Dear Steven Moffat: Listen

capaldi-listen

Dear Steven,

Last week, following “Robot of Sherwood”, I lamented the tendency of some episodes to be all concept and no story; empty vessels into which were poured jokes, rusty plot elements, and double cream. The best installments, I said, fingering a glass of ginger wine and smearing the divine nectar across my lips, had to deal the double whammy of being about something and advancing the characters. Apparently you agree, allowing Gatiss to write his Robin Hood episode so “Listen”, your follow up, would look robust by comparison.

In some respects this was your archetypal contribution. Had someone described the episode to me, rather than allowing me to watch it, I’d have punctuated their commentary with cries of “ahh, fuck off” and “again?” Who wanted yet another Moffat special in which character biographies were advanced using the shortcut of time travel, childhood fears were ultilised as plot devices and the story was envisioned as a circle, pivoting on your favourite storytelling fuck up, the ontological paradox? Man, how you love them. They’re your equivalent of my Coke addition.

The Doctor, we learned, had his own monster under the bed experience as a sniveling Gallifreyian junior, an episode that profoundly conditioned his psyche. Thanks to an ankle grab and nocturnal pep talk from Clara, who’s very welcome to hide in my bedroom by the way, our man was inclined to seek out monsters wherever they lay, with a companion by his side: a stand in for the fear he carried with him but had successfully turned into a dragon slaying asset, or something.

That was a neat bit of psychoanalytical gubbins, Steven – the second such excavation following “Deep Breath” (it’s now clear you got The Interpretation of Dreams as a Christmas gift), and it was a character deepening moment, but how and why did Clara get underneath the Doctor’s bed in the first place? The answer, we knew, was because the old man had pondered the question of silent monsters festering in his psyche, dragged Clara into the hunt, plugged her into the TARDIS and had followed the trail, but, and here comes the complaint, such thoughts were only buried in his brain because Clara had put them there. Yet again, effect preceded cause without a self-contained inciting incident. Time’s a line not a circle, Steven – at least, it is if it’s going to make any fucking sense. I held no ambitions to go into politics before tonight, but now I’m inclined to begin my slow march to the office of Prime Minister in whatever’s left of our vandalised country once the imbecilic Scots Nationalists have finished with it, just so I can pass a law forbidding show runners on time travel series from using your gambit.

But this was, as I said, the show on paper. The show on screen was more satisfying. That’s because this 45 minuter treated both the Doctor and Clara as characters who required a little shading and the actors did their bit. Clara’s no longer the hyperactive imp of old, rather a likable, warm woman with plenty of vim and humanising qualities, like insecurity and borderline social retardation. Her disastrous date with the wet but inoffensive Danny nee Rupert Pink, added some depth to her character, foreshadowed her future and put her on a trajectory that showcased her tender and protective side. In short, she’s now officially a person in her own right and one that has a lot more business being around and burning up the valuable minutes of our lives than the walking tub of plot balm from the previous season. Meanwhile the new Doctor has acquired a psyche, and one you’re keen to probe. Granted, most of what you’ve postulated and attempted to force into our minds over the span of this episode and “Deep Breath” sounds a lot like bullshit, and attempting to explain a familiar character’s simple heroic qualities with a trawl through their subconscious is, I hope you realise, the bane of our age, but any project to add layers to the Doctor’s character is broadly welcomed. Just don’t flashback to his toddler-self fingering his heroic anus in a future episode. There are limits.

So “Listen” felt like the most substantial chunk of the series so far because it delved into the vulnerabilities and hang-ups of the Doctor and Clara. Is Danny the new Rory, a flaccid love interest for the main companion set to become a TARDIS regular? Well if he is, Steven, can I suggest you add spunk to this impossibly socially conscientious former grunt, before his placidity bores away two million viewers? He’s a nice idea; a solider who joined up to help others through non-violent means (though I’m inclined to think he should have been an aid worker) – therefore a sort of young, moderately attractive mirror of the Doctor that will allow Clara to fuck a moral crusader after all, but man alive is he dull. Look, we know he’s nervous in these early episodes; I couldn’t take a woman like Clara out and not fuck it up either; but he needs a spine and some personality, fast. That, or we discover in episode 5 that he’s actually a dangerous schizophrenic whose thoughts turn to murder when he’s under intense pressure. I can cope with a metrosexual companion, all I ask is that he turns with the weather and becomes an unstoppable menace within the bowels of the TARDIS. Deal?

