I've been designing web sites in a kind of amateur way for a few years now, and I only have one big gripe in other people's designs.
The features available in web pages are evolving all the time, and new browsers are required in order to interpret the code that people are putting in to their pages. Web design is big business, and companies are always pushing for their web sites to be the best and the snazziest. So I'm not blaming web designers for upgrade nags, but I am blaming their clients and the design process.
What do I mean by an upgrade nag anyway?
Well, there's a certain site that I visit occasionally that has a big banner along the top telling me, over four lines of text, that I am using an unsupported browser and that I need to update. It's got some pretty icons on it that link to download pages for browsers. It's on every page of the web site. I have no idea what in the site I can't see, but I see this big red message. A lot.
Now, yes - there will be some features on the site that the people behind the site want me to see, and that I won't be able to. Probably advertising, but possibly content, or interaction, or a tedious facebook login. But the main reason I now don't want to use the site is the annoying banner. On every page. Telling me that my browser isn't supported by the web site I'm looking at.
Now, there is a good reason why my browser isn't supported by the web site. It's an old browser. Internet Explorer 7. And all the computers in my workspace have it. I'm not allowed to upgrade. So I don't.
As an aside - surely the browser doesn't support the web page, rather than the other way around?
There are established techniques for allowing a web page to display properly in older browsers. They're messy, yes, and time consuming. But around 6% of internet users are using IE7 or earlier. All of them will get this banner. Instead of a discreet message telling the user that "as you are using such and such a browser, some features of this site are disabled" and disabling them, this site - and it is not unique - chooses to make itself considerably more annoying.
I do sympathise. With the site owners, who want to drive everytone to the most bandwidth-rich experience, with the coders who want to write standard code rather than bespoking everything for individual browsers. All I ask is that, in return, they have some sympathy for me, stuck on a browser that their web site doesn't support.
Here's my ranking of the first five Doctor Who finales. Hopefully there will be many more.
The Parting of the Ways
The Doctor faces down an army of Daleks, rescuing Rose in the process. Then he dumps her on Earth. This is possibly my favourite part of the episode, mainly because it shows the viewer that traveling with the Doctor has changed Rose, changed her outlook on life. And then she ends up going all deus ex machina and shiny and it all falls apart.
An army of Daleks and an army of Cybermen pretty much appear on Earth, don't fight each other much, and get sucked off in to a void between worlds thanks to reversing the polarity of the Deus Ex Machina. Fortunately, this gives us the separation of the Doctor and Rose, which leads to some fine face acting from both of them.
Unfortunately, the bond between the Doctor and Rose, and the pain of their separation, which is so effective in this story, then casts a shadow over the next two series. So it kind of backfires.
Last of the Time Lords
Begins with a complete change of pace and a fast forward to an Earth under the thumb of the Toclafane, meaning that there will have to be a big reset button at the end. Martha shines in this episode, wearily walking the Earth, spreading a message - picking up on the themes of the Shakespeare Code without mentioning the fact once.
Unfortunately, the impact of this is to turn the Doctor in to a shiny Deus Ex Machina that can defeat the Master just by - well, it's never quite explained how he does it. Never mind.
There's some great performances in this one, though.
They love these apocalyptic titles, don't they?
After clearing up the regeneration due to a wee bit of Deus Ex Machina, this episode basically comes down to Catherine Tate getting shot and pressing a button. Fortunately, she is more than capable of doing this in an interesting way.
And then she leaves. Not through choice, but in a tear-jerking "you must never remember me or your brain will explode" kind of way. Except that when she does remember him, her brain doesn't explode, but that's another story. Gut-wrenching snatching of pain from the jaws of victory. And as a result, one of my favourite scenes of all of the episodes I'm considering.
The Big Bang
Another one that begins with a complete change of pace, and a return to the world of Amelia Pond and the 11th Doctor's first scenes.
After the monster-fest that was the previous episode, this one is really a fight against circumstance. if the universe has been destroyed, how do you get it back? And yes, it's a reset button, but it's one that they spend an entire episode acknowledging that they are pressing. Time can be rewritten. And shhh... there may be spoilers.
Yes, there's a Dalek, but it's a stone dalek. And it's just one, and it doesn't have a plan or a scheme. It's just there for a bit of jeapordy, which it delivers. As season finales go, it's a small scale story in a small scale universe, but it's wibbly wobbly timey-wimey, the stakes are high and it's funny.
It's also the first season finale that doesn't end with a companion leaving or the Doctor regenerating. Interesting.
