Sunday 29 November 2015

You Ain't Nothing But a Groundhog

After a cracking episode last week, and following on from the demise of Clara, an “one handed” episode, featuring only the Doctor was always going to be a tantalising prospect.
Whilst we have had episodes without companions in the past, the most defining, to date, had always been the 1977 story, The Deadly Assassin. The David Tennant “specials” explored the idea to a degree, but usually paired the Doctor with a substitute for a companion for the duration of the episode. A story formed, almost exclusively, around one cast member is a concept which has never been explored before. This isn't the first experimental episode of the season; Sleep No More attempted to break from traditional storytelling, and it fell thoroughly flat. Heaven Sent, however, proves that with the right script, conceptual storytelling can work exceptionally well.
Trapped in a castle, the Doctor is pursued by the deadly Veil, of which he appears to possess some knowledge. The screens, littered around the castle walls, show us where The Veil is, in relation to the Doctor, although it is interesting to note that when he uses the loupe to analyse the painting, the screen reflects his own perspective. Is it conceivable that the Veil is, in fact, the Doctor himself, or a representation of the death he clearly fears?
Similarly, despite being some distance away, when the Doctor finishes digging the grave-like hole, the revelation that “I am in 12” coincides with the emergence of the Veil.
The scenes of the Doctor in the Tardis, which he describes as his “storm room” mirror the “mind palace” from Sherlock Holmes, and yet despite the obvious similarity, the concept doesn't feel borrowed or misappropriated. Instead, it gives us an insight into the extraordinary way in which the Doctor’s mind operates, and unlike Holmes, presents the unique manner in which the Doctor effectively converses with himself, and an imagined Clara, in brief, fleeting interludes.

Whilst the plot is, perhaps, somewhat confusing and open to interpretation, the scripting is utterly flawless, and Capaldi delivers every line with extraordinary competence. His impassioned speech in The Zygon Inversion gave us an insight into what he is capable of, given the right material, and this episode treats us to almost an hour of that brilliance. The man is, quite simply spellbinding. If there was any doubt about his ability, this episode must surely have vanquished it, even from the minds of the most ardent critics. His performance is bold, powerful. yet nuanced and cleverly punctuated with subtle humour; the line about “running out of corridors is a life summed up” is positively delightful.

The plot poses numerous questions. The most glaring is, of course, how much time has truly elapsed. Has the Doctor really been confined to the confession dial for billions of years; did the events within it even take place, or are they illusory?


If we are to assume the events did, in fact, take place, this is perhaps where the episode falls down, just a little. The scientific and mathematical issues raised are mildly troubling, even for a science fiction series. Working on the theory that each iteration of the Doctor survives approximately three day (a day of self exploration, followed by a day and a half of climbing), that equates to around 250 billion skulls, each representing a life lost. Then there are the logistics behind punching a substance 400 times harder than a diamond, which, even given two billion years, is a stretch of the imagination. The next episode may well explore this further, but for now, it is, I think, open to interpretation.


The age of the Doctor is a topic of much debate at the best of times, and this episode will certainly muddy the waters even further. It seems highly unlikely that the Doctor is now two billion years old; it wasn’t the Doctor who ultimately broke through the walls, emerging onto the burnt orange landscape of Gallifrey, but millions of Doctors, each having lived the same brief moment in time, over and over.

The final revelation of Gallifrey is superb, and would have been considerably more effective had the BBC not insisted on spoiling it four weeks prior to the story airing. Similarly the revelation that the Hybrid is The Doctor is tantalising. Taken at face value, it certainly seems plausible, and some time ago, I pondered whether Moffat would explore the “half human” side of the Doctor, which all fans tend to neatly avoid, raised in the 1996 TV movie. Of course, the wording of the Doctor’s statement is deliciously ambiguous; he does not simply state “I am the Hybrid”, electing to use “the Hybrid is me”, which could be self referential, or could, perhaps,refer to Ashildr, who has adopted the title.


Credit goes to Moffat for such a powerful, emotive script, and, of course, to Rachel Talalay, who directed the episode with such exquisite attention to detail. The “dolly zoom” technique, used to great effect in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, is put to good use, and the wide shots of an almost entirely empty Tardis, save for the presence of the Doctor, serve to capture the emptiness felt by his bereavement.

The construction of the episode is meticulous, complex, and haunting; beautifully scripted, and elegantly shot. Attention to detail is sublime; even the skulls are modelled on Peter Capaldi’s own cranium! Set design is stunning, and, with the obvious exception of Capaldi’s performance, one of the highlights must surely be the extraordinary score by Murray Gold, who has positively excelled himself throughout this season.

Ultimately, however, the episode belongs to Capaldi, and rightly so. He is absolutely bloody magnificent. He can convey more, with a single facial expression than many actors can manage with an entire script. His eyes, despite being topped with “attack eyebrows” show every heartbreak, every anger felt, every thought lost and every fear felt.

Heaven Sent is a true tour de force, and a Magnum Opus for Capaldi, who steals every second of the episode. Of all the reviews I’ve written, this has, perhaps, been the most challenging to write. It is difficult to provide a synopsis of the plot, as essentially, there isn’t one, yet, for once, this isn’t detrimental to the story; quite the contrary. This is very much a character piece, exploring the impact of Clara’s death on the Doctor, his rage, anger, fears and secrets. How does one surmise such complexity in a review? For all it’s flaws (and the episode certainly has some), I think it can be summed up in three words;  Absolutely bloody magnificent..!


By far, my favourite episode of the season, Heaven Sent is powerful, affecting, and utterly absorbing. It presents a vulnerable Doctor, and is both visceral and chilling. An instant classic, it is worthy of a well earned 9.5/10, a score which may well rise to a perfect 10/10 if some of the complexities and flaws are ironed out in the finale.