Engaging though it was, I’m not sure much of “Listen” made sense. I think you got away with most of it. I couldn’t understand why a creature that devoted its existence to not being seen would be so conspicuous, or for that matter how the TARDIS could travel back to Gallifrey, circa two thousand years ago, if it was in a pocket universe. Isn’t it time-incubated, or something? If the planet of the past is readily available, why didn’t previous Doctors just go there and prevent the Time War, or visit previously in the new Who era? That’s the monster under my bed, Steven. I hope you’ll turn up at some point and help me turn my back on it.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Lots of jokes about Clara’s wide face this week. I like her face, but I accept I’m strange.

P.P.S: The Doctor’s devilish grin is a winner, let’s have more of it.

P.P.P.S: The Doctor’s worn a different outfit in every episode of this series. Is this because he’s finally decided to utilise his whole wardrobe or did the money men ask for it to help sell several action figures?

P.P.P.P.S: No mention of Missy this week, indeed, no one died, unless you count the monster that vanished in a green flash.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Wait a minute, holy shit – that was a real monster! Someone tell kids everywhere. They’re real, Clara lied. She’s a liar. A liar with a wide face!

The Old Adventures: 

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

 

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Dear Steven Moffat: Robot of Sherwood

Doctor-Who-Robot-of-Sherwood

Dear Steven,

You won’t believe this, but when I said last week that I hoped to see a thieving android in the following episode, I was being waggish, much like your archetypal Merry Man. As Doctor Who’s a sci-fi show that typically involves genre tropes in incongruous settings, I reached for an off the shelf conceit, a throw away Whoniverse cliché. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Little could I have known that Mark Gatiss had sat down to write an episode, a year previously, with that very joke taped to his laptop. I know he’ll say it was all in good fooling; that it was a playful romp, designed to delight younger viewers while showcasing the Doctor’s new caustic personality, but it was as though the episode’s script was a mimesis of its subject. It looked to have been written by a robot.

This Doctor Who Episode Droid (DWED) had clearly been programmed with a library of essential elements, much like the mechanical’s database of English folklore. It knew to include historical figures, an alien plot, a spaceship in disguise, capture, rescue and a sentimental ending. Unfortunately due to an undetected malfunction, the droid’s political philosophy masterfile intruded on the inconsequential forty five minuter subroutine, the former partially overwriting the latter, and consequently there was some intrusive Marxism – all property being theft to our verdant Robin, Hood described as “the opiate of the masses”, and the Doctor’s heroic credentials cemented by his historic renouncing of wealth and privilege.

Of these, perhaps the last was the most interesting, Steven. It could be that Hood was speaking figuratively, that he only meant that the Doctor came from an advanced society and superior caste of beings, relative to many others, or the acid tongued Galifreyan’s shared rather more of his backstory with the increasingly agreeable Clara, than he has with us. Was that why his hair was suddenly longer and bouffant, Steven? Had he spent many months in the TARDIS filling in his companion on his early years on the homeworld, regaling her with tales of the fam?

Look Steven, this shit was fine. There was some nice jokes, good interplay between the characters and I suppose you could say, a story of sorts, even if it was, ahem, mechanically plotted, but I wondered if it was a little early in the run for such froth. What I wanted, and suppose the nation wants, if it looks into its soul and has an honest word with itself, was a tale of substance; a long and deep adventure, both perilous and serious.