Ranking for Episode 13
Rankings Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
Next: What can I say about this? I don't doubt I can say something.
Plutocracy passes through a perpetual cycle. It lobbies against the restraints that curb its destructive greed. It succeeds. As a result it collapses. It gets rescued, at enormous cost, by the forces it fought: regulators, planners, tax collectors, an interventionist state. It recovers, dusts itself down, then resumes its attack on the people who rescued it. This assault on planning belongs to the cycle. But the damage the plutocrats mean to inflict will not be reversible.
George Monbiot, The Guardian.
I've had a number of arguments, some heated, some reasoned, based around this proposition over the years. It's inherent in democracy, it seems, and hence in western society. It is almost independent of government - indeed you could argue that the election of one government or another is an indication of where a society is in this cycle of death and rebirth rather than a driver of it.
We're now fifteen months in to a Tory/Liberal coalition government in the UK. We're a few months in to an SNP majority administration in Holyrood. I don't think it would be fair to say that I'm happy with either proposition. But more than that, I don't think the British electorate are happy with the Westminster coalition government. However, it's a consequence of the British public and their demands for change.
It's easy to turn around, point fingers at politicians and bankers and blame them for all of the woes of the country, but it's missing about 90% of the facts. I don't have all the facts, I'm not going to go in to the ones I have here, mainly because they're statistical and historical, but also because I know I'd get bogged down in it. It's complicated. Way more complicated than you could expect to find in the Daily Mail or on a web page.
There will be economics treatises written about this period of time though, addressing the economic cycle that Monbiot sums up so succinctly. He's writing about planning law, but the same could be said for civil rights, education, financial regulation, urban riots. Groups within society fight against constraint, break that constraint and collapse. The wider society then imposes those constraints. It's entirely natural and understandable.
If I write an economic treatise (I won't), I will call it "no more boom and bust".
Throughout these five years, the series finale has had two parts - and sometimes they've been longer than usual. They've picked up on ideas and plot lines from earlier in the series, and more often than not they've had two very different feels to them. How do I rank them?
Why is it called Bad Wolf? It's not actually clear.
On a television station that we've seen before, the bored citizens of the future play lethal gameshows. It's a chance to show a comic twist on the television of the day, leading up to the big revelation of... Daleks.
And then the Doctor threatens them. And they look afraid.
Army of Ghosts
Torchwood. If it's alien, it's theirs. And the Doctor most certainly is alien. Alongside that we've got ghostly figures from another dimension appearing and cybermen lurking in the shadows of Canary Wharf. Tracey-Ann Oberman is a classy Doctor Who villain, blind to the dangers she faces as she enables the invasion of the Cybermen. And then there is a big revelation. Of Daleks.
The Sound of Drums
After the cliff-hanger ending of Utopia, we're suddenly back to contemporary Earth, and it's at its most gritty with every person, every security camera at the beck and call of the Master. It's a hopeless situation, and we get a Gallifrey flashback, for the first time.
And then, at the end, there is a big revelation when the Earth is invaded, and it's not the Daleks.
The Stolen Earth
Here we learn fairly early on that it's been stolen by the Daleks. But this is a big plan, the stakes are higher than ever before as the Daleks basically threaten to wipe out everything ever. Presumably including themselves. So we bring back every companion that's appeared in the new series. It feels like a big "event" episode. It feels apocalyptic. And the Doctor is about to be reunited with Rose when he's shot by a Dalek and regenerates...
The Pandorica Opens
The Doctor is, essentially manipulated all the way through this one by a gang of monsters, and ends up getting himself in to an impossible prison. And Rory is back from the dead (hurrah!) but he's an Auton (boo! because he's bad but Hurrah! because the Autons are back). And then he kills Amy. Boo, indeed. And River's in the TARDIS, which is exploding, causing the crack that's been following Amy for 11 weeks. It's all in all not a good situation, for any of them really.
And then the universe is destroyed.
Ranking for Episode 12
It's the big cliff hanger of the season. I'm going to try to judge on the episode as a whole though. Tricky. I love Army of Ghosts, for instance, but I'm having to rank it fourth here.
Rankings So Far: Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
No overall impact.
It's almost time for the big series finale, the two parter. And so we get the story that leads in to it... a moment of calm before the storm?
An Earth-bound sequel to an earlier story, with one alien and a high-point that is essentially two characters having dinner while one tries to kill the other. It's got good moments, and cracks all over Cardiff, but the end feels like a cop-out. Some interesting moral questions are raised... and then ignored.