Monday 23 November 2015

Face The Raven

After a thoroughly dismal episode last week, I was looking forward to something with a little more substance than the dreary, nonsensical lunacy offered up by Sleep No More. So, were my desires fulfilled, or was I left wanting?
The Doctor and Clara are busy concluding an unseen adventure, in which the Doctor is almost eaten, when, back aboard the safety of the Tardis. the telephone rings. Answering the phone, Clara hears the familiar voice of Rigsy, who has acquired a tattoo. He has no recollection of how, and, more worryingly, it appears to be counting down to zero. Making their way to London, the Doctor and Clara materialise in Rigsy’s flat, where they discover he is now a father. The Doctor seems particularly delighted at the sight of a new human life, and his attention to the infant is rather touching. Rigsy explains that he explains that he can't remember anything from the previous night.
Aboard the Tardis, the Doctor scans Rigsy, and proffers an explanation for his absent memory; he has been retconned, his prefrontal cortex is marinating in an amnesia drug, a concept which first made an appearance in the Torchwood episode ‘Everything Changes’,
The Doctor attempts to refer to his “hint” cards to offer Rigsy comfort, however unable to find an appropriate one, he states that there in “no nice way to say you're about to die.”
With 526 minutes to go, the Doctor realises that Rigsy, or “Local Knowledge” has been in contact with alien life, hidden somewhere in the streets of London. Clara elaborates that his idea resembles a “trap street”, a concept deployed by cartographers to prevent people plagiarising their work. The Doctor, lightening the situation, likens it to a whole street disappears with humanity assuming it's a copyright infringement.
The scenes in which the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy search for the hidden street are sufficiently entertaining, and Clara hanging from the Tardis is clearly an opportunity for Coleman to have a little fun with her character before departing the series.
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On finding the street, the group are met by the delightfully unpleasant “Rump”, and are asked to state their names, species and case for asylum; they have entered a refugee camp. Enter Ashildr, now posing as ‘Mayor Me’, who oversees a veritable rogues gallery of villains.  She explains that Rigsy, whom she suspects of murder, has been sentenced to death, by a “Quantum Shade”. Before proceeding any further, the Doctor insists that no harm should come to Clara, and Ashildr places her under her personal protection, with an absolute guarantee of safety.
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The visages of residents of the community (for want of a better word) appear to be human, although it is explained by Mayor Me that “Lurkworms” normalise everything people see, and to clarify the point, we are given a brief shot of an Ood repairing a Cyberman, as well as glimpses of a Sontaran, Ice Warrior and numerous unidentified alien life forms. The principle seems to be heavily borrowed from the concept of “perception filters”, which were used, most notably, during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure.
Ashildr goes on to explain that she has brokered a truce with the assorted species inhabiting the “Trap Street”, and that, in 100 years, no violence had taken place until Rigsy unwittingly found his way in.
The victim of the supposed murder is a member of the dual-faced Janus species, Anah (interestingly, but doubtless coincidentally, Janus are the thorns Leela used to kill people). The female of the Janus species is psychic, with one face sees into the future, one into the past.
The trio watch, in horror, as Mayor Me sentences a man to death for stealing medical supplies. He carries the mark of the Quantum Shade which brings forth his death in the form of a Raven and Rump explains to Clara and Rigsy that only the Shades Master can remove the sentence, or the intended victim can pass it to someone else. Clara takes the Shade from Rigsy, safe in the knowledge that she is under Ashildr’s protection.
Meeting Anashon, a young female Janus, who, disguised in male attire for her own protection, is the daughter of the seemingly murdered, Anah, the Doctor probes her for information. However, as the events relate to the Doctor she is unable tell past from future but does state that Mayor Me couldn't simply ask him to arrive. He needed to be drawn in with a mystery to solve.
Clearly familiar with the Janus species, the Doctor is aware that they burn their dead. Anah, however,  is in a stasis pod, and it isn't long before the Doctor realises she is, in fact, alive. Her hoaxed death has been a ploy to lure the Doctor to the chamber in which she is being held, where a band is placed on the Doctor’s wrist. The Doctor, wrongly, assumes this is a ploy to relieve him of the Tardis, however the device upon his wrist is not a restraint, but a teleport. 
Ashildr intends to make good upon her word, and remove the Quantum Shade from Rigsy, however, the terms of contract shade have changed and Ashildr has been removed from the deal, thus sealing Clara’s fate.  In anger, the Doctor threatens to end Ashildr whilst Clara accepts her fate. In, perhaps, one of my favourite lines of the script, she tells the Doctor, “Your reign of terror will end with the sight if the first crying child.”
What follows is a beautifully impassioned speech between Clara and the Doctor, in which Clara, resigned to her fate, implores the Doctor not to let her death change him, guarding him “don't be a warrior. You will not insult my memory, no one else will suffer”. Making her way into the street,  Clara clearly doesn't want the Doctor to see her die, imploring him to “let me be brave”.
After warning Ashildr to “keep out of my way. It’s a very small universe when I'm angry with you”, the Doctor is relieved of his confession dial by Ashildr, and is teleported to.. well.. that is something which we will find out in due course..
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On the technical side of the story, the set design of the “Trap Street” is beautifully realised, and Murray Gold positively excels himself with the score. I've always been a fan of Gold, and whilst not much of a fan of Clara, I've always rather liked her theme music. The rearrangement to the slower, more mournful tones was beautifully understated, effective and complimented the episode perfectly.
I have to confess, on first viewing, I found the episode to be decidedly tepid, however a second viewing has changed my opinion considerably . The episode is certainly messy, disjointed and tries to cram in more than the 45 minute format comfortably allows, and the plot to capture the Doctor seems unnecessarily convoluted and contrived. Similarly, the notion that Cybermen, Sontarans, Ice Warriors and various other species are living in harmony, with husbands and wives seems decidedly far-fetched, even for Doctor Who.
On the positive side, it’s a pleasure to see Jovian Wade back as Rigsy, and nice to see his character maturing. He is an intensely likeable character, but above all, is wholly believable. That he has gone from a mild troublemaker to a family man feels like a natural progression. My only criticism with Rigsy's appearance in Face The Raven is that he felt somewhat underused. I have to confess to being less enamoured with Maisie Williams, who unlike Wade, suffers from overuse, not necessarily in this episode, but in the season as a whole. Three appearances, to date, feels rather excessive. I also have to confess to finding her acting decidedly average. Having never watched Game of Thrones, I am not in a position to comment on her overall abilities, but here I find her to be somewhat lacking. Her performance is, perhaps, one of the weaker aspects to the episode, and she lacks the experience and gravitas to portray someone who has endured such longevity.
The final scene between the Doctor and Clara is played perfectly by Capaldi and Coleman. Capaldi, in particular is able to convey an extraordinary range of emotion through facial expression alone/ My main issue with her death is that following the foreshadowing of doom, prevalent throughout the season, there had been much speculation that, perhaps, Clara was already dead, or that the Doctor had some foreknowledge of her imminent demise. Certainly the continual references heavily implied as much, so that when her death came, it felt strangely ordinary.
2015-11-22 12.20.39
Deaths in dramatic series have the most impact when they are least expected. I remember being profoundly affected by Adric's death in Earthshock, and, much as I found Danny Pink to be bland and tiresome, his death was so unexpected it did, at least, have some impact on the audience. The overarching constant of series nine has been the foreshadowing of Miss Oswald's demise, to the point it became tiresome. Whilst the scenes prior to her death were beautifully handled, her actual demise seemed slightly anticlimactic. Her recklessness, which has grown ever more present as the season has progressed, ultimately become her downfall, and her near-belief that she is the “Doctor Mark II”, though heroic, is oddly reassuring of her humanity and fragility.
It's fair to say I haven't been a fan of Clara. I don't hate her, neither do I like her. I've always maintained a detached indifference toward her, largely as I've found her character to be extremely difficult to relate to. It is, perhaps, a little odd, then, that her final season has seen my indifference fade somewhat, as she has become much more of a traditional companion. Once all the "Impossible Girl" nonsense is stripped away, and the tedious love story with Danny Plankton is over, she becomes much more bearable. None of this is, of course, any reflection on Jenna Coleman, who is a fine actor, and always works well with the scripts she is given. I think it fair to say she has not always been well written, hence the divided opinion of her character within Doctor Who fandom.
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The death of a companion is a rare thing, having only happened twice in the 52 year history of the series, discounting Big Finish audio stories, novels etc. With something so monumental, it is imperative that it is done properly, and for the most part, Sarah Dollard succeeds with Face The Raven. I had expected something a little more dramatic or preponderant, however Clara’s death is curiously understated, particularly given her significance to the series. In some ways, I think making her death “ordinary” makes it, to a degree, extraordinary. A reckless act of self-sacrifice is, perhaps, considerably more effective than a protracted, complex end to her tenure.
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Face The Raven is a strange episode to watch, and a hard one to review. For all it’s flaws, and believe me, there are plenty, it is a satisfying episode, and despite the somewhat reserved nature of her death, brings Clara’s story to a tidy conclusion. It also leaves open plenty of avenues which will, doubtless, be explored in the forthcoming finale. Despite his promises to Clara, the Doctor is angry, his hearts are broken, and the aftermath of her death is a tantalising prospect. I have a feeling that we are going to see some truly stellar acting from Capaldi in the forthcoming finale.
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(Publicity shot of the graffitied Tardis – Can you spot the Torchwood reference?)
And so, farewell, Clara. Love her, loathe her, or remain indifferent, there can be little doubt that she has made a significant impact on the series. And, regardless of the material given to her to work with, Jenna Coleman has performed admirably. I’ve maintained an odd relationship with Clara, and, given this season, it is one I think I will miss to a degree. Her pairing with Capaldi has been much convincing than her fawning relationship with the Eleventh Doctor, and it is rather ironic that she departs the series as a much more likeable, relatable companion than she presented through the majority of her time aboard the Tardis.
My initial reaction to Face the Raven felt as though this would be a low scoring episode. On reflection, and following two more viewings, it earns a very respectable 8.5/10.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Sleep Through Me