What Robot of Sherwood underscored for me, apart from my belief that puns should be illegal in episodic television, was the limitations of the 45 minute format. We’ve spoken of this before, Steven – well I have, and you’ve ignored me, but it’s worth returning to because it’s become a question about the programme’s development. The long and short of it is this: either your writers have to get smarter, making these single episode stories about something, or these adventures have to get longer.

Doctor Who’s great strength is its flexibility. The show can be set anywhere at any time. But too much freedom can be the proverbial stuffed albatross around John Cleese’s neck. In normal TV series, characters are established, relative to a fixed setting or developing scenario, enabling writers to concentrate on the substance of each story, building on those established characters and their satellites as they go. But in Who, each episode is effectively a reset. The two main characters stay the same of course but their environment and everyone in it tends to change. This means that a Who writer must build a world and a fresh set of supporting characters with great economy while trying to think about how the Doctor and his companion can rub up against it and hopefully mature as a consequence.

Perhaps the best exemplar for our purposes is Star Trek: The Next Generation. All iterations of Trek will do, but TNG best illustrates what I think is lacking in Who‘s 45 minuters. Here’s a series that has the bedrock of its characters and setting, namely the Enterprise, with the wild card of new planets, new ships and so on. But TNG’s scribes never forgot that when a new setting came into play it had to test the show’s main characters and, in order that we may invest something in the guest cast, make them central to the show’s theme and/or philosophy. So “The Defector” is about a man who believes in peace whom, it transpires, has been hoodwinked by his duplicitous government into thinking an attack is imminent, to test his loyalty to the regime. Realising he’ll never see his family and home again, and all for nought, he kills himself in a harrowing final act. It’s devastating; a story told in 45 mins, that tests the Enterprise crew’s suspicion of their enemy and reminds the audience how underhanded the Romulans are. By the same token “The Ensigns of Command”, a personal odyssey for Data in which he’s forced to try and convince colonists to abandon a lifetime of wares or face death from above, is about the sanctity of human life; pragmatism over pride and sentimentality. So 45 minutes can be enough, Steven, but those episodes must leave viewers feeling they’ve shared in their heroes’ journey and met people that mattered, if only in the context of that scenario. That’s the TV people remember.

Writers on the classic series didn’t need to fret about time compression too much because they had the serial format in their pocket; a shiny talisman guiding them to the promised land (of which more later). It worked rather well for two reasons. At its best it a) allowed each story to be built around cliffhangers, ensuring momentum and b) allowed time for us to get to know and yes, care about the fresh supporting cast. Now I’m not suggesting that each serial was successful in that regard, we both know some were padded and many of the people the Doctor and his sidekick met were thinly drawn and disposable, but if one were to think of a format that actively encouraged scribes to litter their screed with straw men and women it would be the 45 minute, single story to an episode. One has to be a masterful and economic writer indeed to create a fresh set of memorable characters and an engaging scenario and advance the main cast, all in three quarters of an hour. If we believe Mark Gatiss was indeed the humanoid behind this Robin Hood adventure, it’s clear he wasn’t the penholder the Doctor ordered.

This, surely, is why a meaty Doctor Who might be comprised of feature length adventures, six double episodes perhaps? You may balk at the idea, indeed you may have been told by the money men at the BBC that it is verboten, as the foreign markets (America) prefer stand alone “hours”. But Doctor Who’s unique format lends itself to a different approach. It’s that or you and your writers must get interested in the world and think about what you’d like to say about it in 45 minute chunks. The alternative is throwaway jaunts like Robot of Sherwood; fun while they last but empty, much like a night on the town with John Barrowman.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: The Mechanicals were heading for Missy’s promised land before the Doctor killed them. Mind you, this is consistent with previous episodes because if Missy is a time traveller she’d know that by setting them on said course they’d end up dead at the Doctor’s hands. But what was her pitch to them? Has she created the preconditions for all the 12th Doctor’s adventures? And why go to so much trouble, why not just find him and atomise him from behind? What’s going on?

P.P.S: If the Doctor thought Robin Hood was fictional, how would he know when and where to find him? It was rather better than a lucky guess; he managed to pinpoint his location to within ten feet and find him in his pomp.

