Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Doctor Who Review: Listen

“Listen” is one of the best Nu-Who episodes of all – up there with Blink, Girl in the Fireplace, Vincent and the Doctor and A Christmas Carol. It’s really the first proper Capaldi Doctor story – there’s a nagging feeling that the previous 3 were written without being sure about what the 12th Doctor would be like – so his character was worked into the story. With “Listen”, the story is all about his character. The whole premise, about whether there could be a silent, untraceable being shadowing your every move and being the basis of a recurring mass nightmare, comes from the idle and slightly tortured mind of the 12th Doctor. Leave the 11th Doctor on his own and he’ll invent a new recipe for fish fingers and custard, or go off and get engaged to Marilyn Monroe – leave the 12th Doctor alone and he’ll delve all the way into the long, dark teatime of the soul.

This episode is so many things – it is a dark character study of the 12th Doctor, it is a straight horror story, it is a romantic comedy and a romantic drama, it’s a far future time travel piece of sci-fi. Most of all, it’s simply a great piece of TV drama, written with all of the skills that we know the Moff possesses, directed to full on spooky effect and with three principal performances that hit all the right buttons.

Jenna Coleman continues to impress in Series 9, now that she has real material to work with and a better defined relationship with the Doctor. Clara hung out with the 11th Doc because she fancied him and was swept up in the excitement of it all. Clara allows herself to accompany the 12th Doctor because she feels a duty to him. She knows he’s a good man, she knows he is a remarkable man, but the Doctor is still struggling to realise it himself. Bringing a romantic element to her life is a masterstroke. How much longer will she tolerate the fantasy life over real life? Samuel Anderson as, first of all, Danny and then later Orson Pink is very good, stepping easily into the main supporting character . As Danny, his sensitive portrayal of a man haunted by his past and trying to make a normal life for himself is a contrast to the Doctor’s own struggle, and maybe Clara’s dilemas too. This slowing of the pace, that we saw so effectively in the restaurant conversation in Deep Breath, is carried on here. Clara and Danny’s date cuts between cute comedy and abrasive conflict, but both actors keep their mutual attraction bubbling along. It’s an adult relationship – two people working through the surface stuff because they know there’s a deeper connection; it’s no rush of flowery romance and it’s better because of it.

Pushing the storyline along, and dragging Clara along with it, is Capaldi’s 12th Doctor. Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor was the young man, with an almost childlike demeanour, who bore the weight of ages. Capaldi is the opposite – physically and in much of his temperament, he’s an old man – wrinkled, grey, thin and cantankerous. But his personality is so much less mature. He’s a boy, trying to find his place in the Universe, although aware that his place is so much more than most people’s places. “Listen” takes us back to the physical boy, with a neat link to the Day of the Doctor, and reveals a wee slice of what made the Doctor what he became. According to the “Time of the Doctor”, Capaldi is sort of a brand new Doctor – the beginning of a whole new cycle of regenerations. This story backs that up – he’s still new, still coming to terms with himself. Peter Capaldi, with those eyes, that furrowed brow, those spindly limbs and hissing teeth, is unlikely to become a cuddly Doctor. Caring squeezes out when it absolutely has to, when he meets and empathises with the young Danny – the 12th Doctor is on your side, but it’s not always easy to see it. It will take growth and emotional maturity to really empathise with real people and situations. He knows he has to be outraged by injustice and evil, but he doesn’t necessarily feel it.

The 12th Doctor and Clara have one of the most intriguing relationships that the show has ever produced – unlike last series, Clara is not a mystery to solve – she’s the Doctor’s friend, here to help him. He needs her. His abrasive, blunt and merciless character is covering up his fears. And Clara knows it; she can see the child within and it’s her responsibility to help him find the man, the Timelord, that she knows that the Doctor can be. In “Listen” she actually meets that child, but she’s also starting a relationship where she, once again, will be the one helping someone find their way out of the dark.

And amid all this deep character stuff is a monster to be avoided, people to be rescued, mysteries to solve, paradoxes to be confused by – this is Who at its best; pulp horrors and romance and action, all mixed in with something far weightier about who we are and where we come from and how we come together; we have nightmares, but we ALL have nightmares – and we can all help each other face the fears and come out of the dark.