Cards on the table. I can't stand "found footage" styled filming. The technique has been around since the 80's, gaining some small notoriety in Cannibal Holocaust, although was popularised some years later, by the interminably tedious Blair Witch Project. I wasn't overly optimistic when I first read that Doctor Who was planning to use the format, however, the prospect of another "base under siege" story raised my expectations a little...
The episode opens with Buggles tribute act / Dastari impersonator, Rassmussen, speaking into a camera. He says nobody should watch this (advice that I wish I had heeded!), and goes on to reveal that he is in a laboratory on-board the Le Verrier Space Station, and is about to explain what is happening as best he can..
Meanwhile, a group of soldiers, and a “Grunt”, grown specifically for fighting, are on a rescue mission, in search of Rassmussen and the absent crew. As a side note, “For the Gods”, an expression uttered by the rescue mission, ad nauseum, seems to be a nod to Battlestar Galactica.
Rasmussen advises us, via his video, not to get too attached to the personnel. Fortunately, since they possess the collective personality of a colony of algae, there isn't much danger of becoming attached to any of them!
The Doctor and Clara are busy exploring a corridor and are pontificating on the use of the word "space" as a prefix, when they are met, at gunpoint, by the recuse team. A flash of the psychic paper informs them that they are “Engineering and Stress Advisors”, and Nagata places them under her command.
The Grunt states that there are “eyes watching, eyes in the sky”, reiterating the ocular theme which has been prevalent through much of series nine. As another side note, one wonders why a vat-grown, cloned “Grunt” has a nose piercing (completely academic, I know, but it bugged me!).
Moving along a corridor, the group, now accompanied by the Doctor and Clara, are confronted by a creature. Finding their way into a room, the creature manages to force an arm in the doorway, which, like my interest in the story, rapidly disintegrates. The Doctor explains that the creatures are formed from "sleep dust which conglomerates, is adaptable and clever". How he arrives at this startling conclusion is anyone's guess, as, along with much of the story, no cogent explanation is proffered.
Clara, meanwhile, gets yanked into one of the Morpheus pods which the group are inspecting; Quite why the pod has an awful hologram playing “Mr Sandman” is baffling, as it serves no purpose, other than to irritate. Another hologram makes an appearance, explaining that they live in a time of prosperity, but always need sleep. The Morpheus pods concentrate the sleep process into a five minute process, so productivity can be increased. Essentially, in the Morpheus process, Rassmussen has created microwaveable sleep!
What ensues is effectively a game of Unreal Tournament with eye-snot monsters, much fannying around, running up and down corridors, some more fannying around with "gravity shields", and generally being menaced by the aforementioned creatures.
Hacking into the soldier’s helmet-cams, the Doctor displays images of the unfolding events, although he later explains that there are no head-cams, nor are there any cameras aboard the station. Given this is the 38th Century, I find a little hard to credit that a highly advanced space station possesses no cameras; I live in a flat, in the 21st Century, and I have CCTV! Since there are no cameras to hack into, it is rather jarring that no explanation is given as to what the Doctor has hacked into.

Locking the Sandmen in a freezer, the Doctor deduces that they are blind, which is hardly surprising, since they are made of dust; he further hypothesises that the reason they are blind is because their "visual receptors" have been hijacked to watch them. Oddly, however, they do appear to have the ability to hear.
Just before reaching the safety of the Tardis, the Doctor proclaims that none of it makes any sense, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur!
Ultimately, it is revealed that Rassmussen no longer exists, and is himself a Sandman, and that entire video has been a method of transmitting the Morpheus signal into the brains of anyone who manages to sit through this insufferable shit.
Experimental episodes are no bad thing, in any TV series. Sometimes they pay dividends, and on other occasions, they fall completely flat. Sadly, Sleep No More falls squarely into the latter category. Neither Capaldi or Shearsmith can save this episode from itself. If you thought sentient trees that inexplicably sprout up overnight, or moon-egg-soup-dragons were a lousy concept, a monster made from rheum, or so-called "sleep dust" is utterly laughable. Leaving aside the requisite quantity needed to create one "being", let alone enough to conquer the universe, or whatever their plan is, they also beg numerous other questions, not least how they assemble themselves into something with a vaguely humanoid form.
The episode also has the distinction of featuring the most insipid supporting cast in some considerable time. The story is so disjointed, and the characters so one-dimensional, it is impossible to relate to them, or to feel any empathy for them, even when Grunt 474 valiantly sacrifices herself to save Chopra.
The episode isn't entirely without merit, and the set design looks superb. That, sadly, is the only positive comment I can make on the episode. Certainly, it was nice hearing “Space Pirates” and “Silurians” getting a mention, but since they are wholly incidental to the proceedings, they ultimately count for very little.
Mark Gatiss is something of a curiosity when it comes to writing for Doctor Who. He turned in a splendid effort with The Unquiet Dead, and personally, I rather enjoyed Cold War. Some of his other work has, however, been questionable, at best. This story, however, is without doubt, his worst contribution to the series. It's a dull, tedious adventure, highly disjointed, with absolutely no resolution. I like ambiguity in a story, if it encourages the viewer to think. This encouraged me to try and do my level best to do the exact opposite, and forget that I had just wasted 45 minutes of my life on this nonsense.
Perhaps, had the "sleep dust" been substituted with faeces, it would have made a more apposite metaphor for the plot, such as it was. I do my level best to be fair in all of my reviews, but regrettably, I can find little to praise in this episode. Bottom line? Garbage, that isn't worth wasting any more of my blog on, when I could be writing about the ham sandwich I had for lunch instead. 2/10. And that's being bloody generous.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Musing on Holocaust Denial

My recent post on Nick Griffin and the BNP sparked an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday regarding the limitations on freedom of speech, and it wasn't too long before the subject of Dieudonné M'bala M'bala's recent court case soon came up. In case you are unfamiliar with his case, The European Court of Human Rights has recently rejected a claim from the French "comedian" who claimed his right to freedom of speech was denied when he was convicted and fined for making anti-Semitic comments, and for repeated denial of The Holocaust. The court upheld a decision by a French court in 2009 and said it would not hear controversial comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala's appeal against the conviction because the show that led to it was "unmistakably negations and anti-Semitic in nature."