P.P.P.S: I’m surprised you let the “desiccated man-crone” line though. I’m pretty sure this episode was shot late in the schedule and brought forward but after all that audience managing business in Deep Breath, too soon?

P.P.P.P.S: I know you’ll say you’ve tried to beat the single episode bug in the past by telling multi-part stories out of sequence (The Impossible Astronaut Season) and everyone complained, but the problem there wasn’t your ambition or indeed, your many splintered concept, it was lack of unfolding drama – the absence of a substantial narrative. We love ideas, we like time travel head fucks, but we need to be engaged week on week too.

Old Beginnings: 

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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The Strange World of James O’Brien

JOB

Of all radio formats, the phone-in is the one thought to be the most grounded. It purports to catch ejaculations of consciousness, unfiltered; it’s a zeitgeist bukkake; but this of course, is nonsense. These aren’t pub arguments transmitted; caller and host aren’t debating on equal terms. The power lies with the presenter and his researchers. The former frames the terms of the discussion (allowing he or she to silence callers who refuse to discuss the subject on their terms), the latter selects the callers. Contributors, lacking the confidence of media professionals and unsuited to the demands of a condensed air time allocated to them between commercials, are at a disadvantage from the get go. The presenter can silence them with a touch of a button. For a voice-jockey inclined to facilitate a discussion rather than dominate one, this power imbalance needn’t be an impediment to a healthy disagreement. The public may still have primacy. In the hands of a narcissist, however, this ostensive tool of freedom of speech becomes a platform for self-assurance and intellectual peacocking.

James O’Brien, LBC’s morning mouthpiece, illustrates this so perfectly that it’s possible to believe he was grown in a lab to do just that. Whatever the subject, O’Brien’s show (weekdays 10am-1pm) pits the masses he loves to patronise against his rice paper ego. It’s a battle Joe and Jacinda Public can’t win, for O’Brien has the radio’s apparatus and a cultural deference to media personalities propping his every word. Those who refuse to meet him on those terms, who doth protest, are talked over and cut off.

Listening to O’Brien filibuster those who challenge his belligerent, oft obnoxious shtick, one becomes immersed in this revealing one man show. The public are props. It’s a psychological showcase in which all of James’ insecurities and prejudices are laid bare; his poisonous assumption being that LBC’s listeners, most of whom he anticipates will be his intellectual and rhetorical inferiors (because you don’t join a Cabbies network to be bested on a daily basis), will be too wrapped up in their own half-bakery to notice.

O’Brien’s a strange beast. He shows a classic liberal face to the world while being a Clegg-like liberal in reality; a Tory with a left of centre chassis. His political ducking and weaving makes it impossible for any caller to pin him down. The man who made his name fileting ultra-conservative charlatan Nigel Farage, voted for Boris Johnson, believes in hereditary privilege (that’s the monarchy to you and me), spin offs like inherited property, secondary school streaming (because as Ricky Gervais one observed, “there’s fuck all you can do with thick kids”), and private education.

The latter’s important to James because he’s a product of that bought social advantage. Seldom a show passes when he doesn’t remind his listeners of the fact, or gratuitously carpet bomb his long soliloquies with excerpts from his learned consciousness. Attentive listeners note that James knows Steinbeck and Shakespeare, that he has a classical education, and not only that he’s a cultured gob. James knows that Moët is pronounced Mo-et, he’s a fan of Paddy Chayefsky, though he affects to forget the name of that film with Peter Finch, because there’s so much knowledge jostling around that skull, and he reads ten pages of his thesaurus before bed, five days a week. Unleashing your vocabulary is a neat way of keeping the proles in check. Danny Shunk and Tracy Dunn will have a job talking back because they barely talk.

If it sounds like I’m jealous, it’s because I am. Which intellectually insecure man with sagging confidence wouldn’t want to shore up his ego week in, week out, using the public as his enablers? Oh, that’s another O’Brien wheeze: faux self-deprecation. Some callers suspect James cares more about having the last word than being educated by public opinion, as he deadpans each day, and they take him on, but they’ve forgotten they’re standing on a trap door and O’Brien has his hand on the lever.

