Thursday, 29 November 2012

Who is the best Doctor?

It is a great TV programme, loved the world over by millions including me.  Dr Who is a marvellous creation and thanks to re-generation can keep on re-inventing itself and changing the actor who plays the lead role.  But which Doctor is the best Doctor?

Well, it's another one which is a matter of personal opinion rather than a question which comes with a definitive answer.  It's also one driven very much by the era you probably became first entranced by the Lord of Time.

For what it is worth here, in reverse order is how I rate them.  What do you think? Leave a comment!

10 Sylvester McCoy

One of the two Doctors who played the role when I didn't watch much TV.  But by this time Doctor Who had lost a lot of its magic and much of its edge.  For me the programme had become too silly and surreal.

9 Peter Davison

Another one from an era when I didn't watch much TV but also another Doctor who lacked an edge and wasn't hard enough for me.  The second of the two Doctors who don't really count for me.

8 William Hartnell

The original and on-screen the day after JFK was assassinated.  Very dated and before my time but the original and with him the brilliant theme tune.

7 Matt Smith

The current Doctor does a decent job and is a credible Doctor.  I don't think he has fully established himself yet and I don't think the stories are as strong as classic late 60s and 70s Doctor Who or the writing as strong as the often poignant Ecclestone or David Tennant era.  I also think he is a little upstaged by the wonderful Amy Pond.

6 Colin Baker

A return to Baker-esque form after a weak period.  Baker was a fine Doctor who didn't get enough episodes at a time when the BBC were toying with dumping the series.  He also suffers with me as he is another Doctor on screen when I didn't watch much TV.

5 David Tennant

For an awful lot of people he is Doctor Who.  Along with Tom Baker he is probably the most popular Doctor of the series.  He made the role very much his own and has oodles of charm.  For me he isn't quite dark or quite hard enough, though the stone angels are a particularly inspirational and horrifying monster.  I think he also suffers for being after my era.  Others will place him higher.

4 Christopher Eccleston

I thought he was an utterly inspired choice for new Doctor Who.  An almost perfect mix of quirky edginess, eccentricity, unconventional rebelliousness and a passionate idealistic heart.  He plays the loneliness and drive for justice almost perfectly.  And it gets it just right for a new era.  And yet he did it all too briefly, was perhaps too intense and came to be eclipsed by David Tennant.  

3 Patrick Troughton

The first modern Doctor.  He played the role just before my time but I think he is well worth a re-appraisal by many fans.  With Troughton all the classic monsters are there and like Ecclestone he has a dark, eccentric edginess.  He began to set the standard for the programmes charming malevolent charisma.  (He is also a great priest in The Omen)

2 Jon Pertwee

The first Doctor I saw a lot of and the first to catch my imagination.  He is a bit of a Dandy and a poseur and he has a very silly car.  But, as I remember him, he had truly scary adventures with some truly scary monsters.  His encounters with The Master are brilliant and in the Brigadier and UNIT he has excellent allies. 

1 Tom Baker

For me Tom Baker is the best Doctor.  he made the role his own with his long scarf and booming, almost Brian Blessed like, voice.  Like Pertwee his adventures are scary and the suspense filled ending of each episode rarely disappoints.  The classic stories are his like Genesis of the Daleks, The Keeper of Traken and Pyramids of Mars!

And I've not even begun to discuss Sarah Jane or K9!


I'm not counting Paul McGann or Peter Cushing who respectively played the Doctor in a one off TV special and in a film.

And I'm sure the Doctor is a Liberal if he ever votes on earth or if the have them within the Council of the Time Lords.

Well that's my opinion.  It probably dates me.  I'm sure you disagree with me.  Why not add your thoughts or memories as a comment.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Nate Silver is a genius!

As a political junkie I have been closely following the US election these last few months.

A key part of my regular reading has been Nate Silver's Fivethirtyeight blog attached to the New York Times..

Nate Silver is a statistician and a geek, I'm sure his alter ego has a starring role on Big Bang Theory.  He made a bit of a name for him by building a statistical model for predicting baseball results. Following success with that he turned to politics and predicted the US election incredibly accurately in 2008.  I discovered him towards the end of that campaign.

Now lets be clear - Nate Silver is a genius. And so are the guys at Votamatic and a couple of other stats based poll analysis sights.  They got their predictions on what was going to happen in the US elections absolutely spot on.  (And that by the way is the point - he was giving statistical probability of given events happening based on the data and a multitude of factors coming together)

I can't believe how right Nate Silver was right about everything in this election.  Not only that but also how he described accurately the shape of the race at every stage and identified the underlying cause and effects.  And in his use of data he was able to show what was happening not just give a politically loaded narrative or a best guess gut feel.