Now, before you read any further, I'd like to ask you to vote in the poll below. Votes are absolutely anonymous, and no personal information is recorded.
Should Holocaust denial be a criminal offence?
Thanks. Putting the poll aside, for now, let's look specifically at Holocaust denial. There are several countries in which it is a criminal offence to deny the Holocaust. 
The denial of crimes against humanity is against the law in no less than thirteen European countries, alongside Israel. These laws are much younger than Holocaust denial itself. Most of them were made in the late 1980s or 1990s, as a counter-measure against the rise of white supremacist in a European generation which had no experience of the war. During most of post-war history, more than 40 years, Holocaust denial has been legal in all countries of the world. It was only in 1990 that the French government enacted the Gayssot Law, which declares questioning the scale or existence of any crimes against humanity a crime. This was the first European statute explicitly outlawing denial of the Holocaust.
Most of these laws outlaw denial of all crimes against humanity, not limited to the ones committed by the Axis of World War II, but also explicitly (as in Poland, Slovakia, or the Czech Republic) or implicitly, including crimes by Communist regimes, and other crimes often emphasized by Holocaust deniers. Only in Romania is the law exclusively limited to Holocaust denial. Further, and perhaps, unsurprisingly, Israeli is the only country in which legislature refers specifically to Jews.
Currently, there are 179 countries, and several autonomous territories, without any law or judicial precedent against Holocaust denial. This includes all of North and South America, Africa, Oceania, Asia (except Israel, should any Holocaust denier have an overwhelming desire to go there in the first place) and 37 of the 50 countries in Europe. On July 8 1986, the Israeli Parliament passed a law criminalizing denial of the Holocaust. In 2007 The European Union approved legislation that makes Holocaust denial a crime punishable by imprisonment. Genocide denial, for example, is legal in the former Yugoslav states, Greece and several other countries where the Nazis abducted Jews during the war.
The number of countries banning genocide denial has been largely constant since the 1990s. Spain repealed their law against genocide denial in 2007. Parliaments in United Kingdom and Sweden have rejected proposals for such laws. The European Parliament has also rejected a directive to criminalize genocide denial. Canada's Supreme Court sentenced James Keegstra in R. v. Keegstra in 1990 for hate speech not limited to Holocaust denial, but in R. v. Zundel in 1992 they acquitted Zündel, and declared Holocaust denial to be protected by the Canadian Constitution. The only recent law against genocide denial was made in Hungary in 2010. Previously, trivialization of the Holocaust was illegal. The new law prohibits "denial of genocide committed by Communist or Nazi system," with no special mentioning of the Holocaust or Jews.
Deniers often claim that these laws are a product of Jewish influence. In which case, perhaps one could explain why Holocaust denial is perfectly legal in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Russia, all of which have significant Jewish populations, however is illegal in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, where few Jews live today.
I've always found the perceived anti-Semitic side of Holocaust denial, along with established figures to be deeply troubling. Certainly, anti-Semitism plays a large part in the denial of what is an historically established fact. Ask most people how many people died in the Holocaust, and the answer is simple. Six million Jews. In actuality, almost 12 million people, that we know of, perished in the atrocity, and several recent studies suggest the figure may be as high as 17 million. I have every sympathy for the plight of the Jews during the Second World War. I do wish, however, that when referring to the Shoah, the other 5.5 million who were brutally massacred, were given more prominence.
Whilst the extermination of the Jews is widely known, the remaining demographics are less well known, and even less well publicised. And so, for those unfamiliar with the official statistics, this shows the total number of people who perished at the hands of The Third Reich.
Jews - 5.93 million
Soviet POWs - 2–3 million
Ethnic Poles - 1.8–2 million
Serbs - 300,000–500,000
Disabled - 270,000
Romani - 90,000–220,000
Freemasons - 80,000–200,000
Slovenes - 20,000–25,000
Homosexuals - 5,000–15,000
Jehovah's Witnesses - 2,500–5,000
Spanish Republicans - 7,000
It is plausible that not all Holocaust denial is born out of anti-Semitism. There are people who simply find it inconceivable that almost 12 million people could be systematically exterminated by one regime. This is understandable, as it is an unimaginably high number of people. In fact, it is the equivalent of the entire population of Zimbabwe or Belgium. Should you be more familiar with US population, it equates to wiping out every single resident of the state of Illinois. I have, for many years, been interested in the history of the Holocaust, and even after much study, I find it incredibly hard to comprehend that level of industrialised murder.
Next, we must turn to freedom of speech. Holocaust denial is, in effect, a "thought crime". It is simply articulating the belief which, in certain countries which is criminal. Realistically, does arresting, charging or even imprisoning someone have any effect whatsoever on their thought process? Somehow, I very much doubt it, and would postulate that it is entirely counterproductive, further rationalising the belief that Jews somehow exercise some control  over their freedom.
Whilst the laws in countries where Holocaust denial are in force are presented as encompassing the denial of all genocides or atrocities, prosecutions for those extending beyond the Holocaust are largely unknown; personally, and despite considerable research, I have been unable to find a single case where, within civilised countries, charges have been laid against anyone for denial of The Crusades, or The Rwandan Genocide.
If someone holds a sincere belief, however foolish or misguided, should that be criminalised? And if so, where does one draw the line? We, rightly, frown upon Middle Eastern countries who implement harsh punishments for apostasy or espousing atheistic views. They truly believe they are defending their religion. Blasphemy laws are still enforced in many of these nations, often with the ultimate punishment.
It is a sad irony that those who would deny people the right to deny the deaths of almost 12 million people, are, in effect, fighting to give up one of the freedoms that 21 million Servicemen gave their lives to protect. One of the things I admire most about the United States is the First Amendment, granting absolute freedom of speech to everyone. Of course, there are caveats, as I mentioned in my previous blog post. One cannot shout "bomb" in a crowded airport, and expect free speech to protect you. And rightly so. Neither can you incite violence or criminality.
Free speech is a beautiful privilege; a right which we should all enjoy. And with that beauty, comes great ugliness. Free speech must extend to hate speech, without incitement, and it must extend to ignorance or blind stupidity, including denial of one of the worst atrocities in the history of the human race. After all, when repressive regimes rise, speech is usually the first privilege that the suppressed will lose. In the case of the United Kingdom, should a party such as the BNP ever rise to power, minority groups, such as Muslims or gay people, would be considerably worse off without the protection of freedom of expression. One only has to look to France, and their legislation against female Muslims wearing the Burqa or Niqab in public places. Likewise, one can look to Russia, which legislates heavily against the ‘promotion of’ (education about) homosexuality.
Ultimately, the solution to ignorance, be it wilful stupidity, failure to comprehend the enormity of 12 million people being executed, or motived by pure bigotry, is not legislation. It is education.
And, just on the off chance, anyone misunderstands my words, I absolutely, implicitly, do not deny the appalling atrocities that took place during The Second World War. The Holocaust happened. It is an historical FACT. And if you deny it, you are either naive or intensely stupid.
In light of what you've read, I'd ask you to vote again, in the poll below. Have you reconsidered? Or do you think I'm wrong, and that denial of the Holocaust absolutely should be criminalised? Please, take the time to consider, carefully, before voting, and comments are most welcome.
Having read the post, do you now think Holocaust denial should be a criminal offence free polls


2015-11-13 02.08.56

For the fallen

We honour you. We thank you. We remember you.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Griffin Musings...

Perpetually repugnant, odious turd, Nick Griffin is in the spotlight, again, this time for a highly offensive tweet. For those fortunate enough to have avoided seeing it retweeted into their timeline, I'll present it here.

Like Griffin himself, it's pretty disgusting. There are calls to have him arrested for posting it. I understand, absolutely, the sentiment behind that desire, however, I do not share it. I believe in freedom of speech, and unfortunately, sometimes that entails hearing, or, in this case, reading, things we'd prefer not to. That is one of the downsides to true, uncensored free speech. Unless specifically inciting violence or criminality, speech should ALWAYS remain protected. There will those who agree with Griffin. One could, theoretically, argue that he is inciting people to be racists, however I firmly believe that any sane person reading his drivel is hardly likely to be converted into a bigot, and in the unlikely event that they are, we absolutely ccannot start arresting people for "thought crimes". Racists, bigots and homophobes exist. That is sad fact of society, one which we have to deal with.

We will not deal with it by arresting people. We counter it by educating people, and, where appropriate, by mocking the archaic views of a clown like Griffin. Thankfully, he is in a minority. Look at the number of "likes" and "retweets" he has had. I've seen photos of people's dinner with more interaction!

We have paid a high price for free speech in this country, and cannot allow it to be eroded by bigoted old farts like Nick Griffin. People have fought in wars and paid the ultimate price, to defend our rights. Certainly, had Griffin continued his tirade with an incitement to violence, I would be among the first to call for his arrest. He hasn't. He's posted something vile, morally defective and bordering on insane. It isn't, however something which should be clogging up the judicial system. It sets a very dangerous precedent which has wider implications for all of us. Shout "bomb" in an airport, or incite violent or criminal behaviour, and that, and only that, is where the line between free speech and illegality is crossed.

Let's be absolutely clear. I am not defending Griffin. I am defending free speech. Nothing more. The same free speech which allows me to call Griffin exactly what he is; an obsequious, pusillanimous puddle of stale pig vomit. I don't support his views. But unless he crosses that fine line into incitement to criminality, I do, with some considerable regret, support his right to hold and share an opinion. No matter how ugly or vile it may be.

Some time ago (back in 2009), I wrote a piece for The Socialist newspaper after the BBC invited Griffin to appear on BBC Question Time. There was a huge brouhaha about it, with many attempting to shut him down. In my article, I defended the BBC's decision to invite him to appear. Below,my out can read my original piece. It is followed by a post-appearance analysis. Whilst he isn't likely to be appearing on the BBC again. I believe the points raised are as relevant now as they were then.