If you ask him not to talk at you, you know, if he wouldn’t mind, as one caller did during a heated exchange on immigration, he’ll then proceed to do just that. “I’ve enjoyed listening to you – you should try it”, says James, dispatching an exasperated pro-Israeli caller during a Gaza debate, whom he wasn’t interested in listening to, and don’t think you’ll get him by pointing out that when threatened he’ll try to overpower callers with syllables, as one idiot did on a chat about Boris’ political ambitions, “you say five words instead on one”, as you’ll be met by sulking dead air and a segue to an ad break.

But the one thing that really pinches James’ vocal cords is the unforgivable assertion that the host may not know what he’s talking about. An exploration of Special Educational Needs, with James opining most cases are bogus, turned ugly when a caller rang to say O’Brien’s dismissal showed profound ignorance. When Line 2 pointed out that cases are subject to the opinion of three clinicians, and that he knew as much because he was involved with his local child farm, James saw an opportunity and played the self-interest card. “Ah, it’s your livelihood.” Line 2 fought back, pointing out he was a volunteer, only for James to witheringly dismiss such altruism as a “hobby”, all the while suggesting Line 2 be friendly as he first patronised him, then changed the terms of the conversation, pretending not to understand why his condescending intonation was relevant, and finally, inevitably, putting the phone down with a time check and handover to the woman who reads the headlines.

Yes, James’ world is a strange one indeed. A world in which the diabolically awful commercials often contradict the segment’s sentiments, (property management agents and greedy home builders during a debate on unaffordable housing, British Airways interrupting a chat on terrorism and airport security), and the public are invited to contribute their views, though the host has scant interest in them if they contradict his own. There’s a special exception for those regaling LBC’s listeners with tales of hardship or illness (a sombre, respectful tone is adopted), but those ones get through to remind audiences James is a compassionate guy, yet those aren’t the ordinaries he lives for; he gets off on hitting the less assured hard and fast, and for those orgasm inducing moments when he can hit a button and consign them to the inconsequential ether from whence they came.

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Dear Steven Moffat: Into the Dalek

Doctor Who Into the Dalek

Dear Steven,

When Into the Dalek ended I felt rather sad. That’s not because it was over; I mean it was fine, but I’ll talk at you about that in a moment, no, it’s a sense I had – an old feeling. It was, I dare say, similar to the repressed memory of Rusty the Dalek, brought on by an in-built flaw, in this case not a radiation leak but the episode’s design, and not a vision of beauty like Rusty’s, but dread long buried, a state of mind that I call the Brannon Braga Effect.

Brannon Braga was, as you should know from the “‘Condensed History of TV Sci-Fi” tape you were obliged to watch when you became showrunner, a long standing contributor to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise. Fans slowly began to despise him, for a Braga script jettisoned human drama and meaty storytelling in favour of conceptual madness. He was a technocentric storyteller with the keys to the kingdom. As Trek entered a downturn, Braga became all-powerful. When Enterprise debuted, he was the big space cheese and many attributed that show’s creative stagnation, recycled plots, and general aimlessness, to burn out. Braga had simply been around too long. He was tired, Steven, and the depreciating vitality of his scripts and reliance on deranged concepts, symbolised the malaise. By the time new blood was pumped in, in the form of nu-boss Manny Coto, it was too late. The viewers had turned their phasers upon themselves. They never saw Coto’s excellent stories.

What shocks me is that I’m feeling Bragaed just two episodes into this new run. I like Capaldi’s Doctor, I like the dynamic between him and Clara, but I felt distanced from this story, as though mentally ticking off familiar elements. I think the comic writer in you thought that a Dalek riff on Fantastic Voyage was morbidly funny, and I suppose I agree, but I’d have preferred a story laced with intrigue and substance, rather than a minitaurised tour of a robot Nazi.