And now, Flash-fic-Fan-fic:

HungerTime – Part Four

The Tardis landed. The Doctor leapt out brandishing his spoon. “Where is she?” he bellowed at the empty, snow-filled street.
There was a thumping of feet from behind him. He turned in time to be floored by three Claras.
 “Doctor!” said Clara.
“You’re not the Doctor,” said Oswin.
“I need a Doctor,” said Victorian Clara.
“This can’t happen,” said the Doctor, “Three of you. All at once.”
“Rich coming from you,” said Clara.
Snow swirled, sparks flew. The Doctor raised the sonic. It screamed and exploded. A terribly familiar pepperpot shaped formed in the snow.
“Running time,” said the Doctor.

If you want more Doctor Who reviews, go to http://reviewthewho.wordpress.com/ - my reviews of the Matt Smith/ 11th Doctor stories are under Series 5,6 and 7 - and a whole load of reviews covering all 50 years of the show are elsewhere. Go on, you know you want to.

Now go and buy my ebook The Royal Wedding from Hell

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood Review

Clara wants to meet Robin Hood and the Doctor, grudgingly obliges, although he insists that no such person existed. However, on arrival in Sherwood Forest an arrow twangs into the Tardis, and the Doctor takes on Hood’s blade with his spoon. This very much sets the tone for the whole episode.

It’s all a bit daft but still jolly good fun – we get a far more settled Doctor from Capaldi – he is arrogant and ratty and vain, and some of the best moments deal with his rivalry with Hood, both men of giant egos unable to let the other take the lead. There’s snappy dialogue between the pair and Clara gets a few good lines too.

When it comes to the sci-fi, it’s pretty weak. We’re stuck with a bunch of generic robot types who are in cahoots with the Sheriff of Nottingham so that they can gather up enough gold to launch their crashed spaceship again. The Doctor, who has continually insisted that Hood, the Merry men and the Sheriff are all robots created by the spaceship to fool and enslave the local population, turns out to have been wrong. Which scuppers a neat idea that could have provided a bit of emotional resonance – what if Robin Hood the robot believed he was real? But no, Mark Gatiss decides that the legend of Robin Hood is faithfully true and that there really was a man capable of splitting an arrow.

The ship finally takes off but hasn’t got enough gold to make it to orbit so will explode and take most of England with it…EXCEPT, our heroes are able to ping a gold arrow at it, which tips it over the critical level and off the robots go – and then blow up in orbit. This is just kind of stupid, but I suppose, if you’ve been enjoying the ho ho ho’s of Robin Hood and chums for the last 40 minute then you can let this go.

This is not actually bad, just somewhat ridiculous. Capaldi and Hood trade funnies, the Sheriff chews up the scenery, Clara is wonderful and there’s a sort of bit of subtext about how we all want a hero to be real. It strays into the same territory as the Time Warrior and The Curse of the Black Spot – it’s panto Who as opposed to true pseudo-historical. Matt Smith may have twirled his merry way through this but I’m not sure if this is a 12th Doctor Adventure at all.

And now, Flash-fic-Fan-fic:


HungerTime – Part Three

Alarms screamed throughout the Dalek saucer. The rebel ship had been destroyed but the time anomaly remained.

“What is happening?” demanded the Supreme Dalek.

The Orange Scientist acted fast. The saucer could not be saved. The time rupture was reverberating back through Dalek history.

“Answer, answer,” shrieked the Supreme.

The Scientist blasted the Supreme. Now it was the commanding Dalek and could command the saucer’s full systems.

It reversed the polarity of the quantum drives, sending the saucer into a fatal plunge.

The saucer dissolved into space-time. The Scientist channelled quantum energy to itself, dematerialised and went after the anomaly.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek review


Doctor: “This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word.”
Clara: “I’m his carer.”
Doctor: “Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

 And there we have it – three simple lines of dialogue which sum up the relationship between the 12th Doctor and Clara. My English teacher taught me that the essence of great art is much in little and this is a great example. It’s funny, sharp and brutal all at the same time.

 When I say it sums up their relationship, it sums it up as it is at this moment – 2 episodes into Series 8. Since the 12th Doctor is a work in progress right now, so is their relationship. How much you like his series (so far) is going to depend on how much uncertainty you can put up with. Or maybe we’ll be on edge with the 12th Doctor all the time – when he asks Clara if he’s a good person, we may never get a straight answer.

This has some similarities to Season 5’s “The Beast Below” – which had Amy stepping up to take the role as the Doctor’s Assistant – helping him to see more than just what’s in front of him. Except “The Beast Below” was somewhat heavy-handed in the way it shoved the Doctor/ Assistant relationship in our faces at the expense of the story. “Into the Dalek” is better made.