Nick Griffin.

From "The Socialist". Presented in it's original, unedited form.

Issue 595 of The Socialist presents an interesting argument condemning the BBC’s decision to allow the repulsive BNP leader Nick Griffin a voice. How many times have we slammed the door in the faces of those we don’t wish to hear? Probably quite a few! However, I believe that sometimes we must open the door and listen in order to truly understand that which we despise.

Pointing to the decision by the BBC to deny Bob Crow a voice on Question Time, does not justify banning Griffin. Of course we are right to feel and this is a perfect opportunity to show the hypocrisy that BBC has displayed. However, rather than calling for the censoring of Griffin, and risking the inevitable claims that we are vindictive and retaliatory, we should be using this opportunity to engage the BBC into proving it is as unbiased and non-partisan as it claims to be!

Slamming the door on the BNP will, in this case, deny the public an opportunity to truly listen to them. Furthermore, it would offer the BNP more publicity as they take to the roof-tops and scream “censorship” giving them a rare opportunity to be morally right! Fighting the censorship of Mr Crow with more censorship is counterproductive in exposing the BNP along with any bias within the BBC. It is also against our inalienable right to Freedom of Speech. We should be arguing for OUR voices to be heard, NOT for the BNP to be silenced.

We must remember that, unfortunately, the BNP were democratically elected, and is a legitimate political party, which some see as a viable alternative to mainstream parties, due to their stance on immigration and the EU. Many others know what the BNP are truly about; seeing beyond the rhetoric into a vile, repulsive cancer on society. They see an inherently racist, homophobic far-right organisation that has no interest in real political change, only in their vile agenda.

As an Atheist, I seldom look to the bible for any anything, but on this it actually offers some sage advice, in just seven words. “By their words, you shall know them”…

In allowing them to appear on QT, they will be under scrutiny from EVERYONE, regardless of political affiliation, and while the questioners may be “cherry-picked”, the public will be watching. Regular viewers will have seen the reaction to the MP expenses scandal and watched as those MP’s were mocked and embarrassed in their pathetic attempts to redeem themselves.

In the same way, LET the public see Griffin, question him and make the judgement as he shows the true face of their “party. While this will inevitably embolden a few already ardent BNP supporters, it will lose them MUCH more than it will ever gain. It will expose them for what they really are. Do we really want to call on the BBC to silence that opportunity?

I believe the vast majority of the British public are intelligent enough to make their own decisions regarding the BNP, but they cannot do so without being exposed to them in all their “glory”. One can only comment on the pain of a snake bite, when bitten...

Let Griffin bite; his venom will soon become apparent as it flows through, and is flushed out of, the hearts and minds of ordinary, decent people, who will, as with the snake, come to regard him, and his repugnant party, with considerable caution, aware of the very real danger they pose.

Give Griffin a verbal spade, courtesy of the BBC, and he WILL dig his own deep, dark hole and with any luck, fall down it! We will be there to see him plummet…

Post Question Time analysis, again, presented in it's original form.

SO… BNP leader and societal parasite Nick Griffin got his platform on Question Time, and is most definitely NOT happy. He is launching an official complaint with the BBC for facing a “lynch mob” (an activity I’m surprised he isn’t volunteering for!).

If Griffin thought he was going to get an easy ride, he was a tad mistaken, and the fear people had that he would be allowed to use QT as a platform for political promotion has been allayed.

I’m not sure what he hopes to achieve with his complaint. It wasn’t an unfair or biased audience; it wasn’t a lynch mob; it was representative of what the vast majority of sensible British people believe, and those that were on the fence will almost certainly have leapt off in the other direction.

Already looking decidedly uncomfortable on a panel consisting of Baroness Warsi, (Conservative Minister, and influential Muslim), and Bonnie Greer, the Black playwright and Director of the British Museum; two very erudite panellists who seemed more than capable of dealing with the Griff-meister and his rhetoric, at times he was visibly shaking, looking more like an addict in need of a fix than a political force to be reckoned with.

He did manage to garner applause on two occasions. One, which appeared to be from ONE person, who was then given equal short shrift by the rest of audience. Half a dozen people did applaud his criticism of Islam, as he singled out the fundamentalist aspects of the religion, quoting some of the more unpleasant passages from the Qur'an, whilst ignoring the equally vile passages from other religious texts, including the Bible. At no point did he reference the 99% of moderate Muslims, who are every bit as repulsed, by terrorism, fundamentalism and the dangerous aspects of Qu’ranic interpretation, as the rest of society.

To say Griffin had a rough ride is a little like his charming quote that “Perhaps Adolf went ‘a bit too far’ during WWII”. His sudden u-turn on the Holocaust (in, according to him, “light of new evidence”!), and his denial of that terrible period of human history was as transparent as a glass of water. Denying quote after quote, only to be faced with evidence to the contrary, he sweated, shook and was clearly unprepared for the onslaught he faced.

Had it not been for the fact he is a vile, homophobic, racist idiot, with all the charm and personality of Jabba the Hutt, it would have been the stuff of high comedy! There are already rumours of BNP members calling for him to step down. He showed his true colours, as resplendent as a peacocks tail, but without any of the inherent beauty. The cheap veneer fell away piece by piece, with every exercising of his larynx, and it was a joy to watch, safe in the knowledge that practically every word that spewed from his mouth was another vote “down the drain”.

There are going to be hard-line BNP supporters who will agree with Griffin, backing his complaint and waxing lyrical about the “ultra-left” BBC, who gave him such a hard time. I believe, as my parents used to say, the old adage… “Awww, diddums!” will apply, as his complaint holds as much water as a sieve.

Nicky Boy.. you got exactly what you wanted, and exactly what you deserved; crying to Auntie about it because you proved yourself to be a nasty, bigoted fool, with no political knowledge whatsoever only makes you look even more foolish, if indeed that is possible.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Miss Zygon

Two part stories haven't really fared terribly well this season. There haven't been any that have been completely and utterly disastrous, although The Woman Who Lived, while not strictly a two-parter, was something of a damp squib. So, after such a strong episode last week, I was more than a little trepidatious about how The Zygon Inversion would fare.
Following on from the superb cliffhanger at the end of The Zygon Invasion, the Doctor and Osgood are unceremoniously blown out of the sky, although as we see, they parachute to safety, with the Doctor, rather brilliantly, using a ‘Bond-esque’ Union Flag parachute as “camouflage”. Blending in is something the Doctor has never been terribly adept at, and Twelve is certainly no exception! As a side note, it is pleasing to see a realistic resolution to the events of the previous episode, rather than resorting to a “timey-wimey” solution or badly misplaced Zygon doubles.
In a London shopping centre. an unnamed man is approached by the ISIS styled 'Truth or Consequences' Commander, who is donning Clara's body print and is, somewhat inexplicably, calling herself  'Bonnie' (I would have gone with Zara!). Against his will, she "sets him free" by forcing him to reveal his true Zygon persona. Credit must go to the make up department for these scenes, as the half Zygon, half human form is a horrifying sight, and one which is, perhaps, best suited to the later time slot which seems to be plaguing the series thus far.

One of Moffat's trademarks has always been the use of telephones. He used them to great effect in The Empty Child and Blink, and they span across many of his other series, including Joking Apart. Given he co-wrote this episode, it comes as no surprise that they come into play here, with Clara, who, linked to her Zygon counterpart, sends a text message to the Doctor, informing him that she is "awake". It takes Osgood to realise that this means she is still alive, and they head off to London in pursuit of both Clara and the Osgood Box.
Meanwhile, Bonnie is at UNIT HQ, where she retrieves a laptop from a safe, neatly concealed behind the portrait of the First Doctor, as seen in the previous episode. While I doubt the allusion was intentional, the idea of the "Original" keeping watch over things; keeping us ‘safe’ is rather pleasing, and was, for me at least, a surprisingly poignant moment.
In scenes which are reminiscent of the manipulative nature of the Seventh, the Doctor engages in some small mind games with Clara and Bonnie, imploring Clara not to tell the Zygons about the Osgood Box or its location.
Underground, Clara is awakened from her cocoon by Bonnie, and the scenes with the synchronised heartbeats indicating truth or lies work surprisingly well. Jenna Coleman acquits herself reasonably well as the sinister Bonnie, although occasionally lacks the gravitas to fully engage with her darker counterpart. Curiously, it is, perhaps, one of her strongest portrayals of Clara to date, and in her “regular” role, she performs admirably.

