 https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/hillsborough-more-on-thatcherthat-quote-that-never-goes-away/  and https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/hillsborough-whittles-claim/.) 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.

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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!

STOP I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-IIIIITTTTTTTTT!!!!!

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.

Review by Martin Odoni

Okay, fair’s fair. Given I feared this would be a shabby retread of Pirates Of The Caribbean, this wasn’t too similar at all. It was still not quite up to the standard of last week’s fare, but the series has at least managed to keep itself in the same kind of street, in sharp contrast with the same stage a year ago (the childish nonsense of Victory Of The Daleks).

Having said that, there still was a substantial amount that was lifted from Walt Disney. Amy was shamelessly dressed up as Elizabeth-Swann-as-Pirate-King, and the opening shot of the pirates in the jollyboat was an exact clone of a shot in The Curse Of The Black Pearl, just before the pirates’ closing battle with the Royal Navy. Also, the son who idolises his mariner-father and then finds great trouble accepting the reality of him being a pirate, is almost a carbon-copy lift from Will Turner’s early story.

There are other details that feel a bit too familiar for comfort, but borrowed from elsewhere. The siren is an exotic, beautiful apparition that sings hollering, echoey songs across the sky, which gives it a more-than-passing resemblance to Abigail – Kathryn Jenkins – in A Christmas Carol. The Medic-as-hologram is a very similar idea to the bald, griping character from Star Trek. (No I don’t mean Picard.) And even the idea of the siren gathering up injured people because of its simple-minded AI innocence does have a faint echo of the androids trying to repair their ship in The Girl In The Fireplace.

One or two details perhaps could do with clearing up too. In particular, how exactly do reflective surfaces constitute a gateway between dimensions? How is the siren able to sense injuries suffered by people in another dimension? Why does a black spot appear on people’s hands when they suffer a wound? Especially if it doesn’t appear on them when they get ill, but the siren still collects them?

So it’s an episode with stolen ideas and plot-holes, but even so, it’s good stuff. Avoiding the cliché of making a pirate story all about hunting for buried treasure was a good move (although treasure did still play a small but key role in the plot), and the discovery that the siren was benign all along was a nice twist, even though I did have my suspicions quite early on that everyone had been wrongly prejudging it.

Apart from the aforementioned resemblance Toby had to Orlando Bloom’s naive William, the characterisation turned out not to be derived from Pirates Of The Caribbean much at all, with Henry Avery quite an interesting, if under-explored, personality. He appeared exhausted with his life as a pirate, and torn by, on the one hand, the demands of his own avarice, and on the other, concerns for his estranged family. The story really could, and perhaps should, have given him more to do than just blunder around following the Doctor most of the time. The nasty moment when he learned that his insistence on retaining the crown may have cost him his son was quite affecting, but this only underlines the point.

The dilemma of taking Rory off the life-support and then racing to resuscitate him was also good stuff. I don’t think any of us were in the slightest doubt really that we were going to hear the sound of him coughing water out of his lungs soon enough, but the director did a clever job of keeping us on tenterhooks a good five seconds after it seemed possible for him to wake up, so it did get scary for just the briefest of brief instances. Really wish Murray Gold hadn’t insisted on punctuating the moment Rory woke up with that ridiculous, over-the-top chord of music though. When will he learn to stop beating us over the head with “destruction-of-the-Death-Star” tunes during moments that would be better served by a soft, sigh-of-relief sound?

The episode also looked superb. Given the first half hour was set almost exclusively on a deck of an early-modern galleon, the visuals avoided feeling samey or monotonous, and some of the effects for the siren were a cut above the usual standard, especially when it turned bright red. The sets were very authentic, even if the sickbay aboard the spacecraft was a bit bereft.

Didn’t really need the crude reference to “alien bogeys”, that really did belong alongside the repetitive and puerile flatulent aliens gags from Aliens Of London.