First and foremost it’s a rip-roaring adventure. The Daleks are presented in grand style – a Dalek Saucer chasing a spaceship through an asteroid field, the Doctor saving one of its occupants and landing on a ship hiding behind one of the asteroids. The Daleks are closing in but the soldiers on the ship have a captive, “good” Dalek aboard. Can the Doc lead a shrunken team inside the Dalek to fix it and turn it against his own kind? Excellent pulp stuff with lots of thrills and spills and action. Inside the Dalek, the team are chased by anti-bodies, fall into slime, race around its insides, turn it bad again and then try to make literal contact with its mind. Outside the Dalek, the ship is breached and a Dalek assault team charges in with the soldiers fighting a desperate rear-guard action.

Yet with all this ferocious charging about, there is time for some well-worked character scenes – when the Doctor is first aboard the ship and his abrasive reaction to anyone with guns, Clara’s sweet burgeoning romance with Danny Pink, the Doctor’s struggle with his morality towards the Daleks.

Capaldi’s Doctor continues to evolve – he’s blunt but not uncaring, but a lot of that attitude is fear about himself – he still can’t work out who he is. Jenna Coleman continues to impress – Clara as the Doctor’s Carer is far better than Clara as lovestruck fangirl of DESTINY.

All in all a stronger episode than the debut; I suspect there is still more settling down to come, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

AND – on to our Flash-fic-fan-fic

HungerTime – part two

 “Run, you clever boy. And remember,” said Oswin. She could feel the Dalek consciousness closing in, just as weaponry rained down upon the Asylum.

The barriers she’d erected in her escape pod burst open. The planet roared as it exploded around her.

“Come on then,” shouted a familiar voice, “run.”

Oswin jumped up. Smoke billowed through the door. A short, dark-haired girl stepped through, coughing. “We need to get out of here,” said Clara.

They ran, stumbling from the capsule and into a snow-filled street, bumping into another short, young lady with dark hair.

“This is strange,” said all three.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Doctor Who - Deep Breath Review


Okay – 12 episodes of Doctor Who Series 8, 12 quick and dirty reviews and 12 episodes of flash-fic fan-fic featuring the all-new 12th Doctor. Away we go…

 Deep Breath

We start with a giant T-Rex stomping up Victorian London. It’s a great special effect shot, looks superb in the trailers and is frankly just gratuitous in the episode. Either way, the T-Rex spews up the Tardis and its occupants, the lovely Clara and the newly regenerated Doctor. The Paternoster Gang (Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax the Comedy Sontaran) are on hand to ease the regeneration along, but I really hope this is the last we see of this lot. There’s a good fifteen minutes or more of the Doctor struggling with who he is; fifteen minutes too much in my opinion – it’s a cliché that was done to death back in Classic Who, and when you consider how the 11th Doctor was thrown into action almost fully formed, it just grates a bit now. On the plus side, Jenna Coleman is given some decent material – Clara’s struggles with the new Doctor make far more sense and, for a large part of the feature-length episode, it’s Clara that carries the story.

A story turns up soon enough though; there’s a nasty cyborg thing going round snatching bits of people. There’s an excellent scene when the Doctor and Clara are lured to a restaurant (by whom? That’s another issue..) – where the new Doctor starts to settle down and take charge and Clara starts coming to terms with him. There’s a tricky moment when the Doctor leaves Clara to the mercy of that very nasty cyborg with half a face – is the Doctor a coward, is he just being pragmatic or is he so cunning that he knows Clara will be OK (if somewhat shaken) and his “escape” provides him with the cover to come back and sort it all out? Sorting it out comes down to the Paternoster gang whirling into action against the patch-work cyborgs and the Doctor having an angry face-off (ahem) with the half-faced cyborg in a big balloon. But did the cyborg jump, or was he pushed?

Overall, it’s solid enough stuff – but it certainly doesn’t match the Eleventh Hour as a new Doctor’s debut. Capaldi is good but, since his character is kept deliberately on edge, he isn’t able to own the role and the show like his predecessor did. Hopefully things will settle down as we go along. As mentioned before, Coleman gets to bring some real character to Clara – being made to question her attitude to the Doctor and some form of development from pretty sidekick to someone who really is going to help. The pace of the episode seemed uneven; this comes across as a transition piece, moving away from the fast, furious and fun running around of the 11th Doctor to something slower and more considered. The episode definitely strays into Hinchcliffe horror territory.

