Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Well, we were promised the trip of a lifetime...


26th March, 2005: Rose, by Russell T Davies. Happy Tenth Anniversary "New" Doctor Who.
I remember warning everyone not to dare telephone me during the broadcast, on pain of something unpleasant. The episode had been leaked by someone at Canadian Broadcasting, but I deliberately avoided. (I wasn't so web savvy then, so probably wouldn't have been able to find it even if I had wanted to). Even Graham Norton's unscheduled witterings didn't spoil the occasion. I recorded it as I watched, and then watched it again straight afterwards. And again about 10pm. And again the next day. Doctor Who was back...
Thanks Russell, Julie, Phil, Chris, Billie, et al.

Know Your Cybermen No.2


The Moonbase (1967).
The Cybermen return with a total design revamp. It is now the year 2070, and a group of Cybermen launch an attack on a Moonbase which contains the Gravitron - a machine which controls the weather on Earth.
These Cybermen are sleeker and more robotic. The heads are full helmets, with the forehead lamp now built in. They have the same black disc-like eyes, but the mouth is now a rectangular hole like a letter box. When speaking, a little door opens and closes in the mouth. The voice is artificially generated and machine-like.
They are not totally unemotional - having what appears to be a sense of irony, and are contemptuous of the humans.
They retain handle like projections at the sides of the skull. The chest unit is smaller and more compact, but still seems to fulfil the same heart and lung functions. They have three fingers on each hand (or rather a thumb and two fingers).
Their boots have what appear to be laces. Hydraulic tubing runs along the limbs and links to the chest unit. At the joints are spherical junction units.
Rather than launch a frontal attack on the Moonbase, the Cybermen elect to first infiltrate secretly and introduce a toxin - Neurotrope X - which they use to lace the base sugar supply. This renders its victims comatose, with the veins appearing black under the skin. The infected humans are abducted and taken to the Cyberman ship, where they are mentally conditioned to work for the aliens. They will be used to operate the Gravitron to cause havoc on Earth.
The reason for this seems more to prevent the humans becoming a threat to them, than any old-fashioned invasion attempt. The Cybermen cannot operate the Gravitron themselves as they are susceptible to strong gravitational fields.
Weaponry consists of hand held guns - with long rod-like barrels. They also have larger laser cannons. They can also generate an electrical charge from their hands which can stun.
The Doctor's companion Polly devises a weapon against them - a cocktail of solvents which dissolves their chest units. The main Cyber force is sent hurtling off into space by the Gravitron.


So, how can there be Cybermen in 2070, when Mondas and all its inhabitants were destroyed back in 1986? The redesign helps provide an answer. These are obviously some kind of warrior / explorer class, designed for space missions. At some point before Mondas returned to Earth, some Cybermen left their planet and set up bases / colonies on at least one other planet. It is from one of these that this group comes.

Story Notes:

  • The redesign was prompted primarily by practicalities. With Terry Nation making noises about withdrawing permission to use the Daleks, the Cybermen were seen as a new recurring foe. The costumes needed to be more practical in terms of maintenance and comfort for the actors inside. 11 were made in all. Only actors over 6 feet were hired.
  • One of these is John Levene - who will become famous as Sergeant Benton of UNIT.
  • The tube-joints are those plastic tennis balls which you used to get in schools.
  • The voice derives from an unused Dalek idea - an electronic larynx. These are used by people who have had throat surgery. You hold it up to the palate. The device caused a resonance in the skull which made the speaker (in this case Peter Hawkins) suffer headaches and become nauseous. 
  • The base-under-siege formula had worked well with The Tenth Planet, so something similar was dreamt up here - with the isolated complex being on the Moon as opposed to the South Pole.
  • Frazer Hines was only known to be joining the TARDIS crew late in the day as the story developed, so that is why he is consigned to lying unconscious in the sick-bay for much of the first two episodes.
  • Director Morris Barry was charged with gradually shortening Patrick Troughton's baggy trousers over the four episodes - just enough at a time that he wouldn't notice.
  • French crewman Benoit's little onion-seller's cravat is not actually some kind of national stereotyping. The character's first name was changed after his ID badge prop had been made up - and the initial was now wrong.
  • As Troughton familiarised himself with the Gravitron set prior to recording commencing, the prop collapsed and only narrowly missed him.
  • With their obsessive preoccupation with the subject, it seems only right and proper that an Englishman should be in charge of the weather on Earth...

