Saturday, August 16, 2014

What if the Doctor was black?

Whenever the Doctor regenerates, fans of Doctor Who discuss just how far the character can be changed. Could he change sex? Could he become ginger?  Most people seem to think it is unlikely that he will ever change his skin colour.

But in 2013, an alternative history listed female Doctors. Maybe it's time for another look.....  what if the Doctor were black?

[What follows can no doubt be improved on, it's based on a number of actors I'm aware of and Googling for others, but here we go...] 

The first series was a gamble all round, basing a family TV show around a man from another planet. By casting the Doctor as a black man, the creators found a metaphor for his alien origins. In the 1960s, new arrivals from the Caribbean were seen as exotic and threatening. Doctor Who used that to give an edge to a somewhat whimsical character, while never directly referring to his apparent race.

The show was a surprise hit and, when the first lead moved on, the producers came up with the idea of "regenerating" the character with a new actor in the role. While he could in principle come back as anyone, they decided to stick with the winning formula. By so doing they provided a showcase to expose black talent which might otherwise have remained stuck in stereotyped roles.

The Doctor made waves outside the living room. When Paul Boateng was elected Prime Minister in 1997, he cited Doctor Who as a childhood inspiration.

1 Earl Cameron
Casting the first Doctor involved persuading a successful film actor that this could be more than a children's series. Bermudan Earl Cameron had helped break the colour bar in stage acting, and won a reputation for his movie work, but reaped a harvest of menacing characters in Bond movies and Tarzan films. He took the chance to become a grumpy alien, and made that role his own.

2 Edric Connor
When other commitments took Cameron from the role, he suggested the producers approach Edric Connor, a Trinidadian who was then the most highly-regarded black actor in Britain. Connor had performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and founded the Negro Theatre Workshop, while appearing in shows such as Danger Man. Perhaps thinking of his 1956 role as the African harpooner Daggoo in Moby Dick, Connor offered to play the role as a "tough sea captain", but eventually made the doctor a "cosmic hobo". A folklorist and singer, Connor's Doctor would sometimes strum a calypso tune in moments of thought...

Cy Grant
Guyana-born Cy Grant had been the first regular black personality on British TV, performing a nightly topical calypso on the Tonight show in the late 50s. Grant was a qualified barrister with wartime service in RAF bombers. He played the doctor as a sophisticated, somewhat dandified action hero. After he left the show Grant's voice as Lieutenant Green added to the fan-appeal of Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet .

4 Derek Griffiths
The most outlandish and best-loved Doctor, Derek Griffiths was the first to be born in Britain, His previous TV work included Play School and Please Sir! but Doctor Who gave him somewhere to express himself. He made the character something of a hippy, with flamboyant clothes, and an anarchic manner. Fans still copy Griffiths' large sideburns and wide collars, and of course his scarf.

5 Don Warrington
Known for his small-screen success in Rising Damp, Don Warrington was a catch for the show. Having grown up in  Newcastle, he played the Doctor as quintessentially English. While he is a favourite for some fans, many feel he was let down by the quality of the writing in this phase of the show.

6 Rudolph Walker
Following his success in the sitcom Love Thy Neighbour (controversial at the time), Rudolph Walker joined the series at a time when it was floundering for direction, His considerable talent presented a mercurial Doctor - and he continued the role on radio after leaving the series

7 Lenny Henry
In 1986, the BBC felt Doctor Who was in need of a complete shake-up and cast Lenny Henry, an alternative comedian known for his work in children's TV. As viewers expected, Henry first played the Doctor as a clown. But disappointment with the "lightweight" nature of the series led Henry to develop a darker, more manipulative, even tragic side to the character. In 2009, the depth of Henry's Othello was a surprise for the critics - but not for Doctor Who fans.

8 Hugh Quarshie
Ghanaian-born Hugh Quarshie had a film career including an appearance in cult favourite Highlander,when he was cast as the Doctor for the 1996 movies made jointly by the BBC and US studios - a "back door" pilot for a series that was never made. Quarshie turned in a solid performance but had little chance to develop the role. He went on to further successes.

9 Adrian Lester
For the eventual revival in 2005, the BBC cast Adrian Lester, a Shakespearean actor who had appeared in cinemas in Kenneth Branagh's Love Labours Lost, and on TV as Mickey Bricks in The Hustle. His Doctor was a recovering soldier, wracked with guilt over the Time War. Lester gave the role a tough feel and a Birmingham accent, but left after one series.

10 Chiwetel Ejiofor
The tenth Doctor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, arrived at the show straight from a role in Serenity, with a serious acting career that included a highly-rated Othello. A firm fan favourite, he embraced the science-fiction world and was voted the "coolest character" on TV.