Performances were fine. Karen Gillan seems largely to have dropped the cocky strutting routine from last season, to her eternal credit, Arthur Darvill was a bit of a fifth wheel at times, but what he had to do he did well, and Matt Smith was at his impressive best again. I don’t wish to repeat myself, but his careful, restrained, softly-spoken delivery of most of his lines is such a breath of fresh air after five years of David Tennant’s forced yelling and weeping. The guest cast were generally okay. Hugh Bonneville’s performance veered between worthy gravitas and wooden boredom. Can’t really blame him there. When he had something to do other than chase after the Doctor he was very good, at all other times he didn’t really get much opportunity. Lily Cole did about the best she could with a voiceless part, but it’s hard to say she was really acting. Oscar Lloyd impressed for his age as Toby, while the rest of the pirates were just bit-parts, again not much the actors could do with what they were given.

COMPLICATED THEORY TIME: The quandary about Amy’s possible pregnancy is, I suspect, another lift from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Early in the second season of Hitch Hiker on radio, Arthur and Ford are stranded on Prehistoric Earth and encounter a rescue ship from the far future that keeps vanishing and reappearing in front of their eyes. They soon realise they are in a time paradox in which they have to send an SOS into the future to summon the ship. Until they do so, the ship will keep vanishing. In the same way, my suspicion here is that Amy is potentially pregnant, but only if certain events in the TARDIS crew’s future come to pass, and due to time-travel, those events will affect Amy’s recent past. If she becomes pregnant for real, things will carry on as we generally see them, but if the course of events alters, Amy will enter an alternative reality. This is where the lady with the eye-patch enters the equation; I think she is an intern at an asylum, and in this alternative reality, Amy is a patient there. Amy will have memories of events aboard the TARDIS that suddenly haven’t happened, and her ravings about it lead to a diagnosis of madness and she is committed.

Yes, that’s an awful lot of information to work out from so few hints, but speculation-for-its-own-sake is fun.

Bottom line. It’s flawed, not got much originality, and lacks depth, but at the same time it’s fun, beautifully-shot, and has a nice plot that thankfully doesn’t involve an army of aliens trying to take over the world. It’s nice to get a simple mystery story that doesn’t require a bloody/inexplicable/contrived resolution every once in a while. I also appreciate that, while not taking itself too seriously, it again resists the temptation to be silly.

Not great, but far from bad. 7/10. Generally an impressively strong start to the new season, and signs are it’s holding up better than last year too. Here’s hoping that’s not an illusion.

Review by Martin Odoni

It’s not often that someone as difficult to please as me will say this, so enjoy it while it lasts…

This was terrific. No I mean it, it was fabulous stuff, best I’ve seen in years.

All the good qualities about the The Impossible Astronaut are retained, while its handful of flaws was mercifully absent. I’m quite serious when I say it’s one of the best Dr. Who stories since the revival. It was a packed plot, full of mystery, real terror, interesting character development, exciting moments, poignancy that was moving but wasn’t laid on with a trowel, a remarkable resolution, and an enthralling, dark edge that the modern series rarely manages to pull off successfully. It’s the best story, in my mind, since Blink at the very least, and possibly even going back to Dalek in the Eccleston season.

The dark edge made it feel like it could have been written by Bob Holmes at the peak of his powers in the mid-1970’s. Canton, as established in the first part, is a ruthless, harsh character, and yet one who has a very courageous sense of right and wrong. Those with such a strong idealism tend to be all the more ruthless. Therefore, his apparent slaughter of Amy, Rory and River at the beginning seemed scarily convincing. And that was just the prologue! Three central characters supposedly dead two minutes before we’ve even reached the titles, and the story gets darker and scarier from there.

I still think the Silence are somewhat derivative – the way the creature growls, “Silence, Doctor!” mid-way through the story could have been lifted from any of a dozen Tom Baker stories – but at the same time they are one of the best variations on the idea so far, and another example of Steven Moffat’s amazing capacity for making the audience paranoid. We could have encountered these creatures a thousand times in our lives and we’d never know. You could have been confronted by one just seconds ago, and as soon as you turned back to face the screen once more, you wouldn’t be aware any more. Indeed, they might be standing behind you right now…