Season 2 has Fear Her and Love and Monsters, so it's on pretty shaky ground. It's a different take on the Monster-of-the-week from some of the previous episodes, but it feels more like 1989's version of Suburban London than 2006's version. And it's got some cheesy moments. And the villain of the piece is basically a cupboard. It would be done better later.
And so to Season 3. This story has a real sense of urgency to it, as the last remnants of humanity flee from the end of the world and from the Futurekind. Add in the return of Captain Jack and the Doctor's reaction to that and you've got an episode that could be really strong on its own. And that's before the twist. The delicious twist that brings together plot elements from earlier in the series in a way that rewards regular viewers. And Derek Jacobi's brief appearance in his second role of the episode just makes me want more...
And this story picks up on the idea of using episode 11 as a prequel to the main two parter. In this case, it's the "Doctor-Light" episode as Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins face the answers to the question "What if Donna never met the Doctor? What if she turned left?"
Critically, it highlights just why a companion is important to the Doctor - why a companion is there to act as the voice of humanity. She is there to stop him, saving his life, saving the Earth a dozen times over.
In this story, a companion selflessly sacrifices her life so an alternative version can live. It's a powerful story, and it won't be the last time it's told.
Season Five's Companion-Light episode plays it pretty much for laughs, setting Matt Smith against the comic actors James Corden and Daisy Haggard in a story about an upstairs flat that eats people, and that was once due to contain a talking cactus. It's a bit of fun, really.
Ranking for Episode 11
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
Honestly, I don't see this changing much. I'm slightly surprised, but I'll explain why once I've rated the last two episodes.
Since series 2 of Doctor Who, every series has had one episode where the main character is largely absent. In series 2 and 3, this was episode 10. It'll be quite interesting to see how the episodes stack up.
The Doctor Dances
Ah... the sublime Squareness Gun. A sound consistent explanation for the threat and a plausible resolution, in which everybody lives (back before "everybody lives" became a cliche).
The banter in this episode between Jack and the Doctor is excellent, and Steven Moffat is definitely on form. Not the strongest episode 10, but a strong contender.
Love and Monsters
The first Doctor-Light episode, and it shows. Yes, the Doctor and Rose are intermingled through the plot, but it's trying to stand on the basis of a top-class guest cast and a monster designed in a Blue Peter competition, portrayed by Peter Kay. Not the worst story of its season, but not the best.
Here's an example of how to do Doctor-Light correctly, though. Light touch all the way through, taken out of the action by a credible threat, so the guest cast are essentially trying to rescue him. And the creepy weeping angels are introduced here. Doubtless the forerunners of some very quiet playground games. Clever Steven Moffat.
The only story that might challenge Blink on this list. Series 4 had a Doctor-Light story, but this isn't it. This is Companion-Light, with Catherine Tate appearing in one scene at the beginning and one at the end. The bulk of the story is told on one set, with a limited set of charaters and a threat that we never explicitly see, but hear in the voices of the actors and see in their faces. It's a dark tale, although not the darkest Who has ever told. Chilling, and very strong.
Vincent and the Doctor
Vincent Van Gogh vs the Giant Invisible Turkey of Despair. Lots of metaphor in there, but despite some beautiful moments, it's not going to win this round.
Ranking for Episode 10
I'm giving it to Blink. And Midnight. Shared. Different stories, different reasons.
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
Blink brings Series 3 back in to contention, but it;s very close between series 2, 3 and 5 as we get close to the end of time...
Way back in 2010, I wrote some articles ranking each episode of the first five seasons of Doctor Who - ignoring specials, and everything before 2005. The idea was to determine which season I preferred. I wrote 8 entries. This is good for me, these days.
Here's the ninth.
The Empty Child
The dawn of Steven Moffat, gives us a strong period piece, a creepy monster with a playground-friendly catchphrase that is still occasionally heard in gay bars, the introduction of Captain Jack and a brilliant supporting character. The only downside is Rose climbing a rope for no good reason, but that's pretty minor. It's going to be hard to beat.
The Satan Pit
This episode isn't going to do it, though. Not that it's a bad episode, but the Doctor is stuck in a cave for most of it, which is what brings the score down. There's a bit of TARDIS magic, which isn't always great, but the base-under-siege is done well, Ida Scott's worth revisiting sometime, and Toby Zed combines creepy with vulnerable really well.
The Family of Blood
The second half was never going to be quite as good as the book - but the book is brilliant, so that's always tough. The key points are there, though, and Tennant does a great job of face acting when he portrays the Doctor's feelings about his cruelty. But that, in itself, doesn't quite work.
