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I wish Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a speedy recovery as he checks into hospital to deal with a possible tumour on his appendix. Given that Rob Ford’s father died of colon cancer, I can imagine that this is the most alarming news possible for the family, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I’ve only ever wished the best for him, personally. When he was dealing with his demons of alcoholism, I only ever wanted him to have a long healthy life in the company of the people he loves. I’ve only once broken my own rules and sworn a blue streak over something Ford did, and I had to be pushed very hard by circumstance. I think he’s been a disaster as the mayor of Toronto, but who am I to say what he deserves as a human being?

I will say that the last four years have been frustrating for me as I watch City Hall’s shenanigans in my old home town. For the first two years of Ford’s term, things were going along the trajectory I predicted in 2010, when Rob Ford positioned himself as Toronto’s version of Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien, elected in 2006. Like O’Brien, Ford was elected in a ‘throw-the-bums-out’ wave, and tried to bully his agenda through city council. And like O’Brien, two years into his mandate, Rob Ford discovered that city council can’t be bullied into submission forever. When council finally rose up, and killed his ill-advised subway plan, it was a good day for democracy, and everything that I expected at the time.

But, of course, history did not stop there. History may rhyme rather than repeat itself, but nobody could have predicted the extreme trajectory Rob Ford’s mayoralty would take, with crack video revelations, being removed from office (and restored on appeal) for breaking municipal conflict-of-interest laws, admissions of alcoholism and drug use, and making the city into the punch line of many late night television talk shows.

This was frustrating for me because Ford was getting bad press for the wrong reasons. His personal demons took centre stage, and while it may be worth asking if any politician can do his or her job with such a circus going on, what got left behind was questions over Ford’s ill-advised policies. If Ford was to be defeated in 2014, or pushed from office before that, the sideshow should not have been the reason why.

Ford’s policies on their own have set back Toronto’s public transportation infrastructure another decade, and it’s been under a decades-long drought to begin with. Ford cut services and raised user fees after promising not to. The Toronto Community Housing Corporation is mired in as much controversy as it was when Ford took office, if not more, and public housing waiting lists are longer than ever. Toronto’s fiscal position is sound, but that’s as much the result of the efforts of the previous administration as it is the current one, and Ford made things less stable by canning the vehicle registration tax.

Then there is the fact that he continues to say things which simply aren’t true, such as his $9 billion subway proposal that in reality costs billions more, and can’t be paid for without significant property tax increases. I’m not calling Rob Ford a liar, since you have to know that what you’re saying is a lie to be a liar. However, he continues to cling to inaccurate claims and information even when the proof is on the table. And that hits me worse than somebody lying.

Have you seen the video of councillor Josh Matlow questioning Mayor Ford regarding his opposition to the Scarborough LRT plan? Ford’s major complaint with LRTs is that they rip up roads and cause congestion, and points again and again to the “St. Clair Disaster” (which is no longer a disaster), but on the Scarborough LRT question he takes his opposition to totally ludicrous levels. The Scarborough LRT would not operate on roads: it would have operated on the same grade-separated right-of-way as the Scarborough RT! There’s no disruption to competing automobile traffic! Could he at least admit he was wrong? No. Talking to Ford on this issue is like talking to a wall. He doesn’t want to change his mind, and he won’t change his mind, even when the facts fundamentally disagree with him. He will fight you, even if you have right on your side.

I’ve called Rob Ford a bully before, and I’m not the first to do so. When I do it, though, I’m not suggesting that Ford is vindictive and malicious, or anything like that. Rather, his response to opposition is what feeds into this characterization. At the February 2012 council meeting when he stared defeat of his subway plans in the face, with council uniting to back the fiscally far more responsible plan to restore some of the Transit City LRT network, he went on a lengthy rant at the other councillors and some of the audience in attendance, lambasting them for standing up for streetcars. He hated streetcars and it was personal; he hated having them in the way of his car. More than that, he fundamentally could not understand how any Torontonian could oppose him on this, why anyone would question his desire to eliminate streetcars from Toronto city streets altogether.

His desire to eliminate streetcars from the streets of Toronto makes this issue personal to me, I admit, but his response to people who think differently than him is what’s most telling, here. Polls show that most Torontonians like the fact that we have streetcars in our streets. The newly debuted models have proven to be wildly popular with Torontonians. Not everybody in this city drives a personal automobile. Many don’t want one. Ford claims that he is a common man, in touch with the desires of all Torontonians. How does he respond to the fact that many Torontonians want to keep the streetcars? He refuses to admit that he’s out of touch. Indeed, he refuses to believe that the people who disagree with him on this issue even exist. What happens when these people show that they exist, and stand ready to oppose his ill-advised policies? He gets angry and shouts at them, because he believes he is always right, and that anybody who disagrees with him is just wrong.

And that is a fundamentally bad quality to have as the mayor of a diverse metropolis such as Toronto. This, not Ford’s personal issues, nor his health, is why Ford has been bad for the city of Toronto. This is the reason why he should be leaving office, everything else is just a distraction.