Of course all of this was just a device, literalised and writ large, for exploring the episode’s big theme, and we now realise, the hook on which you’ve hung the series. Is the Doctor a good man these days? At first the question seems facile, absurd even. Who, no pun intended, could doubt it after fifty years and a million seasons? But I suppose you’ve piggy backed doubt on to this latest iteration of the character, using the regeneration to introduce an element of distrust. I’m afraid you’re going to have to work hard to convince me that our man’s got a tarnished soul, and I can’t understand for the life of me why Clara would have her doubts, having enjoyed the Doctor’s warmth and protection for some time now, but this is the age of uncertainty, I get it, the era of the psychologically dense Doctor, so we must play along, even if we don’t believe it.

I suppose in a bid to revitalise the character and introduce an element of mystery, this is your version of the Cartmel Masterplan, the truncated scheme of yesteryear, in which Andrew Cartmel developed a backstory that would add hidden layers to a man we’d never thought to scrutinise. However, I’d argue his idea was rather better than yours, rooted as it was in biographical detail, rather than philosophical musings and self-doubt.

Last week you introduced a moment of ambiguity; the possibility that the new Doctor is a murderer; this week you pushed us toward that conclusion, showing a certain callousness when he sacrificed a mono-dimensional background character to save the group and himself, and a sociopathic streak when, confronted with the man’s remnants in a soup of protein, he deadpanned, “he’s the top layer, if you want to say a few words”. It was a good line, Steven, but I rather thought you gave the game away when lifeless story element Gretchen was sent to her death and ended up in the mysterious Missy’s afterlife apparent. The message seemed to be that this woman, whoever she is, is hoarding those the Doctor’s sent to their deaths; a group we’ll soon be calling Team Grievance.

I wondered if “heaven”, which I’m beginning to suspect is a TARDIS (as you’d need a scooping mechanism that could be in any place and time, as required), was a means to have it both ways. Are we to infer the Doctor, while searching for his moral dimension, will kill a character a week, only to redeem himself in the finale by saving them all from Missy’s clutches? Or will we discover that Missy has orchestrated each situation, essentially forcing the Doctor’s hand? If that’s the plan, Steven, doesn’t this season’s grand design just amount to another big tease? Where’s the meat? If you want to deepen the Doctor’s character you will, at some stage, have to show him making irreversible mistakes. That said, he could have a hundred incarnations and it’s likely he’ll never top the War Doctor’s genocide.

The weakness of Into the Dalek, I felt, was that it was no more than its hook. Sure, we got to think about whether the Daleks were redeemable, and by extension, whether the Doctor was experiencing the converse malfunction, a certain relaxed attitude toward killing, underlined by the Dalek appropriating his Skaro-racism and using it to butcher fellow pepperpots, but what was lacking was a catalyst for the Doctor’s transformation. Regeneration is convenient but it’s not enough. If you’re serious about moving the Doctor toward the Valeyard, whom you may wish to re-introduce by the way, and who might have been a better big bad for this season than a woman modeled on the world’s worst online pick up, then we’ll need the very thing you may not have it in you to give us: character changing moments wrapped in story complications. Drama, Steven. Drama.

This is why you now have an air of Braga about you. You’re backing up emotional arcs with recycled concepts – reaching for the Daleks because they’re an easy opposite for the Doctor to play off, a spin on your tessellating manship, complete with robot antibodies. I want those character moments Steven, but I want them arising from the collision of Doctor and story, not Doctor and concept. Only then will this new man’s adventures feel fresh.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Hardly an episode goes by these days without a bit of sexual politics. Last week, a lesbian kiss. This week, gender roles. Boorish new man and former solider Danny is Pink, feminoid female solider Journey, blue. Keep it up, Steven – you’ll have society recalibrated in no time.

P.P.S: Clara’s an English teacher who reads The Guardian. I suppose when it comes to breaking down stereotypes and thought terminating clichés you give with one hand…

P.P.P.S: Next week, Robin Hood? For the last time, Steven – you don’t have enough episodes in each series to indulge in the equivalent of Star Trek’s holodeck stories. He better be a thieving android.