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Figurine Collection - March


The Eaglemoss Figurine Collection continues with a Terileptil from The Visitation, "Rusty" the Dalek from Inside the Dalek, plus the gold coloured base for displaying the 7 special release Daleks.
The Terileptil is wonderfully detailed - except that the manacles he is holding would allow an elephant to escape. Definitely not to scale. I would say the colouring around the head is a little too yellow as well.
"Rusty" we could probably have done without - or at least pushed him further down the release schedule. There are a lot of interesting classic series characters who I would much rather see than just another bronze Dalek variant.
The Dalek display base is not too heavy. Once you have filled it with the Daleks that have already been released - from the normal range as well as the subscriber specials - you might just want to leave them as they are. It doesn't have the hexagonal sections, but could just as easily be used for the Doctors or the Cybermen if, like me, you are segregating these from the bulk of the collection.
Next month sees something I am really looking forward to - the Tenth Planet Cyberman...

Monday, 23 March 2015

Story 122 - Time-Flight


In which a Concorde supersonic aircraft vanishes as it approaches Heathrow Airport. In the TARDIS, Tegan has decided that she would actually quite like to travel for a while longer. However, the ship gets caught up in the temporal disturbance which led to the Concorde's disappearance and - instead of Hyde Park, 1851 - the TARDIS materialises above the runway at Heathrow, in 1982. The Doctor relocates the ship to the nearby terminal building. When faced with the airport authorities, the Doctor invokes his UNIT membership, and he is invited to help investigate. He decides that the flight of the missing aircraft be replicated precisely with another Concorde, with the TARDIS stored on board to monitor what happens. The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa join Captain Stapley and his crew on board the second Concorde. They take off and repeat the flight path. The TARDIS registers temporal displacement - and at the airport they are also seen to vanish from the air traffic control monitors - but their aircraft seems to make a normal landing back at Heathrow. The Doctor urges everyone to disbelieve what they are seeing, and the scene dissolves around them. The Concorde has really landed on a stretch of desert, millions of years in the past. The other aircraft is here. In the distance is a pyramidal structure, and there is a spaceship wreck nearby.


The Doctor comes under some form of attack, surrounded briefly by some plasma creatures. After these vanish, he decides to go to the pyramid. The passengers and crew of the initial Concorde appear and start to carry the TARDIS to the same structure. They are under some hypnotic control and believe they are still in 1982. Stapley's crew also come under hypnotic attack and have to fight to remember where they really are. The Doctor meets one passenger who has not been affected - Professor Hayter. He thinks they have been abducted to the Soviet Union. In the pyramid, the Doctor meets a bizarre figure named Kalid, who claims to have magical powers and is in control here. Hayter discovers that Kalid is using advanced technology. When challenged, the magician proves to be the disguised Master. His TARDIS is damaged and stranded here, and he means to escape using some technology left behind by the occupants of the wrecked spaceship - the Xeraphin. The passengers and crew of the first Concorde are under his mental dominance and he is using them to help him break into a sealed vault. He has seized the Doctor's ship to raid it for spare parts. Nyssa falls under the influence of the Xeraphin who compel her to go to the pyramid. Tegan joins her. Mental images appear to try to force them to turn back - including a Terileptil, the Melkur, and even poor Adric.


The Doctor manages to get into the sealed vault with Tegan, Nyssa and Hayter. They discover that the Xeraphin homeworld was devastated in the cross-fire of an ancient war. The race chose to amalgamate themselves into a single organic entity, which now lies in this chamber. The Master intends to use it as a new power source for his TARDIS. He has allied himself with the negative side of this combined life-form, whilst the positive aspect has been guiding Nyssa. Hayter elects to join with the Xeraphin, and appears to be destroyed. Stapley and co-pilot Bilton find themselves trapped in the TARDIS when the Master sends it off into space and time. However, Hayter appears in the console room and guides the ship to the sealed vault, enabling the Doctor and his companions to escape from it. Hayter was actually a projection of the "good" Xeraphin. The Xeraphin casket has been transported to the Master's TARDIS. The Doctor agrees to help the Master on the condition he frees the people under his mental control, and they exchange TARDIS components. All of the original Concorde passengers and crew get aboard Stapley's 'plane, which is repaired and made ready for take-off. The Master thinks the Doctor will be trapped in prehistory, but he has sabotaged things. The Concorde takes off and is able to repeat its earlier flight path to return through the temporal anomaly to 1982. The TARDIS materialises at Heathrow and prevents the Master's ship from landing at the same location. The Master is then sent hurtling off to Xeriphas, where the aliens will be able to re-establish themselves. To avoid the airport authorities and explain what has happened, and why the first Concorde is now buried deep beneath Heathrow, the Doctor hurriedly departs with Nyssa - but leaving Tegan behind...