But this is not the conversation we’re having. And I cannot help but feel that Toronto is worse off because of it.

So… (spoilers for ROBOT OF SHERWOOD). Employing spoiler blocker in

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And…

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In reviewing the latest Doctor Who episode, entitled Into the Dalek, I wonder if it’s self-indulgent to talk about my own experience writing Daleks in fan fiction.

Probably. But that’s not going to stop me.

Decades ago, when my friends and I started working on the Trenchcoat fan fiction series, we played with the fantasy of being showrunners for a revived Doctor Who. The universe was open to us, but we knew that when it came to producing something that felt like Doctor Who, there were rules to be followed. And one of them was: there’s got to be Daleks in it, or there’s no point.

The thing is, while the Daleks can help you write an exciting story, if you’re trying to write a series, and in this series the Daleks return again and again, you know that the stories are going to be repetitive. Daleks have the character of tanks — they just keep coming at you. If you want to build on the magic, as we did, you had to expand the story, and try to top yourself every time.

But there comes a time where it’s not possible to take things higher. There comes a time when the final battle must be fought, and the big showdown had. We wrote that. And being the young, exuberant and gleefully inexperienced writer that we were, I and my friends crafted a story where the Doctor-Dalek battle destroys the Universe, and then I pulled out a Deus ex-Machina to bring everything all back.

Specifically for you Doctor Who geeks out there, I had Gallifrey’s Eye of Harmony (the black hole at the centre of the planet that powers all TARDISes) be as sentient as the TARDIS, realize what had happened, and reverse the universe so that the big battle didn’t happen, but giving every person in the universe the knowledge they had been in a future where this happened, and to this time make a different choice. Story resolved!

But we pushed the series a little farther with a new Doctor (ninth incarnation, with the first four fanzines featuring the eighth) before we moved on with our lives. One of our regrets was that we hadn’t ever given this new Doctor a proper confrontation with the Daleks. Remember, that was the rule: every Doctor has to fight the Daleks at least once, or they’re not a real Doctor.

But how do you top a war that ends the Universe? How do you write a story for a character-less tank that has seen and done everything already? What could we possibly offer to our readers that we hadn’t offered before?

Dan Kukwa and I had an idea.

We figured that, with the Daleks pulled back from utter destruction, and given the knowledge that they had been destroyed, they’d spent the next few centuries gibbering incoherently (basically acting like normal). But what if a small group of Daleks discovered what it was that had saved them? And what if that group of Daleks decided to worship that entity (the Eye of Harmony), and changed their warlike ways? And what if the remainder of the Daleks freaked out, and turned all their efforts towards to exterminate these new religious Daleks, to the exclusion of all else?

We never got a chance to write that story, but I still liked the idea. I think it shows that, with monsters as monolithic and irredeemably evil as the Daleks (or the Borg, or the Cylons), you can get some great action stories out of them on the first few goes. But if you want to keep going, and continue to offer audiences something that is different or interesting, you need to throw curve balls. You need to inject some grey into the black and white tanks. You need to give the tanks character.

In the seven years of the revival, the Daleks have been thoroughly revived and made into the main go-to monster of the series once again. They’ve destroyed the universe already in the Time War, and they’ve faced the Doctor again and again, all guns blazing, and it’s been mostly fun, if somewhat repetitive. In the previous series, the Daleks would often be retired, and put into storage for up to five years before being brought back, but it doesn’t seem as though the writers of the revival are capable of doing this.

However, with Into the Dalek, writers Phil Ford and Steven Moffat have thrown their curve ball. In so doing, they are injecting grey into the black heart of the Daleks, and giving us a disturbing picture of the Doctor while they go about doing it. Things may go in an interesting direction, or it may fall apart. Like the new paradigm Daleks of Victory of the Daleks, the ideas founded here in Into the Dalek may be quietly taken out back and shot.

In the meantime, we got an hour of television that harkened back to the first time a Dalek appeared on screen in the new revival (yes, a lone Dalek), and which I was quite happy to watch.

A full spoilery review follows after this break. You have been warned.

A while ago, after Jasper managed to bend himself 180 degrees from right to left in order to avoid being put into a carrier, and made his point doubly known by planting his claws right into my left shoulder, a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon came to mind. In it, Calvin decided to get the jump on his imaginary pet tiger by leaping on him. The comic depicts Calvin in high arc when Hobbes wakes up, surprised. Hobbes then bares his teeth and his claws while Calvin is still in mid-arc, leaving Calvin waving his arms and legs frantically to try and abort the jump.

Later, he admits that he didn’t think things through since (paraphrased), “five of his six ends have sharp bits on them”.

And, I thought, he’s right. The cat is one step away from perfection. What it really needs to complete the process is a stinger…

Yup.

(Addendum, September 2): On second thought, nope, not quite. Though the latter half of this video is beautiful, when he speaks of his enduring love for his daughter, and his hope that she should receive the same from whoever she chooses (regardless of gender), the stereotype of the overprotective dad has its limits. This article gives a very good argument as to why. It may be time to retire the stereotype.

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