Old Beginnings: 

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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Why would Mark David Chapman, killer of John Lennon, ever want to be released?

Lennon and Chapman

It was another “aw shucks” moment this week for Mark David Chapman, the man whose only noted achievement thus far, is the premeditated murder of pop icon and former Beatle, John Lennon. Chapman, serving twenty to life for the crime, has been eligible for parole since the year 2000, and has dutifully turned up to board hearings every two years since, pleading to be released back into the Lennonless world he created. The only question that troubles the mind of the humble observer, is why? Why would the man responsible for slaughtering one of the most famous and fanatically loved men of the last century, want to live without state protection?

If one were cynical, one could argue that the very act of bartering for freedom proves that Chapman’s as insane, if not more so, than the day he travelled to the Dakota Building in New York, and mooched around outside with a loaded gun in one pocket and pen for signing autographs in the other, while Lennon was been interviewed inside about his hopes and dreams for the future. For surely only a man many times removed from reality would think that an admission he was “an idiot”, a suspicion long held by Lennon’s devoted acolytes, and that the musician he shot five times was “a great and talented man” would placate those who’d already modelled their belated revenge plans on his own moment of madness, buying a gun and staking out a spot opposite the Wende Correctional Facility, east of Buffalo, in anticipation of his release. Almost as removed from reality in fact, as a man who read a novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and saw therein an incitement to murder. For disproving the cherished assumption that literature improves people alone, many would argue Chapman should never be released.

If “idiot” is the strongest word Chapman has to be describe himself, 34 years after the event, it’s fair to say he hasn’t yet fully grasped the magnitude of the offence. You’re an idiot when you kiss your girlfriend’s sister at a party or show up for an appointment with your bank manager without your passport. When you decide that a man whose greatest insult to society was collaborating with the Plastic Ono Band deserves to be shot to death because he’s a hypocrite, on which basis you should be prepping a global genocide, and follow that with a trip to his home, being careful to get his signature on your copy of his latest album first, because you know you won’t get a another chance, then later, when he returns from a recording session, crouching down in a combat stance you’ve seen on TV a few times, maybe an episode of CHiPs, but you can’t quite remember, and unloading your .38 special into his chest and shoulder, you’ve transcended the idiot realm and moved to lunatic territory, and not just a lunatic, but an imbecilic one at that.

Poor Mark, whose only crime was to snuff out one of life’s originals spurred on by religious zealotry, self-importance, and the idea that singer songwriters should live by their lyrical sentiments, so perhaps Johnny Rotten should die for not taking that holiday in East Germany, must suspect that he’s being punished because he killed John Lennon and not Dave Lennon, the manager of the bar on East 54th street. If justice is blind shouldn’t it release Chapman, as it surely would have, if his beef had been over a mounting bar tab? Sure, you can see it that way, or you could argue that if you sought infamy for killing John Lennon, you should be punished for killing John Lennon, and accept the fact that by doing so you’ve made yourself harder to release than Yoko Ono’s greatest hits.

Chapman must sit in his cell every night and dream about his first day of freedom – eating out, polishing off a beer, downloading a movie from the Internet and wallowing in a future that’s made pornography free at the point of demand. In his mind, even if he’s recognised, people will just whisper over his shoulder, kids will run up to him and ask his name, then run off giggling when he confirms it, and employers, who are Stones fans for the most part, will shrug off his past, because he’s done his time and Double Fantasy wasn’t much of an album anyway, probably the start of an ‘80s decline. Yeah, another five years and Lennon would have been collaborating on the Frog Chorus, so not to worry Mark, when can you start?

So the Wende parole board must ensure that Chapman’s never released, because a man not quite intelligent enough to realise he’ll be harassed, vilified and almost certainly murdered, is too crazy to walk the streets. Besides, it wouldn’t be safe; he’d be killed. Remember Mark, instant karma’s still out there, and it can’t wait to knock you right on the head.

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