Forest of the Dead
Everybody lives... kind of.
Moffat. Moffat, Moffat, Moffat. Oh how you love playing with layers of reality. Marvellously ripping us out of creepy library story in to Donna's alternate reality - the first of several - and giving Catherine Tate something really meaty and human to get her teeth in to. It's a close run between this and The Empty Child
It's a game of two halves. There's the first 35 minutes, where people talk a lot and not much else happens, and then there's the last ten minutes, when Rory dies and Amy forgets that he ever existed. Twisty and intriguing, but not quite enough to cover up the cracks in the earlier part of the episode.
Indeed, because of that, I'm going to inch it in to fourth place, but to be fair, all five Episode 9s are pretty strong. Perhaps being part of a two-parter helps...?
Ranking for Episode 9
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 2 = Series 5 > Series 3 > Series 1
I'd thought Series 3 might have been higher up the list, to be honest.
This week saw airing of "Red or Black?" a show which, apparently ITV passed on some time ago, on the basis that nobody was really interested in watching somebody else win money without having to do anything to get it.
There's a lot of evidence of this. For example, the BBC's history with the lottery show. It's a ratings winner when people think it could be them. It's a contractual obligation when people realise it might not be.
Enter "Red or Black?". I won't spell out the rules of the game, for they are few and pointless. It is primarily a huge budget variety show with a bit of gameshow stuck on the end, where the winner is decided by luck and the prize is similarly decided by luck. Either £1m or nothing.
And the first winner was Nathan Hageman. A man with a criminal record. A an who served two and a half years out of a five year sentence, but whose sentence has now expired in any case. This man doesn't deserve to win, apparently, and hence there is a media frenzy. The frenzy is far more interesting than the show.
Now, in the UK, we have a fine history of tension between the legal system and the media. The legal system, for example, asserts that it might be best if trials were conducted with a degree of decorum, with juries made up of people who are presented with facts and the opinions of people involved, steered by a judge, and ideally avoiding undue external influence.
The tabloid press, on the other hand, have a reputation for slapping photographs of people on their front pages, with headings like "Face of a Killer", and then a small retraction on page 18 the following day when the man with dark hair and thick lips has been released without charge.
But that's what the press needs, of course. With the proliferation and fragmentation of news sources, the press needs sensationalism, scandal. It needs opinion. The press needs a freakshow, and where it can't find one, it creates one.
In this case, the balance between the legal system and the media is clearer. Hageman has no legal requirement to hand over any of his money to anyone. He was not sentenced never to enter a game show, or indulge in gambling. There is no legal reason for him not to have entered the show, no legal reason for him not to be allowed to win. There are restrictions around the activities of criminals after they have served their sentence. Putting your arm around Simon Cowell's shoulder is, as far as I know, not one of them.
What there is, however, is moral indignation and pressure from some pressure groups within society. Perhaps allowing convicted criminals the right to win big money on bland gameshows should be curtailed. If that is the case, then the issue is between the pressure groups and the legal system.
And for the rest of us, bring on the bread and circuses.
I must admit, when I first heard that Channel 4 were making a show called "Seven Dwarves" following the lives of seven dwarves living together while working on a pantomime, I thought it was a gimmick. I thought it would be a televisual freakshow, leaping boldly in to the gap where Big Brother used to sit. "No, no," said the publicity machine. I was doubtful.
I have my suspcicions that the original genesis of the idea was somewhere along those lines. However, the execution of the documentary is very different.
First off, there is little mention of the pantomime. There's no attempt to force the actors in to Grumpy or Dopey shaped boxes. What we have, instead, is a series of interlinking documentaries following the lives of seven actors as they live together in a house for a period of time. They're away from home, missing their families, relying on each other. They have their own issues, their own love lives, their own background stories about how they got in to show business, and their own reasons for doing pantomime. They have their own hopes for the future, their own dreams.
They're all interesting stories, worth telling.
There's a parallel to "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings" in that both documentary series show us a parallel world, different from the life of the majority of British People. In "BFGW", the world is much more alien, however. The show has been accused of being a freak show, and although it doesn't pass judgement on the culture it documents, it does hold it up, and in a way that provokes debate, analysis, and ridicule.
The height of the subject of Seven Dwarves is why they're on this particular series. But it doesn't define them. It's there, in every camera shot. It does impact on everything. But it's often a secondary thing; it gives them extra depth.
As a result, Seven Dwarves doesn't feel like a freak show. Indeed, I feel it is far more likely to succeed in getting the viewers to question their own attitudes and preconceptions.