Hell, maybe they are from the Baker era, in a sense. I mean, the Doctor might have encountered them a thousand times before, and he wouldn’t know. What planets might they be in control of? They might be what gave Davros the idea for the Daleks, they might have given Omega and the Time-Lords the secrets of travelling through time. And no one would ever know. The more you think of it, the more possibilities there are. This really has the potential to reimagine and rewrite the series history in a completely legitimate way. Their relationship with humans and their ability to control human minds is very reminiscent of the Kromaggs from Sliders, which again makes them seem derivative, but they’re far more effective. The notion that they’ve been secretly running the world for thousands of years, like some kind of extra-terrestrial Illuminati, makes them far more frightening, even if I still don’t find their appearance particularly scary. One sticking point is that this does seem rather to contradict City Of Death, where it was suggested that the Jagaroth was the alien entity that was guiding the advancement of human science and technology. (I suppose it’s entirely possible that the Jagaroth was made forcibly unaware of the Silence when it encountered them as well…)

Either way, the scenes where Amy is captured are as chilling as the ones when she was nearly killed by an Angel in The Time Of Angels. The way the tallies on her skin keep increasing in number shows that the scenes last a lot longer than we see, potentially days. This is underlined by the intern’s belief that the year is 1967, and not 1969. So much of his memory is being cut away from him that he has fallen two years behind everyone else.

Rory’s insecurities about Amy and the Doctor are still there, although his insistence that Amy knows that he is always coming for her shows that he is becoming a good deal more assertive. It is somewhat forced possibly, and it has very little to do with the story itself, but Arthur Darvill once again plays the vulnerable side of the character so well that you almost fail to notice how crowbarred-in the lines are. And River’s despair at realising that her days with the Doctor, just under way from his point of view, are nearing their end for her, was really saddening. Alex Kingston’s broken expression as the Doctor departs in the TARDIS is some of the best facial acting she’s ever done in the role – for just a moment I really believed it. That she and the Doctor are living their relationship in reverse is something of a side-scraping retcon – it was previously established that they were encountering each other in a jumbled-up order, not in reverse – but it does in fact make it easier to ‘anchor’ their relationship in our thoughts better, and it seems that Kingston’s own performances are benefiting from that as well; she now has a clear idea of what stage of River’s life she is meant to be portraying. Matt Smith also again demonstrates why he’s so much better at the part of the Doctor than David Tennant – if DT was still there, can you imagine the bellowing, eye-watering roar of self-righteous outrage with which he’d have delivered the line, “And it still wont be enough…” The gentle, soft whisper with which Smith delivers it instead is so much more subtle, although it might have been even more effective if he’d delivered it in a slightly gruffer pitch. But not loud, that’s what matters. Sinister menace is not directly proportional to number of decibels. Also, another honourable mention for Stuart Milligan who again portrays the insecure, ingratiating quality of Richard Nixon really well. He gets the toothy grin of Nixon absolutely spot-on.

The writing is as sharp as Moffat can get, and this means the tone of the episode is refreshingly non-zany. There are still some funny lines in there, but for the most part they’re gritty, which is how they should be, rather than smug or screwball, which too often is how they turn out in other stories. Especially punchy examples of one-liners-to-relish are in Canton’s more ruthless moments, such as, “It’ll look better if I shot you while you’re running… then again, looks aren’t everything!” and *BANG!* “Welcome to America.” (Appropriate dig at the National Rifle Association.) Other gems in the script include, “These [body-bags] could really do with air-holes!” – “Never had a complaint before”, “Rome fell.” – “I know, I was there.” – “So was I.”, “I think quite possibly the word you’re looking for right now is, ‘Oops.’”, and  “Love a tomb!” (which would explain why River seems to enjoy increasing the number of potential occupants rather too much).  “Is this really important flirting, because I think I should be higher on the list right now?” was perhaps a little too close to the self-conscious sarcasm the modern series is prone to, but it was still amusing instead of smug. The Doctor’s non-reassuring attempt to reassure Nixon at the end was truly hilarious. Hasn’t quite mastered how this ‘bedside manner’ thing is meant to work, has he?

The resolution is absolutely brilliant. It’s another huge-scale, the-whole-population-of-the-Earth-does-the-same-thing-at-the-same-time idea, but it works because it’s not something they do consciously. It’s a fabulous idea of using the rise of television, the enormity of the moon-landing in the history of the human race, and also the hypnotic powers of the Silence against themselves, to give the humans the power to eliminate masters they aren’t even conscious of. There are a couple of flaws in the idea though; surely when the humans gun down the Silence, the dead bodies would still be there afterwards. And yet there’s never any sign of them. Do people forget the creatures are there even when they’re dead? Also, didn’t the creature Canton shot down survive? So can we be sure that human weapons are actually capable of killing the Silence? Still a great idea though.