I did wonder if there was some under counting of shy Republicans - if Romney was going to do a Bush and pull out the numbers on election day.  But the polling was scientific and their statistically significant samples called it right. It was a couple of the Republican polls who got it all wrong by trying to weight the electorate.  
Because not only did Silver describe the race at every turn perfectly but his understanding about different polls and how they work is first class.  This added another dimension.  And he explains everything, comprehensively and lucidly.

Quite frankly throughout the race if you wanted to really understand what was going on all you had to read was Nate Silver.

And he didn't do that awful thing American's do and say everything is a toss up or too close to call.  Silver told us what was happening and how probable each outcome was - state by state - day by day.

Using data dispassionately - and patiently waiting for the numbers to come through - Nate could explain how much difference each debate made, what effect the conventions had - even individual speeches and accounted for economic factors as well as noting any trend or momentum in an ever changing environment.

The accurate enlightenment of the body of work by Nate and his team was breath taking to behold.  Not to mention how it exposed douchebag in chief Karl Rove as being a bag of spin and partisan narrative.

Political punditry may never be the same again.

Data and evidence based commentary!

All hail King Nate!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

What does Remembrance Day mean for me?

The following is much of a post I wrote last year.  I thought it might be worth posting again today.

The Remembrance Days I attended at school in Edinburgh in the 1970s left a big impression on me.

First it was some of the teachers.  Several had seen action. One, a French teacher who was hopeless at keeping order, had been at Arnhem and was a bone fide war hero.  Another had been at Monte Cassino.  One of the primary teachers had been imprisoned by the Japanese and bore the mental scars as a result.  Another French teacher had taken a shrapnel wound.  And Bill Knox, the legendary and ubiquitous janny (janitor or care-taker if that term means nothing to you) had been evacuated from Dunkirk after a close shave.  Bill proudly wore his medal ribbons on his janitor’s uniform every day. 

It was obvious that Remembrance meant something to these men.  Sometimes a former pupil would attend the ceremony and they would stand in solemn thought considering their fallen classmates.  Once I saw the Deputy Head – a tough Aberdonian – escort one of these veterans who he had fought with to the memorial with his wreath.  I saw their faces – a stern stoicism masking deep emotion – as they walked out in the cold.

The second thing that affected me was the war memorial at the school with its names covering all four sides of a rather fine stone needle.  I stood and studied them more than once during my school days.  These were young men just like me – just like me!  They came from exactly the same place, from exactly the same background, with exactly the same life experience as me – just a couple of generations earlier.  But for the Grace of God...

These had been wars of national survival with a total mobilisation of the country.  If I had been alive I would have been there and so would my friends.  Something struck me that these boys deserved to be remembered.
Finally, as a young man I read a lot of history – I even went on to study it at university.  I read a lot about what these men went through, what they faced, what conditions were like.  I read the horrific combat statistics.  I read the accounts of battle.  I read the soldiers’ stories.  Many deaths were heroic but often they were just sad or tragic!

My Granny also left an impression on me.  Her husband (my Grandfather who I never knew) Hugh Young had been on the Somme (in one of the earliest tanks in fact).  He came back, but many of their friends and family did not.  Remembrance Day meant a lot to my Granny – or the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month as she called it.

My Granny and the teachers at my school left and indelible impression on me.  Remembrance Day was about remembering the people who had died and it was about raising money to support those who had been scarred by war.

I heard a guy on the radio form the White Poppy movement.  Now pacifism is a laudable and absolutely legitimate position to hold and to campaign for.  But this man was ungenerous, mean spirited, ill informed and talked complete and utter guff.

In a funny way I have never understood those who say Remembrance Day is militaristic.  Because the day focuses on remembering the people who have died I have always thought pacifists and those who are uncomfortable about our foreign adventures should be amongst the most passionate exponents and participants in Remembrance Day.  It is after all a day we focus on the true cost of war and the pity of war!

It is about remembrance whether we approve or disapprove of any given war.

Kate Higgins told the story of the origins of Remembrance Day and the Poppy in her blog 'Poppy Cock' earlier this week.  I think she is spot on in what she says.  The one big difference is that the meaning of symbols and ceremonies do evolve, like language, over time.  

So, I always wear the poppy because I believe:
  1. We should never forget what happened in two world wars in the 20th century and try to learn the lessons from them.
  2. In remembrance of those who died in those wars – even if not known personally.
This means thinking of the 2nd war which was a war of national survival for us – a war which pulled us and so many other countries into a conflict with tyranny.  This means thinking of the 1st war where the slaughter was on an almost industrial scale – a much more complex conflict to understand but still a war of national survival although with a real sense of millions dying in the war games of a ruling elite.  This means thinking of the young who had their lives torn up to face fear and for many of them sacrifice.

Today wars are not of national survival and sometimes appear morally ambiguous. Iraq was wrong! Afghanistan was probably the right thing to do but has become less clear cut as time has gone on.

Nevertheless, these are security actions and it is important that they are undertaken and more to the point that we have men and women who are ready and willing to go into combat if called on.  And we should remember those people who die and we should look after those who are maimed or suffer mental torment afterwards.