Meanwhile, back at the shopping centre, the Doctor and Osgood are attempting to help the half human, half Zygon. This, along with another scene, which we will come to shortly, was, for me, one of the highlights of the episode. The body-horror is shocking, somewhat reminiscent of the Brundleflly (from the the Goldblum film, The Fly), and, to paraphrase the Fourth Doctor, is a grotesque parody of the human form. The Zygon's desire to simply be happy and live his life in peace, free from taking sides, is a truly poignant moment. I had never imagined that I would empathise with a Zygon, but his struggle to retain his humanity is genuinely very moving. In a rare and brave piece of scripting, he elects to commit suicide, rather than live in his true form, or allow himself to be killed. There have been suicides in Doctor Who in the past (Image of the Fendahl), and it is a subject the series has always handled with dignity. It is gratifying that this episode is no exception.
It is soon revealed that Kate Lethbridge-Stewart survived her encounter with the Zygon in the town of 'Truth of Consequences' by killing the creature with 'five rounds, rapid', a line previously used by her father in The Daemons. Reusing previously spoken dialogue is a risky business, and one which doesn't always pay dividends. "You've redecorated, I don't like it" has been used ad nauseum, and has lost much of it’s humour or impact. And yet, here the reuse of the line works beautifully, and immediately evokes memories of the much loved, and much missed Nicholas Courtney. Similarly, it was a joy to hear the Z67 gas referred to as “Sullivan’s Gas”, as whilst alluded to in the previous episode, it was never specifically stated that it was Harry Sullivan behind it’s development.

The highlight of the episode, however, must surely be the scene in the Black Archive and, in particular, the Doctor's speech. Capaldi absolutely smashes it! It is easily the defining moment of his tenure (so far), and is arguably one of the most defining moments of the whole of the New Series. Yes, it really is that powerful!
The Doctors soliloquy echoes the anger of the Seventh and Ninth Doctors, particularly when the subject of the Time War is raised. Whilst his speech is protracted and lengthy, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is utterly compelling, raising questions many of us ponder in relation to the Middle East. It is gripping, contemporary, and relevant, as the Doctor attempts to broker a diplomatic peace treaty over militaristic violence, a characteristic most commonly attributed to the Third Doctor.

It rapidly becomes clear that Bonnie is, effectively, little more than a petulant child, and the dilemma presented by the Doctor, in which the two buttons in each of the Osgood Boxes represent a scale model of war again, again echo the current geopolitical climate, and with Remembrance Sunday following on the day after airing, serve as a stark reminder of the atrocity and futility of war.
Capaldi is positively on fire in this episode, wringing out every ounce of emotion with passion and conviction. His forgiveness of Bonnie is a truly special moment, while his sadness and anger at the lives lost in the time war are palpable to the point of heart-breaking.
In last weeks review, I mentioned that I found it inconceivable that The Zygon Invasion was written by the same person who spewed out Kill The Moon; after this week, I'll forgive him for that one! Harness and Moffat have crafted an exciting, relevant and well rounded episode. It's a moralistic tale, but one which is substantially more subtle than its predecessor. The script is powerful, suffused with humour in all the right places, and above all it just works.

The episode isn't entirely flawless. I still find the design of the Zygons to be a somewhat exaggerated representation of their classic design, and personally I would have liked to have seen more of UNIT, and particularly Kate, who I felt was somewhat underused. Similarly, Coleman did falter a little when it came to portraying the more sinister aspects of her Zygon counterpart. These are, however, largely insignificant issues, and are more than made up for by the strong storyline and a truly exemplary performance by Peter Capaldi. Equally, the supporting cast, whilst occasionally underused, excel in every scene, and it is a delight to spend more time in the company of Ingrid Oliver, who plays the immensely likeable Osgood, or rather, Osgood’s!
So, how do I score the episode? That's easy. Despite a few minor flaws, it earns a well deserved 10/10..!  It is, by far, my favourite story of Capaldi's tenure, comfortably surpassing the outstanding Flatline, and is arguably one of my favourite episodes since the season returned in 2005. As many of you know, I've been extremely critical of Moffat at times, however this is on a par with The Empty Child, School Reunion or Vincent and the Doctor, all personal favourites of mine. Capaldi is absolutely THE Doctor, in every sense of the word, and in this episode, it feels as if he has truly come of age. His performance is utterly captivating, from his gentle, compassionate interactions with Osgood, and with the half human, half Zygon, to his impassioned desire for peace, or his righteous, embittered anger and sorrow at the devastation of the Time War. He manages to capably channel elements of his former selves, whilst remaining true to his Doctor.
I've said on many occasions, that since his debut in Deep Breath, Capaldi is magnificent, but that we've barely scratched the surface. With the extraordinarily powerful performance from tonight's episode, I think we are now seeing exactly how capable he is. He dances carefully between sadness and anger, with nuanced humour and an extraordinary ability to convey compassion, anger or sorrow with subtle facial expressions.
Harness and Moffat have written something truly special with The Zygon Inversion, and it is, for me, the best episode of the season, and a strong contender for one of the finest since the series returned, way back in 2005!

Thursday 5 November 2015


Many of you will have already read about little Layton Boys-Hope, in my earlier blog posts.  I don't propose to dwell upon those, nor, given the nature of this post, will I be linking to them. For those who aren’t familiar with Layton or his family, Layton passed away, tragically, at a little over a year old, after contracting sepsis. This is about an ordinary family, in extraordinary circumstances, and their fight to keep the memory of their son alive. Like many of you, I am a parent, and cannot begin to imagine the agony of losing a child.

Recently, Thomson Holidays launched a competition to name an aircraft, and so when Dave, Layton’s Dad, tweeted that he had proposed Layton's name for the plane, it was a cause I was more than happy to champion. Which got me thinking... Whilst, of course, I am happy to promote it on Twitter, I thought perhaps people may like to know a little more about the family, and the little boy who I was asking them to retweet and vote for.

I approached Nichol and Dave, and asked if they would be interested in doing an interview for the blog. I am incredibly grateful that they agreed, and it is an honour and a privilege to share it with you.


Firstly, tell us a little about yourself and your family

I am David Hope from Sunderland Tyne & Wear, in the United Kingdom and my partner is Nichol.  We have been together for 13 amazing years.  I am a fully trained Telecoms technician, and Nichol is a stay at home mam. We have 6 amazing children 3 girls and 3 boys but unfortunately one of the boys, called Layton, sadly grew his wings and is now an angel.

You lost your little boy, Layton, tragically, to sepsis. Can you tell us how he contracted this disease?

Layton tragically left us in February of this year from sepsis, with chickenpox being a contributory factor as the cause. He had contracted chickenpox five days earlier and as many parents we just thought that it was a normal childhood illness, which every child gets, so it did not concern us as his older brother had also had them the week before.

On Sunday the 8th of February, Layton woke us up on the morning, appearing to be back to his normal cheeky little self, then things took a turn for the worse, and so we took him to the hospital where he underwent a number of tests, but sadly passed away in the early hours of Monday morning.


How old was Layton when he passed away?

Layton was 13 months old when he passed away, he had just had his 1st birthday on the 6th of January (we prefer to say he was one-year-old instead of saying 13 months).

Did you have any knowledge of sepsis prior to him contracting it.

We had heard of it but we were not fully aware of it.

For readers who aren't familiar with it, can you tell us what sepsis is?