It’s not great, but it is very good, at least until Matt Smith’s cameo. This is just awful – surely a huge insult to Peter Capaldi? Does Capaldi not become the Doctor until Smith formally hands the role over via the call to Clara? Is Clara so weak and superficial (and we’ve just spent half the episode proving she isn’t) that she needs the previous Doctor, HER Doctor to persuade her to stick with the new Doctor? It’s an insulting and totally unnecessary scene that, for me, sours a perfectly acceptable start for the 12th Doctor.

AND NOW, the flash fic. The rules are – each episode is exactly 100 words, I don’t do any real planning – we’re making it up as we go along -  a bit like Capaldi’s new Doctor…

HungerTime – part one

The latest version of the console room was still not right. It had far more round things but still missed something. He found the intercom switch.

“Clara,” shouted the Doctor, “can you come to the test console room. I need your input.”

No answer. He checked the Tardis interior display. Rooms, corridors, whole sectors shifted in and out of being but there was no way a part could vanish if Clara was in it.

She wasn’t anywhere.

They’d been drifting through the vortex – it was impossible for Clara to leave the Tardis.

But, he thought, Clara is the impossible girl.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Time of the Doctor - Review

Was there any way that this story could possibly live up to expectations? THIS story, THE last story of the Eleventh Doctor, THE story when Matt Smith regenerates, , THE follow-up to “The Day of the Doctor” with our first look at Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, THE story screened (within a day or so, probably) simultaneously across the globe. Surely it can’t live up to that kind of hype? Um, no, no it seems it can’t.

On the whole, this is not so much a Doctor Who story, more of a wrapping up of loose ends and an almost episode long drawn-out final scene for Matt Smith. There are various bits of running around but ultimately, not much actually happens apart from the regeneration.

It starts in reasonably promising style – the Doctor’s appearance at Clara’s Xmas dinner, where he appears fully clothed to us watching and to Clara but then reveals that he’s still actually naked and appearing so to Clara’s family made me laugh like a drain.
But when we head off to Trenzalore, we just begin the long slow end of the Doctor. Yes, we know the prophecy said that this is where he dies so it’s all a bit foreboding. And yes, it is a surprise to have it very simply confirmed that Smith is in fact the 13th Doctor (number 9 was actually Hurt’s War Doctor, Eccleston bumped to no 10, and Tennant managing to be both 11 and 12) and therefore the absolute last one. BUT, we also know full well that Peter Capaldi has been cast as the next Doctor (because there was a live TV special) so there is bound to be some timey-wimey-ness to allow the regeneration to take place, so it’s not like the Doctor’s impending “death” is anything to get too stressed about.

Coleman is reduced back to the companion that occasionally hangs out with the Doctor as opposed to actually travelling with him. She calls him up, gets sent away, comes back again, gets sent away again and then comes back again. She lets a big old tear run down her face (again), and gets to do the Impossible Girl bit (again) to save the day. Is it a little insulting to her character that at the very end, the Doc still hallucinates one last goodbye to Amy Pond?
Actually, it’s possibly more insulting that the better companion is an old cyberman head that the Doctor has called Handles. Handles’ final demise as he watches one last Trenzalore sunset is one of the episode’s more touching moments.

Smith, almost needless to say, is superb, playing his usual manic self, then a slightly less sprightly 300 year older self and finally a near to death self. He does manage to bring a slight tear to the eye as his doddery form makes it to the top of the tower for one last rant at the Daleks.
And then he explodes (thanks to Clara’s plea to the timelords) with an all new load of regenerations and obliterates the Daleks.
Back in the Tardis, young again, briefly, he finally regenerates into a boggly-eyed Peter Capaldi with a suitably wacky cliffhanger “would you know how to fly this thing?”

The Time of the Doctor would always struggle to follow The Day of the Doctor, I found myself surprisingly unexcited as this episode came round. Whereas the big anniversary episode managed to avoid being a greatest hits of Who, The Time of the Doctor became just that – menacing Daleks, a few Cybermen, Weeping Angels in the snow, hissing Silences and silly Sontarans.
A few nice moments, but otherwise a disappointing end to a great Doctor’s run.

I’ll get to a more full overview of Matt Smith’s era, but for now, will say that it’s heights were the very best of nu-Who but Season 6, especially its second half, let the whole period down.
Matt Smith, though, was never less than excellent. His final line was beautiful:

“I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.