Remembrance Day – lest we forget!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Which is the best Bond film ever?

I went to see Skyfall this week.  It is an absolutely fantastic film.  But is it the best?  Where does it sit in the pantheon of a great series of films?

Here is how I currently rate the Bond films from least to best.  It is of course a personal view and some of the placings will be a bit quirky to me (and I may even have got some of the details mixed up).  Have a read and tell me what you think!

23 For your eyes only

It feels more like a TV movie than a top Bond film.

22 Quantum of Solace

It is trying to be Bourne not Bond.  And it's all action and therefore lacks characterisation and story somewhat.  Good car chases though! (if a little like something out of Grand Turismo)

21 Moonraker
It is a good fun Bond but not a great.  In fact I am never entirely sure if Moore's slightly camp, played a bit for laughs Bond altogether counts as James Bond to be honest.

20 View to a kill
Same as Moonraker - I just find View to a kill a little more memorable.

19 Octopussy

It starts well and has great exotic Indian locations, mood and atmosphere.  The story line and characters are good but it ends up being another that feels like a TV movie - filmed on a railway line near Peterborough masquerading as East Germany.

18 Man with the Golden Gun

Decent enough Bond and good villain's assistant, but it's a Moore - so at the weaker end.

17  The world is not enough

Brosnan was a decent Bond.  He has that cruel quality.  But I think he suffers from not having as good scripts as some of the others - though the films are all well made and enjoyable.

16 Die another day

As above

15 Tomorrow never dies

As above again

14 Licence to kill (they should have called it Licence Revoked)

Dalton is a great actor.  And he plays the theme of revenge very well.  He is a better actor than Brosnan, though I think Brosnan is a better fit for Bond than Dalton.  Dalton is altogether too sympathetic and sensitive.

13 Dr No

This is a great spy thriller and begins to bring in some of the elements of classic Bond but altogether it is rather dated and doesn't stand the test of time for me.  Since the genre was just getting started it is a bit shallower in some of the Bond elements compared with later films.

12 Goldeneye

Brosnan's best Bond

11 From Russia with Love

Again a bit dated otherwise it would be higher.  A great thriller and Lotte Lenya (Rosa Kleb) is one of the great villains.

10 The Living Daylights

Dalton's best one.  A really enjoyable film and great story.  I enjoyed it a lot and have seen it a couple of times.  The chase on the Cello through the snow, the fight hanging out the back of a Hercules and the Mujaheddin when they were enemies of the Russians and before anyone had ever heard of Al Quaeda are all memorable moments in a memorable film.

9 Casino Royale

Daniel Craig's first outing.  Craig is the best Bond since Connery.  He has that sense of isolation, of matter of fact ruthlessness, of being resourceful and hard as nails - and yet flawed and vulnerable, with a sense of a suppressed character lying dormant behind those piercing blue eyes.  It is also a strong story with a good piece of personal history to James Bond.

8 The spy who loved me

A good one from Moore.  Good locations, a good female character, Jaws and the underwater Lotus (though the Lotus is not my favourite Bond car)

7 Live and let die

A personal favourite and one of the best theme tunes.  Solitaire is one of the best female characters in the series and the voodoo storyline has real menace.  I think I'm also right in saying the funny southern American cop appears for the first time in this one!

6 Diamonds are forever

Not everyone's favourite but one of mine!  Its a great story with some great character parts.  I think it also has my favourite Bond girls.

5 Thunderball

We are now getting to quintessential Bond films here. The awesome taking of the Vulcan bomber, the man in the mask, the Health club scenes, and the menace of an evil organisation trying to hold the world to ransom.  Is this the one with the brilliant, surprise elimination of the failed Spectre executive in their leather and chrome lair?  I think a couple of others are stronger only because I think they have slightly better endings.

4 Skyfall

The only later one I am placing with the quintessential Bonds.  As a stand alone film in terms of characterisation, the themes it explores and the inter relationships this is probably the best film.  It also has some quite stunning cinematography of London, Shanghai and Glencoe.  But it doesn't quite out Bond the top three.

3 On her majesty's secret service

Lazenby in his sole outing - but this is still quintessential Bond.  The drive by shooting of Tracey, the genuine sadness of the scene and the Louis Armstrong sound track make this oh so memorable.  And I haven't even mentioned the mountain top villain's lair, the sky chase and a particularly fiendish plot to take over the world.  This is classic Bond and a great spy thriller.

2 You only live twice

Others will probably place this lower but I love this film.  Ninjas, a futuristic spy chief's base, a great entrance by Bond - and it has a villain's lair inside a mountain with a mono rail and a piranha invested pool - what more do you want!!  Deserves a high billing alone for Donald Pleasance uttering the lines "good bye - meester Bond!"

1 Goldfinger

The quintessential Bond.

If you don't believe me go and watch it again!

Well that's what I think.

What do you think?