Sepsis is a life threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Sepsis leads to shock, multiple organ failure and death especially if not recognized early and treated promptly. It can be caused by a huge variety of different bugs, most cases being caused by common bacteria which we all come into contact with every day without them making us ill. Sometimes, though, the body responds abnormally to these infections, and causes sepsis.

Are there any charities or websites dedicated to raising awareness of sepsis?

There are, October is known as Sepsis Awareness Month, and in the UK, the main charity is called The Sepsis Trust and their website can be found at

There is also the Sepsis Alliance.


Layton's passing has obviously been a tremendous blow to your family. I think few of us, particularly those of us who are parents can understand what the loss of a child is like. Can you give us a small insight into the impact it has on you as parents, your own physical and mental wellbeing?

The impact has been like a train wreck, and a nightmare that you can’t wake from. It is hard to put into words of how we feel.  We feel numb and lost, and on some days we just feel so drained and tired we just want to sleep. For the first few weeks after his death we did not sleep, and hardly ate anything. If it had not been for one of my relatives giving us a kick up the backside not to be horrible to make us realize that we need to try and get a grip on things and start to eat I doubt we would be here talking like this now.

It is only now that we are slowly getting there, I have been diagnosed with severe PTSD, depression and anxiety. The hardest part of it all are the flash backs that I have and the nightmares.


How have Layton’s siblings coped with the loss of their brother?

This has been really hard on them especially James, who was three years old at the time of his passing. He became a little shadow of his former self and was so lost, as he lost his little playmate. His three sisters were the same our eldest, Reese, who was 11 at the time and took it really hard as she would look after him while we made our meals or done the house work.

As for his other two sisters, Brooke and Skye, who were nine and five respectively at the time, were totally lost and we tried to keep things as normal as possible. My proudest moment with them came two days after they lost their little brother, when they all asked if they could go back to school. They only missed one day of school, we really did not know what to do so we decided to let them go to school to try and keep things as normal as possible for them and discussed this with their school who gave them as much support as they needed.

You will notice that there are only four children mentioned; this is because our other son, Jenson was born after all of this, and came as a total shock to all of us, he was born on the 26th of July this year.


Recently, you were approached by a homeopathy advocate. Without dwelling on their nonsense, how much support have you had following their crass behaviour.

The support we have had following this has been overwhelming by a huge number of people on Twitter, yourself being one of them, they even started to donate to our GoFundMe page which was amazing! if it had not been for this support, I doubt I would have still been here to do this interview with yourself, because, as you know one of them encouraged me to commit suicide.

You've mentioned that you set up a GoFundMe page. Can you tell us more about it, and how people can help?

We set up the GoFundMe page with the aim of taking our children on holiday. We were actually planning a holiday in the summer when Layton passed away, and as a result of this we never had the holiday, as I went on sick leave from my job, so as we never had the money to have a holiday, so decided to set up the GoFundMe page in the hope we could give our kids that holiday that we were planning before they lost their little brother.

We had hoped that they could spend a few weeks having fun and not think about the horrible few months they have had. People can help by going to the GoFundMe page to make a donation using this link

Your latest goal is to name an aircraft after Layton. Can you tell us a little about it, and where people can vote?

This is a competition that has been created by Thomson holidays to name one of their new 787 Dream Liner planes and people can visit the website and vote here and if he gets the highest number of votes his name will be placed onto their new plane.

Keeping Layton’s memory alive is clearly very important to you, and thousands of people already know his name, and how he passed away. Aside from the aircraft, is there anything else people can do to help, especially in raising awareness of sepsis.

Yeah the main thing is raising the awareness of sepsis, but also how dangerous chickenpox can be, and that if you think there is something not right then seek medical help and do not be afraid to say to the doctor or nurse “could this be sepsis”. Also the Sepsis Trust has a link on their website to their online store where people can purchase wristbands, tie pins and other merchandise, such as Christmas cards, which have the Sepsis Trust logo, and raises money to help combat the disease and raise awareness.

There is obviously still a big hole in your family life. Have you been able to get back to some semblance of normality? How do you find the strength to cope on with day to day life?

We have tried to get back to some kind of normality we have good days and bad days but we are still not back to 100%. Something has changed with us and trying to explain it is hard. We know that we will never be the same people again as we are in that exclusive club that no one wants to be part of, and there is no way of cancelling our membership as it is for life. If it had not been for our other children and my many new friends on twitter I really don’t know how we would go on.

What advice would you give to parents in a similar situation to yourself?

I would say to them take things a day at a time, and when you find you need to cry then just do it, do not be afraid what people think of you as, unless they have been in your shoes they should not judge, and do not take offence if people start to ignore you, they are not doing it on purpose they just don’t know what to say to you.  

Also believe me when I say it you will get sick of hearing the saying "I am sorry" but once again this is because no one knows what to say to you.

And if people say things to you that you think are not the right things to say, they may be saying them because they are worried about you. The one thing I will say is make sure you try to eat and sleep; I know you won’t want to or don’t want to, but believe me when I say you will need every ounce of energy to get you through the first four to six weeks after the tragedy. And if you think you need help do not be afraid to ask for it, this is especially true for men as people think we need to be strong and keep it together; well this is crap we are allowed to fall apart and people will be there to pick you up, and they won’t think anything less of you if you do go to pieces.

Dave and Nichol, thank you for your time, honesty and candour.


I am extremely grateful to Dave and Nichol for agreeing to this interview, and for sharing what must be the most painful experience of their lives. Moreover, I am grateful for their friendship. Getting to know them has been an absolute privilege, one I wish had happened under happier circumstances. Their candour, dignity and bravery are qualities I have nothing but respect and admiration for.  I'm just a bloke with a blog, a Twitter account, and a platform to share their experience. All the credit for this post belongs entirely to them.

Please do take a minute to VOTE (clickable), and follow their progress using the hashtag #NameOurPlane No personal information is needed, nor your email address, so you won't be bombarded with spam.. It's literally ONE CLICK. Lastly, if you can, there’s a button below for donations to the family. Every little helps, so even if you can only afford a quid (or dollar), it WILL make a difference! You can also follow them on Twitter, @DaveHope80 and @NicholBoys where I am certain they will be delighted to meet new friends.



We may meet under tragic circumstances, but through the fires of hell are forged the friendships of forever

Layton Boys-Hope

6th of January 2014 - 9th of February 2015

Sleep well, little scamp..


Sunday 1 November 2015

Let Zygons be Zygons

"Once Upon a Time" is, perhaps, not the most auspicious of openings for a Doctor Who episode. It immediately invokes thoughts of the fairy-tale style of storytelling which plagued season seven. Mercifully, however, this is anything but a fairy-tale, and to open the episode, we are treated to the second flashback of the season, this time gazing back to the Zygon peace treaty, established in Day of the Doctor.
Following the flashback, we see a video of Osgood and Osgood, which one can safely surmise was shot prior to her unfortunate demise at the hands of Missy. In it, she, and her Zygon counterpart explain the ramifications of the peace treaty breaking down; the so-called "Nightmare Scenario". She also makes mention of “The Osgood Box”, which she hopes we will never have to use, so it’s a fairly safe bet that it will come into play in the next episode!