So will I, Matt Smith, so will I.

PS - if you want lots more Who reviews, covering all 50 years, then nip over to "Review the Who", where you will find my, more reasoned, reviews of the Matt Smith era along with a boatload of great writing about the greatest show in the Universe.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor Review

Was there any way that this story could possibly live up to expectations? THIS story, THE 50th Anniversary story, THE story with the Tennant/ Smith team-up (with Rose Tyler too), THE follow-up to “The Name of the Doctor” with the scary “new” Doctor played by John Hurt, THE story screened simultaneously across the globe and shown in 3D in cinemas. Surely it can’t live up to that kind of hype? Except it does.

I’ve cheerfully criticised much of what’s gone on in the Name of the Moffat (Series 6, for example) but with these 72 minutes of undiluted Whovian fun, the Moff has nailed it.
Simply watching it in the cinema made it special to start with. First off, we were treated to Strax, the comedy Sontaran, telling us how to behave, then an intro by Smith then Tennant sparring about the wonders of 3D. And then the story began. Moffat started plucking the heartstrings of the fans right from the get go – we open with the original 1963 titles and music and the opening shot is a copy of THE opening shot, before we open out to reveal full colour and find Clara working at Coal Hill School (Chairman of the Board is I. Chesterton – one the Doc’s very first companions). Applause all round.

It’s not all nostalgia; there is an actual story going on. It weaves from the “Fall of Arcadia”, the pivotal event of The Time War, where John Hurt’s “War Doctor” has to commit the act that will destroy Daleks, Time Lords and Gallifrey itself and end the universe-spanning conflict altogether. To do this, he must activate The Moment, a weapon so devastating that it has its own conscience – manifested as a character from the Doctor’s future, being Rose Tyler/ Bad Wolf – a slick way of bringing Billie Piper into the story without the complications of picking up Rose herself. It is Rose that stays the War Doctor’s hand and sparks the “timey-wimey” events that bring three Doctors together.
From here, we catch up with the 10th Doc in Elizabethan England, finding himself involved in a Zygon plot (and getting himself engaged to Queen Elizabeth herself). The 11th Doc dives through time and, at last, the two meet, followed swiftly by the War Doctor (“I’m looking for the Doctor” he says, “You’ve come to the right place,” says No 10).
Fun and jollies with the Zygons (who are on fairly scary form actually) follow, before we get back to the serious business of hitting the Big button that will wipe out the Time Lords and Daleks. At first, Nos 10 and 11 are simply there to be with the War Doctor to press the button and share the burden...BUT, Clara does what Clara does and persuades them to find another way – saving the Doctor(s) yet again.
And it’s a way that brilliantly brings in all of the other Doctors – and we mean ALL of the other Doctors including a brief shot of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and provoking a fair few shrieks from the cinema audience.
The day is saved and, thanks to a very familiar “curator”, the Doctor is given new purpose – to find the lost planet of Gallifrey.

There’s so much to love here – Smith and Tennant are on OTT form, both firing on all cylinders in a display of constant one-upmanship – when the War Doctor arrives we get a wonderful parallel with the original Three Doctors – I was half expecting Hurt to say “so you’re my replacements, a dandy and a clown.” Hurt is more subtle, as expected from the Doctor that’s suffered 400 years of brutal warfare and must bear the heaviest burden of all.
The battles on Gallifrey are suitably epic – scenes that could never be conceived back in the Classic era, but they are kept at an appropriate level – the explosions do not overtake the drama.

This story could have been a weighty, “dark” episode – but instead, Moffat gives us mostly a fun-filled, old fashioned monster (Zygon) romp, fun that is bookended by the darker material.
There’s a lot of humour – No10 and Elizabeth (after Queenie dispatches her Zygon double she notes that “while I may have the weak and feeble body of a woman, so did the Zygon”), the superb and complex way the three Docs work out how to disintegrate a solid wooden door with their sonic screwdrivers (letting the War Doctor’s screwdriver start the calculations that will take 400 years and thus be completed by the 11th Doc’s screwdriver) before Clara opens it and reveals it was unlocked anyway. There’s great supporting characters; Clara and Rose, Kate Stewart and her UNIT team, Queen Elizabeth. There’s a long, long scarf and a Fez (“Can you not walk past one without putting it on?” quips Clara). The aforementioned glimpse of Doctor no 13 (which means Doc’s 10 and 11 should be moved up to Nos 11 and 12). And then there’s Tom Baker – the man who will always be, perhaps, THE Doctor.