Only downsides to the story are that the implants in the hand are a bit deus ex (forgivably so though, as their abilities aren’t exactly overblown), and River gunning the creatures down by just turning round and round on the spot while pulling the trigger was a bit Flash Gordon. It certainly makes the Silence look a bit rubbish if they can get blown away so easily, especially as they appear unable to hit a barn-door with their own powers.

There are several mysteries that the episode doesn’t explain, but we’ll probably get there later in the season. Why did the Silence need a spacesuit? Who was the woman with the eye-patch whom Amy briefly saw through the door? How come Amy appears to be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time? Who is the girl in the spacesuit, and how does she have the power to regenerate? If the girl is a Time Lord, can she be the off-spring of the Doctor’s and Amy’s future selves? In which case what will happen to Amy’s marriage to Rory? And to River’s romance with the Doctor? Getting quite soap opera-ish again in fact, but at least it’s in an interesting way rather than in the soppy gushing way it did when Rose Tyler was around.

Anyway, let’s have more of Canton! He’d make a great addition to the TARDIS crew.

All-in-all, an absolute feast of class, showing that the modern series has the potential to be the best thing on TV, if it can just reach this standard more consistently. It’s certainly a terrific confirmation that both darkening the tone, and altering the running order by allowing the season to open with a two-parter, was the ideal way to freshen things up a bit. It’s also one of those rarities in that part two really improved on part one – no sign of the old ‘Episode 3 syndrome’ here. This episode on its own gets a 9 out of 10. And in fact so does the two-parter as a whole, as it rises above the sum of its parts.

So the mighty Moffat is back on form with a triumphant flourish, and the new season has made an even more promising start than the previous one. Now, here’s hoping it doesn’t fall away like last year. For instance, I’d be quite grateful if next week’s offering isn’t just a lazy attempt to cash in on the hype of the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean movie…

Review by Martin Odoni

Seconds out, round two….

The second blessedly non-RTD-led series is up and running with a fairly interesting starter. First thing I should say is congratulations to Steven Moffat for finally giving the series the courage to shake up its own running format, and dare to open a season with a two-parter. One of the tiresome, formulaic qualities of NuWho so far has been that it always seems to follow the same order every year i.e. three single-episode stories to get started, a two-parter for episodes four and five, another run of single episodes for the mid-to-late stages etc. Breaking this needless and highly restrictive format is a simple act that could do a lot to keep the series fresh.

Moffat does seem to be developing some more unfortunate traits in his writing though. One of them is by-the-numbers hackery. The aliens in this are an example. The Silence look quite similar to the Ood, so they get no points for originality on the visual front, and also their powers have a very familiar echo to them. If we consider the Weeping Angels, they’re creatures that only move when our heroes’ backs are turned. These new aliens are creatures that no one remembers… as soon as our heroes’ backs are turned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad idea, it’s just it does sound a bit too similar to ground the series has already been over in the recent past, and it does lead me to question whether Moffat has any really new ideas left in the locker.

This question is reinforced by his insistence on once again having a story about events happening out of sequence (the Doctor of the future sending a message to the Doctor of the ‘present’ – such as there is one), more talk about ‘spoilers’ (a joke that was quite engaging on River Song’s first couple of appearances, but nowadays I can imagine most of the audience singing along to a slow hand-clap, so predictable has it become), the Doctor hanging out with black-and-white-era movie stars (Marilyn Monroe in A Christmas Carol, now Laurel & Hardy), Amy again being pregnant (please don’t let us have another round of her wandering about with a balloon stuffed up her shirt, a la Amy’s Choice), a guest appearance by a prominent world leader, admittedly superbly played on this occasion (see Victory Of The Daleks), and yet another mysterious child figure making lots of arcane remarks, sometimes through electrical apparatus (remember the gas-masked kid in The Doctor Dances, and the computer in Silence In The Library, among others). Even the title sounds almost identical to The Impossible Planet.