This four part story was written by Peter Grimwade, and broadcast between 22nd and 30th March, 1982. It marks the close of Season 19. Grimwade was already known as a director on the programme, having been an Assistant Floor Manager on the show for many years previously.
Producer JNT was overjoyed at being able to film at Heathrow, and to get access to a Concorde for a day. This took priority over getting a story involving both that was actually worthwhile doing. Clearly JNT could not see past the publicity angle of the Concorde - and the possibility of free flights.
This story would have struggled at the best of times to be made well, but it had the added misfortune of being the last of the season - when all of the money had run out.
The Heathrow filming took place on a day when there was heavy snowfall - which as anyone using a UK airport will know means nothing takes off or lands. The prehistoric landscape is realised entirely in studio - and my goodness but it shows. A new monster was introduced - the Plasmatons - which are the worst design possibly of any alien creature in the show's history (which is saying something). They look like walking turds.
The actual storyline is overly complicated and difficult to follow in a single sitting. Biggest mystery is why the Master goes to all the bother of disguising himself as Kalid. Seems the only point is that there could be an end of episode reveal and for no other discernible reason.
The guest cast do the best they can with the material, but you can just tell Peter Davison knows that this is rubbish.


That guest cast includes Richard Easton as Stapley. He was best known for the road haulage drama The Brothers - from whence also came a certain Colin Baker. First Officer Bilton is Michael Cashman - soon to gain fame for the first gay kiss on a soap in Eastenders. A stalwart of the Stonewall campaigning group, he is now an MEP. Prof. Hayter is veteran actor Nigel Stock - best remembered as Dr Watson to Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in a number of BBC adaptations,, and for the title role as Owen MD (a sort of Welsh Dr Findlay).
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor is suddenly surrounded by Plasmatons which appear out of thin air...
  2. Kalid collapses to the floor, apparently dead. Hayter discovers that he has been using electronics rather than magic. Kalid suddenly rises, and unmasks himself to reveal the Master...
  3. Trapped in the sealed vault, the Doctor believes that the Master has finally beaten him...
  4. Tegan arrives on the roof of the terminal building in time to see the TARDIS dematerialise without her...

Overall, an overly ambitious script that just shouldn't have been attempted on the resources available. Terrance Dicks would never have let it get past him. At the heart of it is an interesting enough story - so probably would have made a better novel than TV. A lacklustre end to what has been a strong season.
Things you probably don't want to know:
  • The main reason for Adric's appearance as a phantom image in Part Two was so that his name could feature in the Radio Times billings - and not give away the ending to Earthshock. It works within the narrative as well, of course.
  • Anthony Ainley was billed as Leon Ny Taiy for Parts One and Two, in his Kalid disguise - again to protect the "surprise" reveal that the Master was the villain. Not the first, nor the last, of his pointless anagrams, but certainly one of the worst.
  • Tegan's return in the next story was always intended from the start, so there was no change of heart by Janet Fielding or JNT in her staying on.
  • Ratings wise, Time-Flight did not do too badly - it gave JNT one of his highest ever hits when it cracked the top 30 for the first week. It did shed two million viewers over all four episodes, however. Of the seven Season 19 stories, DWM readers voted it fourth place in the season poll. Jump ahead to the "Mighty 200" poll in 2009 and it is languishing in 196th place. 2013's 50th Anniversary poll saw it at 237th (out of 241).
  • Naturally, Peter Grimwade is on record as stating that he could have done a much better job of directing it.
  • We hear the one and only mention of Department C19, under Sir John Sudbury, when the Doctor invokes his UNIT affiliation. Presumably UNIT have finally become a proper secret organisation, so you can't mention them directly by name any more. Gone are the days when the Brigadier could have his name painted on the sign at the gate of UNIT HQ.
  • So, things buried under Heathrow Airport so far - a Terileptil escape pod and sundry alien power packs, a Xeraphin spaceship, a Jurassic era pyramid and a Concorde. Where is Tony Robinson's Time Team when you need them?
  • If you took out all the techno-babble concerning the different bits of the two TARDISes which get mentioned, this would have been a two parter - and probably the better for it.
  • Xeriphas gets a mention in Viz comic's "Doctor Poo" strip - in which the Fourth Doctor travels time and space in desperate need of a visit to the loo - only to be continually interrupted by Sea Devils etc. Apparently Xeriphas has very good toilet facilities...