The way that the Doctors save Gallifrey is truly inspired – presaged by their attempt at door disintegration, they form a plan to make the planet disappear and let the Daleks destroy themselves – but it will take centuries to make the calculations says the Time Lord General. But that’s OK, because when the First Doctor is the first to start working on it, then they have centuries.

And so, what could have been a very good story of 3 Doctors becomes a truly great story of 13 Doctors.

This special was described by its Producers as a love letter to the fans; and there’s a lot of love on display. From the Tardis swinging across London, and a full on Dalek planetary assault, and horse rides with the Queen, and Timelord paintings, and sonic screwdriver rivalry, acknowledging the UNIT dating conundrum... to the darkest decision of all, the regeneration loop all wrapped up and the impossible girl reminding us all that the Doctor is called The Doctor for a reason. And, a terribly familiar curator launching the show into the future.

The Day of the Doctor is many things – it is a celebration of the show’s rich and wonderful past, it is a celebration of its current and hugely successful present and it is a hint of a thrilling future. Past, present and future – it is a show about time travel after all.

Happy Birthday Doctor Who – it’s been a hell of a ride so far, and who knows what the future holds? Who knows? Who knows.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obama pulls a Homer

It strikes me that the recent turn of events surrounding Syria, the Chemical weapons, threatened military action and so forth, have resulted in President Obama “pulling a Homer”.

For those not-so-dedicated Simpsons fans, the phrase is defined as “to succeed despite idiocy” – in the episode “Homer defined”, Homer accidentally causes the nuclear plant to go into meltdown, then, by dumb luck, manages to avert the meltdown and save the plant, Springfield etc.

With Syria, when Obama declared that using Chemical weapons was a “red line” that Assad could not cross, he effectively forced his own hand into action when these vile weapons were deployed.

If only it were as simple as Fox News would like – The US of A could destroy Assad’s Chemical weapons capabilities, deal a crippling blow to his evil regime, and the “good guys” of the Syrian resistance would sweep Assad from power and a new era of peace, democracy and better oil trading with the West would begin. Of course, Obama found himself in a far more complex situation. IF, it could be proved that Assad deployed the chemical weapons, IF it were possible to locate the weapons, If it were possible to destroy them without civilian casualties, IF the US could do this as part of a truly International effort with a UN mandate...then, just maybe, all would work out fine.

But, with his major ally showing no stomach for any action (being Britain, and I suspect a possibly relieved David Cameron who may have looked weak when he lost the vote, but at least avoided getting sucked into conflict), Russia and China certainly not letting any use of force to pass through the UN, and the US Congress being mighty reluctant to authorize military action – Obama found himself looking ineffective and guilty of making empty threats.

This is where dumb luck (for Obama) comes in – a casual remark by John Kerry suddenly becomes a Russian Peace initiative.

On the surface, you could say that Obama comes out of this looking terrible - the Russians bat the useless American efforts at sabre-rattling aside, prevent escalating violence and bring Assad to the peace table. And a humiliating address to the American people by Putin in a US newspaper can never be a good thing to happen under your Presidency.

However, looking at this in another way....

With the threat of American force, Obama has made Russia, who have long stood in the way of any sanctions that might have curbed Assad’s brutality, come to step up and actually take some responsible action. Russia may score a few points right now, but if/ when Assad fails to comply with demands to surrender his chemical weapons, they will surely be forced to take a harder line.

So – Obama may succeed in removing Assad’s WMDs, he also may have neutralized future Russian blocks to meaningful further action against Assad; which also means Assad loses a lot of the support of one of his biggest allies. Obama has not handed Syria to a bunch of extreme Jihadists by just cutting Assad’s regime away – and he’s managed to do this without firing a single American bullet.

Bush used shock and awe (and billions of dollars and thousands of lives) to achieve only worldwide contempt for the US and plunge Iraq into bloody civil war. Obama made a threat and may have neutralized a brutal and oppressive regime.

Time will tell of course – I think there is, sadly, a lot more blood still to be shed by the people of Syria. While the various deals/ proposals etc being bandied around at the moment may offer a glimmer of hope that, at least, the Chemical weapons may be taken out of the equation, history tells us that strong words frequently mean nothing.

But, if this does turn out to the good – ie Chemical weapons removed and destroyed, Obama may well have scored a significant victory – even though it might come about in spite of, instead of because of, his actions.