11 Richard Ayoade 
After appearing in The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade was a well known face. His Doctor had an alien aspect which encompassed eccentricity and social awkwardness. He pulled a surprise coup of being seen as more cool than Ejiofor, His unlikely wardrobe experiments and nerdish in-jokes took off with fans.
12 Idris Elba
The 12th Doctor's announcement was a big surprise, a change of direction, and a sign of the show's ability to attract big stars. Idris Elba's work in The Wire and Luther was well known, and he starred as Nelson Mandela just before filming for Doctor Who. Fans of the other shows wondered how he would adapt. 

"War Doctor" ... Morgan Freeman
Machinations behind the scenes required a new Doctor for the show's fiftieth anniversary episode, to complete the Time War story first hinted at by the 9th Doctor.  Lester was unavailable, so the show's creators invented a new Doctor. They had a free hand casting the part - and sprang the existence of the War Doctor on viewers in a "big reveal" at the end of series seven. The idea that Morgan Freeman was going to be the Doctor set fandom alight. Universally held in awe, Freeman's casting nevertheless upset some who could not accept the idea of an American playing the Doctor. For some, he was just too alien....

COPYRIGHT 2014 Peter Judge

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fixing an Ikea Ingolf chair

 Mildly satisfying repair work. I fixed an Ikea Ingolf chair that needed spacers. Here's what the chair looks like,

Here's how the corner joint should look, with a black plastic spacer. Without it, the bolt pulls through the wood and the chair leg splays forward.

Three spacers missing from this particularly wobbly chair, and you can't get replacements easily. Although if you have a 3D printer, there are plenty of places you can get a 3D pattern to make your own.

I don't have a 3D printer, but I found a spare bit of metal bracket that I could cut to size and bend.

Here it is in place.

For the other two, I used washers and rubber feet.

Like so...

And screwed into place.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

How DO you put a Facebook Like button on Blogger?

So I thought I'd  tart up my old Blogger blogs, and in the process maybe do stuff like find how to put a Facebook Like button there. Seemed a simple question, turned out it's been a massive waste of time, and you can see from this page I have got nowhere.

There's no straightforward source of information.

A Google search on any question turns up scads of "tutorials" plastered with ads, which all seem to deal with different questions on older version of the platform.

Facebook and Google's forums also seem to be useless.

I can see that Google wouldn't want bend over backwards to get Facebook buttons on Blogger pages (it's remarkably easy to share them on Google+ of course).  But I'd have thought Facebook might at least make a stab at it.

And isn't this a standard task with a standard answer, that could be found somewhere?

Update: it turns out that the share buttons aren't there because I was in an old Blogger layout. They come in automatically it seems if you use the right layout.... only no one tells you that... and they don't seem to actually appear where you want them or how you want them. 

My conclusion so far is that unless there's somewhere that makes Blogger actually usable, I should get the hell out. 

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Varifocal Contact Lenses - How Do They Work?

In 2009 I got put on a contact lens trial. My eyes have a difficult prescription, and I've been told that, as middle age progresses, I will eventually need both lenses and spectacles. Now my optician has put me on a commercial trial of varifocal contact lenses, and they seem to fix the problem.

The only trouble is the very existence of varifocal contact lenses seems to contradict a lot of what I thought I knew about optics and vision. And I can't find any good explanation of them anywhere.

My eyes

My eyes aren't the easiest to work with, but opticians usually get interested when they see them. Their strange prescription has pushed me towards contact lenses instead of glasses - but in recent years, I've been told that eventually lenses alone won't be enough.

About twenty years ago I had a recurrent corneal erosion problem. I was told I'd never wear contact lenses. Luckily contact lenses got better, because what happened to my eyes ten years ago meant I needed them.

I had cataracts in my right eye lens, so I had it removed, and an implant put in. It's a standard procedure, but - maybe because of the difficulty of working through my tiny pupil, maybe because of some other bit of birth defect - it didn't work too well for me. The old lens came out, but the implant fell from the pocket left for it, and I was left with no lens in the right eye.

That's better than it sounds - an eyeball with no lens in it can still bend light - most of the focusing is done by the cornea - and a short-sighted eyeball will do better in this situation than a long-sighted one. I came out with a very long-sighted right eye, with a prescription of about +5.

The two eyes had such different prescriptions that correcting both eyes with spectacles wouldn't work. The left eye needs a concave lens, while the right one needs a convex lens; put them in glasses, and there's a distance between the lenses and my eyes, so they act as a reducing and a magnifying glass, respectively.

The result is two images which are so different in size, that my brain can't put them together. I tried it in the optician's shop, and it really, really didn't work.

So I tried a pair of glasses with plain glass in the left lens, and then moved onto contact lenses, when daily disposables became gentle enough for my previously-t00-sensitive corneas.