We then cut to Osgood, who, in a deliberately ambiguous scene, is seen standing at a grave, simply marked "my Sister”. To me, this heavily implies that her Zygon counterpart is dead, however, as the story progresses, it transpires that things may not necessarily be so clear cut.
I must confess, I'm not entirely comfortable with Osgood's explanation that Zygons are a predominately peaceful race, who happily assimilate into other cultures. This is clearly intended as a reference to Muslims and Islam, and to the current geo-political climate, however it is well established that Zygons are, or were, anything but peaceful.
Cut to the present day, and Osgood is running for her life, into a police station, with a Zygon in hot pursuit. Whilst hiding under a desk she uses her inhaler further implying that she is human,and that it is her Zygon duplicate occupying a hole in the ground. She manages to fire off a text message to the Doctor, who, aboard the Tardis, is hammering out a rather splendid rendition of Amazing Grace on his electric guitar. Opinion seems fairly divided on the guitar; personally, I rather like it, IF used appropriately. It evokes memories of the recorder playing Second Doctor. The long, protracted guitar sequence of The Magician’s Apprentice didn't quite work, but whilst aboard his own ship, why shouldn't he pluck out a tune or two!
Landing in Brockwell Park, London, the Doctor is attempting to call Clara (127 times!). He makes contact with two Zygons who have taken the form of two small girls. They are the Zygon High Command, and rogue Zygons waste little time in abducting them.
At a UNIT safe house, we see the welcome return of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Jac. Drawing clear parallels to ISIS, a faction of Zygons have formed a rogue splinter cell, and are holding Osgood hostage. They even send UNIT an ISIS style video, complete with snazzy logo, in which Osgood reads their demands. “There will be truth, or there will be consequences…”

Heading to the Zygon High Command Centre, which is set, somewhat curiously, in a junior school, Kate explains that 20 million Zygons have been permitted to take the form of the nearest available human beings. Again, I’m not entirely comfortable with this concept, and neither, I would imagine, are the 20 million humans, who now have aliens masquerading as them. Yet we are given to believe that the human race has cheerfully embraced this. Given the political nature of the story, it is surprising that no one has, as yet, given any thought to the security implications of this.
It is here we learn that, since the ceasefire, there have always been two Osgood's. The Doctor expands upon this by stating that they are both human and Zygon, maintaining a live link. Kate elaborates that after Osgood is killed, “other Osgood” goes mad with grief, and heads off to the United States to go undercover.
The Zygons send UNIT a second hostage video, demanding the right to live as themselves, and summarily execute the Zygon High Commanders. UNIT establish that they are holed up in a settlement in Turzmenistan, which Kate immediately proposes bombing; she’s certainly her father’s daughter! Clara “realises” that ‘Truth or Consequences’ is the name of a town in New Mexico, which is the last place a signal was received from Osgood. Her knowledge of the name of the town becomes much clearer later in the episode, and, for those who are aware that ‘Truth or Consequences’ is a real town, her “trivial pursuit” explanation seems perfectly plausible.
In a particularly nice scene, Clara asks Lethbridge-Stewart about weapons. Her response is that "there was an attempted Zygon invasion before in the 70's or 80's. One of our staff was a Naval surgeon, worked at Porton Down on captured Zygons, developed Z67".
In his last on screen mention, in the 1985 story Mawdryn Undead, The Brigadier mentioned to the Doctor that Harry Sullivan had been seconded to NATO and was working on "something hush-hush at Porton Down".
The Doctor tasks Clara and Jac with ensuring the safety of the U.K.; it is, after all, “their country”, a theme Peter Harness had previously explored, albeit on a planetary level, in Kill The Moon. Kate is to make her way to ‘Truth or Consequences’ and The Doctor takes the Presidential Aircraft to Turzmenistan, to attempt to negotiate peace. This seems somewhat contrived, given he could have easily travelled by Tardis. Similarly, he could have deposited Kate in ‘Truth or Consequences’, before heading to his negotiations.
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There are some delightfully pleasing throwbacks to Doctors past, with a portrait of the First Doctor gracing the wall at UNIT headquarters. It seems a curious choice, given it was predominately the Third Doctor who was most associated with UNIT, however the Brigadier had encountered the First, on two occasions, so it's presence, while fleeting, is not too jarring. The most obvious nod to the past is, of course, Osgood's "question mark" jumper, a hallmark of the Seventh Doctor.
During his meeting with the two Zygon Commanders, the Doctor refers to the Zygons as "blobby factions", a description used by Ace in Remembrance of the Daleks to describe the two warring Dalek factions. In another, less obvious nod to Remembrance, there is a sign in a window in Truth or Consequences, which states "No Dogs, No British", not dissimilar to the racially charged sign at the B&B owned by Mrs Smith.

The Zygons are well used, look and sound menacing, although, for me, there is something a little "off" about their updated design. Of all the classic series alien designs, they are, perhaps, the most timeless, and to this day still look fantastic. The updated versions are a little more robust in design, more muscular and “ribby”. The faces, despite (or perhaps because of) their razor sharp teeth and more human countenance, don't seem quite as sinister. Nevertheless, they are still pretty faithful to the original design, something which is to be lauded. One only has to look at the dreadful mess that was made of the Silurians, who are barely recognisable from their earlier counterparts.
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Meeting Colonel Walsh, capably played by Rebecca Front, the Doctor introduces himself. Her response that "we know who you are" has distinct echoes of the Harriet Jones stories. At the Zygon training camp in Turzmenistan, UNIT plan to storm the church where the Zygons are located, with only 30 minute window before an air strike. This was a theme frequently exploited during the Pertwee years, arguably to better effect.
The Zygon ability to take the form of our most loved ones is a chilling prospect, and one which is well realised. In an obvious trap, they present as family members of the UNIT soldiers, tasked with storming the church, and in one of the highlights of the episode, Hitchley is led to believe that his own mother is being held hostage. It would be easy to write this scene off, given that it is patently a trap, however, if confronted by the visage of a loved one, how many people could, with absolute certainty, pull the trigger?

Having rescued Osgood, she and the Doctor head back to the U.K. aboard the plane, where she expands on the human/Zygon relationship. It had been previously established in Terror of the Zygons that replicated humans had to kept alive in order to refresh the body print. Those days are now past; those are the “old rules”, and Osgood explains that while Zygons are able to pluck the memories from human beings, now they need only be kept alive should further information be required, otherwise the original human counterpart can die. There is a nice exchange between Osgood and The Doctor, in which the Doctor speculates that she is human. Osgood states that she is both human and Zygon, giving the Doctor another hybrid to ponder upon. The interaction between Capaldi and Ingrid Oliver feels natural, compelling and the chemistry between the two characters is superb. (She’d make a bloody good companion!)
Meanwhile Clara leads the UNIT troops underground, where it is revealed that many humans are encased in pods, one of which is Clara herself. The revelation that Clara has been substituted with a Zygon works fairly well, although the flashback seemed completely unnecessary. The audience is capable of deducing when it happened, and spoon feeding us is, frankly, a tad insulting to our intelligence. Similarly, Jenna Coleman doesn’t quite manage the Machiavellian facial expression she is attempting to portray. The episode ends on a superb cliff-hanger, with Zygon Clara firing a missile at the aircraft carrying The Doctor and Osgood.
The main weakness of the story is to be found in its greatest strength. The political nature of The Zygon Invasion works well, for the most part, however it lacks any subtlety, and the allusions to The Middle East tend to feel forced rather than nuanced. “I'll happily bomb the hell out of anywhere”, and lines about migrant Zygons “helping themselves to benefits” are much less refined than the script deserved.
The supporting cast is as strong as ever, Kate and Osgood are decent, well crafted, believable characters, and their interaction with the Twelfth Doctor works well. On the downside, The Doctors attempts to appear "cool" don't really work, and names like "Doctor Disco" or "Doctor Funkenstein" really do nothing for his normally brusque, detached character.
Overall, despite its many flaws, I enjoyed this episode. I mean REALLY enjoyed it! It was a superbly entertaining piece of television, and despite some heavy handed, unsubtle scripting, it is hard to believe it flowed from the pen of the same person who spewed out Kill The Moon. The Zygons appearance in Day of the Doctor was something of a wasted opportunity, so it’s a positive joy that they finally have a full length story focused on them.
The Zygon Invasion is a fast paced, thought provoking story, unashamedly subtle as a house-brick to the face, and containing just enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. Yes, there are plenty who will have seen the twist with Clara a mile away; I wasn’t one of them, which I suspect added to my enjoyment. For me, it’s the strongest episode of the season, so far. Two parters in series nine have been notoriously weaker in their concluding episode, and so I really hope this one bucks that trend, and that the next episode doesn’t let it down. More than anything, it feels like a classic era story; whether it earns a “classic status” remains to be seen. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s certainly deserving of the 9/10 I’m awarding it.