Wednesday 22 December 2021


When I was little, there was a scare about the safety of the whooping cough vaccine. My mum had had whooping cough as a child - she had a bad chest for the rest of her life (you could identify her by her cough) and she eventually died of bronchiectasis - so I was thought to be at risk of complications. So instead of the whooping cough vaccine, I got the real thing when I was about 3. Fortunately, I had some protection from maternal antibodies, so I only got what Mum described as a very mild case, but even the mildest case of whooping cough is an illness you never forget.

So when I had my own children, I made sure they got all their vaccinations, and when I got offered my COVID-19 vaccination, I didn't hesitate. My wife had had a very mild case of COVID-19 early on, and by a very mild case, I mean she was flat on her back feeling utterly miserable for two weeks.

I've now had two doses of Astra Zeneca and one of Moderna (apparently that's a good combination). I had some side effects after the first dose (cramp, fever, vomiting), but I'd take that over COVID-19 any day, No problems at all with the second dose, and the wooziness I got after the booster was probably down to the flu jab I got at the same time.

So, if you know anyone who's reluctant to get vaccinated, tell them my story. Tell them not to be afraid of vaccines, because the real thing would be far worse. Tell them that no soldier would go into battle without his gun. And tell them that the sooner everybody's vaccinated, the sooner we beat this wretched disease and get back to normal life.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Why I Hate Genderflipping

My daughter, who was originally the one of my family most in favour of a female Doctor, once said, "You know, I feel sorry for Jodie Whittaker, because I've seen her in other things, and she can actually act."

Now, Chibnall's writing is mediocre at best, but that wasn't the only problem. There's an intrinsic problem with genderflipping. I've seen a couple of other productions that used it, and found them problematic.

Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare play. In a subplot, the pompous steward Malvolio offends some other characters by spoiling their fun. In revenge, they forge a letter from his employer, the Countess Olivia, claiming that she's in love with him, trick him into wearing yellow stockings and cross garters to impress her (he looks ridiculous, and she hates that style to start with) and convince her that he's gone mad. (Note, Malvolio claims to be a Puritan, the Puritans wanted to close down theatres, Shakespeare's audience would have seen him as the bad guy).

I saw a production of Twelfth Night at the National Theatre, with Tamsin Grieg as a genderflipped Malvolio. Portraying Malvolio as a woman made the prank come across as unpleasantly homophobic. Worse still, the yellow stockings and cross garters became a yellow corset with propellers on the nipples - not merely stupid but degrading.

I also saw a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which Lysander was portrayed as a woman. Again, Egeus' opposition to Lysander marrying Hermia became implicitly homophobic, not merely putting his paternal authority over his daughter's happiness. The production couldn't resolve that problem, because it was never in the text - they had created it themselves.

So back to Doctor Who. Chris Chibnall presents the 13th Doctor as a great leap forward for the representation of women, but that's sheer hypocrisy coming from him. Steven Moffat wrote compelling female characters - Clara, Amy, River. But 13 is a vapid chatterbox who spouts inane platitudes and corporate slogans, Yaz is just bland, and Grace was fridged in the first episode. Chibnall has always been a mysogynistic writer - his writing for Torchwood and Camelot shows that, so he doesn't get to call anyone else sexist when they criticise his worthless gimmick.

If you want good female characters, write them as women from the outset. It worked for Dana Scully, it worked for Emma Peel. If you want good male characters, write them as male from the outset. It worked for The Doctor. But if you gendeflip an established male character (nobody would suggest doing it the other way round) you're just replacing a good male character with a poor female one, plus some awkward subtext.