That has been excellent. The combination of my two eyes corrected has been better than any vision I had in my life, including before my cataract problem.

Recently, my eyes have been changing, apparently, and I've had to have the prescription changed - the left eye gets a 4.0 lens, leaving it slightly short-sighted, so it can compensate for the right eye. I've been pushed towards monocular vision - the right eye most of the time and the left eye for close work.

(I guess this is like the problems most people have as their eyes age, except I wouldn't have thought I'd get presbyopia - age-related-shortsightedness caused by stiffening of the lens - as my left eye is already short sighted, and my right eye is no longer using its natural lens.)

Whatever the caue of my changing prescription. I've been warned that as it progresses, the current set-up will stop working eventually, and I'll have to have glasses and contacts. After ten years with no glasses, I'm not looking forward to that.


I was interested to be offered varifocal contact lenses (fortnightly Acuvue lenses using the Oasys material).

  • it sounds like a way to avoid glasses
  • it's a commercial trial, before the full launch, so very few opticians can offer them
  • it's a concept I'm having trouble understanding.

A quick Google search gives us an explanation of varifocal spectacles work. On the Specsavers site, you can see that they have different zones for different distances. For any given thing, you look through the part of the lens you need.

So far I haven't been able to find an explanation of how varifocal contacts work. Sites offering them tend to follow up the question "How do they work?" with non answers, like this "This means that the wearer does not have to change lenses when switching between reading and driving, but care should be taken when driving in bright sunlight."

And yet, it works!

Just try them, said my optician. So I put them in, and went for a walk round Brixton market. I crossed a road, bought a newspaper and read the front page.

After a quick check to see how I was doing with them - and yes I could read the bottom line of the chart. I was having the odd bit of blurring, but already I could see the improvement in my depth perception - so I cycled off home. And since then, I've been (mostly) stunned by how good they are.

It's sometimes patchy, and the picture improves (and sometimes gets worse again). My first stint at a screen was horrible. I had multiple images and couldn't get them under control. But I broke off from that, spoke to someone in the room for twenty minutes, and when I looked back the screen was perfectly readable.

I've found my office screen is hard to read for the first twenty minutes of the day in the office - after I've cycled there in cold weather.

Sometimes, after looking at something for a long time and having trouble with it, it springs into focus.
So what is going on? Well, I'm still frustrated by that fact that I have seen no proper explanation how this works, but I'm guessing it might be something like this. Suppose the varifocals do indeed create multiple images in each eye, and then the two eyes work together to choose the best one?

That's a new way of working (and one that is completely different from the way normal degree-level optics pictures images forming on the retina). That would explain the way my eyes sometimes cope, and sometimes seem to go backwards.

My right eye is still the strongest - and with its tiny pupil has a nice depth of field. So in many situations, I can still try and do things in the monocular way. The sudden blurring is when the information from the left eye starts to look useful, and my brain has to work to put it together.

So the first day I had the lenses, when I sat at my screen, I was so used to working in a monocular way, that I automatically tried it again, and was confused by the multiple images in my right eye. Looking round the room, and talking to someone got me back into using both eyes again, and that helped when I went back to the screen.

I've found night vision is much better from the start, and I see further in the distance, right form the first.

Does that explain it?

That seems to explain some of it. By this explanation, I should find that the first few days are a process of acclimatisation, and I get more used to the lenses thereafter. Certainly, I've noticed that I settle into the lenses much quicker in the mornings now than I did in the first few days.

I've tried looking at things with one eye, too, to see if I can see the sort of multiple-focus images I'm talking about, and I can't. I certainly see better when I use both eyes - and I'm less monocular than in the past, but I'm leaning heavily on my right eye.

So I've tried things my optician says would be wrong: one day, after a week of the varifocals, I put a pair of the old lenses in, thinking I might find the old way hard to do after I'd got used to the varifocals.

In fact, the monocular vision struck me as easy, and very clear, and in some ways a relief. There was no effort to keep the screen in focus, I was just using my right eye. However, I didn't have such good depth of field, at all.

After a couple of hours, I switched to the varifocals, and again was surprised by how easy the transition was. I just went back to the screen and moved around the house as before.

I did have another bad time acclimatising to the screen - but that was the next day, after a whole day wearing the varifocals.

I've also noticed a couple of other things. Driving on a sunny day, I realised my left eye was closed - it dazzles easily - but the right eye, with its varifocal lens, was making out just fine. It seems that with practice I don't actually need to use both eyes to get benefit from the lenses.

Later that day, I focussed a telescope on the moon, and saw a lot of detail in the craters. Again, that was with one eye at a time. I realise now that I only used my right eye. It's a reflex as it's been my best eye, but I should have had a go to see how the left eye did!