The episode doesn’t start too well. In fact, the scenes with the Doctor showing off by deliberately leaving a trail through recorded Earth history are silly and self-indulgent. Some of the dialogue in those first few minutes is also typical of the rebooted series in being smug and far too quip-heavy.

But once it stops trying too hard to be clever and punchy, it settles down a bit and actually starts being clever, and packs a really solid punch. The moment the ‘old’ Doctor is assassinated is quite a shock, and suddenly all the silly, forced light-heartedness is thankfully swept away. We have a story in progress at last. How about that?

It’s quite easy to figure out, of course, that we would see the Doctor again very quickly. His declaration that he was two hundred years older than he was last time we saw him, coupled with experience of Moffat’s constant ‘timey-wimey’ ideas, leaves us plenty of chance to predict the impending arrival of a younger incarnation. (The Doctor’s slightly bitchy remark about Amy looking a bit heavier these days immediately makes her condition very clear too.) This scene is quite a bold risk on the part of the Mighty Moffat though, as it appears to discount the possibility of future regenerations. So if Matt Smith does choose to leave the series in the near future…

Get out of that one, Doctor Who. (Could’ve done without those uses of the series title in the dialogue, by the way, it’s needlessly demonstrative when the show does that.)

The friction aboard the TARDIS is fascinating, especially the Doctor making plain how little he trusts River. After all, what reason does he have to trust her really? The difficulty the other three have over whether to tell the Doctor about seeing his future self die leads to some real antagonism. At its core, I suspect, is the Doctor, usually the one who knows everything, suddenly being the only one aboard the TARDIS who isn’t in on the secret. Usually the others all have to trust him, now he is being asked to trust them, and it’s clear that his intellectual pride is bruised by the experience.

The character of Delaware is what really makes the episode for me. He’s potentially an excellent foil for the Doctor, in that he shares the same boundless, open-minded sense of curiosity for the unknown (the wonder in his eyes when he enters the TARDIS is startlingly innocent given how cynical he is about individuals), but he also has a very grisly air of ruthlessness to him, that is clearly just below the surface. This paradoxical mix of cynicism and boyish enthusiasm somehow works, making him unpredictable, and therefore intriguing. He is also terrifically played by Mark Sheppard.

That the story is turning out not to be a Western after all is perhaps a shame, as the ground it is instead covering is, as I’ve already stated, somewhat derivative. It does allow it to have Richard Nixon in it though, which is kind of amusing, especially hearing all the hints at his arrogant paranoia littering his speech. Really, some of the people who’ve been elected to the Oval Office down the years. They’ll be voting for some right-wing, alcoholic, draft-dodging, Texan born-again next.

No wait…

Never mind.

Somehow there’s something just not scary enough about aliens in a dinner suit. Maybe they just remind me of how silly the Jagaroth looked in City Of Death, but so far, the Silence ain’t doing it for me, just as the Human Dalek failed to affect my bladder-control in Daleks In Manhattan. It was very lurid the way the creature annihilated that woman in the lavatory though, and oddly chilling how even that sight just vanished from Amy’s memory as soon as she was out of the door. The ending, with Amy apparently shooting a little girl in a spacesuit (possibly the future self of her unborn child? Perhaps) was rather shocking as well. I guess this episode certainly delivers in terms of startle-value, so we can’t complain it’s ever dull. Does it count as a cliffhanger though, seeing none of the regulars are definitively in danger? Yeah I’d say so. A moral cliffhanger is as valid as a physical one.

Possible bloopers; this incarnation of River appears, from what she says to Rory, to be younger than the one at the end of the last season, and yet she also seems to remember the business with the Pandorica. Also, she discusses the business of the Doctor’s regeneration being interrupted. Amy and Rory seem to know what she’s talking about, but they’ve never seen the Doctor regenerate before. Not necessarily a contradiction, but it does rather go against the grain; in the past, the Doctor has never really talked to companions about his power to regenerate unless they’ve seen it happening.

To sum up; not brilliant, but very, very absorbing, and as I say, it earns a bonus point for finally plucking up the courage to break series formula. In its own right, 7 out of 10. In this context, it just barely scrapes an 8.