My ideas about how this works don't really stand up, and I want to know more, but it seems that people making varifocal contact lenses don't put information on the web about how they work.

I know my prescription is fairly unusual, so I wouldn't expect other people's experience to match, but I'm interested to hear any other thoughts on varifocal lenses.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Flying The Flag

A couple of months ago, a lamp-post appeared outside our house. But one with nothing on the top.

I asked the guy working on it - he came from Thames Water, and was putting in a smart water-meter to monitor the new water main on our street. the meter is in the plastic bollard next to the pole.

The meter is supposed to signal back to Thames Water HQ any leaks or problems - but we have poor mobile phone signal in my street.

So they put up a tall antenna, using a normal lamp-post stem.

It looked sort of unfinished, so I put a flower-pot on the top sith a hook in it, and now we're flying a flag (it's the Cornish flag).

We'd like to fly different flags - any suggestions or offers?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Raise The Roof Singers, Horniman Museum

Raise The Roof practices at the Horniman Museum in South London. This is from their public concert, which we stumbled on, on Sunday (5 April 2009).

From the balcony, I couldn't see the choir well, but I had a good view of the energetic leader and conductor, Melanie Harrold, and couldn't resist taking a video.  

The video isn't here or on Youtube any more. Melanie got in touch to say that a film of her conducting an invisible choir didn't really get the event across properly. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Comics: Ex Machina, Fables and Promethea....

I've been reading some comics lately. I have missed so many, and Lambeth Libraries has such a good selection - at Brixton, Streatham and West Norwood at the very least.

So, what's good?

Ex Machina, written by Brian K Vaughn, and drawn by Tony Harris, is very nice.

Like Paul Chadwick did with Concrete, Vaughn leaves the details of where Mitchell Hundred's powers come from a mystery. The main story is the politics, but the super-stuff is central to what happens.

"How would it be if you had that power?" it asks. The answer is, if this particular man could talk to machines, he'd be a rather average superhero, and then a much more interesting mayor of New York - one who says "Up and away" to lifts, and "Jam" to guns.

There is more than a nod to Paul Chadwick - Vaughn names Hundred's friend Bradbury after a science fiction writer, just as Chadwick's Concrete has a friend called Vonnegut. The drawings lose by comparison with Chadwick's style - Harris is determined to be real, making Hundred's outfit lame, and basing everyone on photos (the models get credits in volume 1). I'm three volumes into this, and want more.

Fables is a winning concept: Fairy tale beings live in exile in the Mundane world - mostly, as tends to be the way, in New York.

The good here is the way Bill Willingham plays with the characters. Prince Charming is (as we should have realised) a serial charmer, divorced from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, but still working his charm. Beauty and the Beast live happily ever after - except he is only human when she loves him, and tends to revert when she's cross. That's not convenient after hundreds of years, when you are living in hiding...

There are at least 11 volumes of this saga apparently (and I only just heard of it!). The two I've read are pretty good.

Finally, Promethea is Alan Moore's take on myth. The other two series are comics for entertainment's sake. This one has ambitions and Moore's mighty writing mojo pulls it off.

Promethea is a story - she's from the realm of story, the Immateria. In our world, she is embodied by writers and artists. Literally embodied. Student Sophie Bangs "becomes" Promethea by writing a poem.

When people say comics are mythic, they are saying what they wish was true. In fact they are normally debased, broken myths. This one is the real thing. Moore plays the metaphors brilliantly, nodding to all the misguided pretension about images and ideas in comics, but doing the only thing that should be done: telling a story.

On one level, Promethea is as fatuously simple as Billy Batson shouting Shazam to invoke Captain Marvel, or Diana Prince turning into Wonder Woman. But in Moore's hands it's way better, with multiple threads of woven with the complexity of his Watchmen, and a contrast between reality and the unreal that owes something to Joss Whedon's Buffy. Characters dance in and out, from fairy tales and comics - to take one example, "celebrity omnipath" the Painted Doll is a better, scarier Joker.

And, magically, by taking this story so very seriously, Moore turns it into something far, far more. In volume two a goddess has sex with a magician. For a whole chapter (a whole issue of the original comic series). Before our very eyes. For me, that is a high point in comics - and fairly unusual in any sort of literature. What follows reminds me of the psychedelic comics Marvel tried to do for the whole of the 1970s (Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin, from memory), only done right.

Watchmen is a great comic from more than 20 years ago. It may also be a worthwhile movie (but Alan Moore doesn't want his name on it). Now's a good moment to see what else Alan Moore has done since. We're amphibious creatures, living in the worlds of mind and body, he says. In Promethea (up to ten years old), we're swimming in the deep end.