Saturday, 21 March 2015

TARDIS Travels No.18


Season 18 sees the commencement of John Nathan-Turner's lengthy producership. There will be an awful lot of TARDIS travelling over the next few seasons.

Journey 166: Skonnos, date unknown, to Brighton, England, 1980.
The Doctor dozes. Romana shows she is a fan of Thomas Mann. K9 fetches, and blows a fuse. Not an ideal break at the seaside by any means, but Romana has some other suggestions for a holiday.


Journey 167: Brighton, England, 1980, to Argolis, c.2290.
The war between the Argolins and the Foamasi took place in 2250, and that is described as 30 years ago. Once upon a time Prof. Rubeish used the TARDIS as a blackboard, but now it is the Doctor who chalks equations on it. The Doctor removes the worse-than-useless Randomiser and leaves it behind when they leave.


Journey 168: Argolis, c.2290, to Tigella, 1980.
On its way to Tigella, the TARDIS is first placed in a Chronic Hysteresis time-loop by Meglos, last of the Zolfa-Thurans. The Doctor is repairing K9's damage from that dip in the sea at Brighton. The Doctor and Romana escape the time loop by anticipating it and breaking the sequence. I think. The ship materialises in the jungle near the entrance to the Tigellan city. Unless the Gaztak mercenaries have time travel, the year must be 1980 - as they kidnap the Earthman from that year.


Journey 169: Tigella, 1980, to Zolfa-Thura, 1980.
To stop Meglos activating his super-weapon, the Doctor and Romana take Tigellans Deedrix and Caris with them to his home planet.


Journey 170: Zolfa-Thura, 1980, to Tigella, 1980.
With Meglos and the Gaztaks defeated, the Doctor returns Deedrix and Caris to Tigella.
Journey 171 is unseen, but the Doctor returns the human to Earth.


Journey 172: Earth, 1980, to Alzarius, date unknown.
The TARDIS passes through a CVE (Charged Vacuum Emboidment) and finds itself in the pocket universe of E-Space, which appears to be green. The ship was heading for Gallifrey, after Romana was summoned home by the High Council, but this planet has the same co-ordinates as their homeworld - though negative. The Doctor gives Adric a device which can track the TARDIS. The Marshmen pick up the ship and carry it to a cave - to use it as a battering ram to crack open the Starliner.


Journey 173: Alzarius, - cave to Starliner.
With Romana incapacitated by the spider venom, Adric somehow manages to pilot the TARDIS into the Starliner - just where the Doctor happens to be standing.


Journeys 174 & 175: Alzarius - Starliner to cave and return to Starliner.
The Doctor goes to the cave to retrieve Romana and then takes her back to the Starliner.


Journey 176: Alzarius, date unknown, to unnamed planet, date unknown.
Still trapped in E-Space, the TARDIS materialises on an Earth-like planet which is ruled by a trio of Vampires who originated on Earth. It lands in a forest near their "castle".


Journey 177: Vampire planet - forest to rebel base.
The Doctor returns alone to the ship to search the records for any mention of the Vampires and how to defeat them. He finds what he is after in an old index-card archive system which all Type 40 travel capsules held. This is known as the Record of Rassilon. He takes the ship to the underground base of the rebel group led by Kalmar. The Doctor states that the accuracy of these short trips is due to the relative smallness of E-Space. Oddly, he doesn't use the ship to transport himself and the rebels directly into the Tower.


Journey 178: Vampire planet, date unknown, to location and date unknown.
The ship is guided to a white void, close to a CVE, by Biroc - one of the time-sensitive Tharil race - who is able to enter the ship whilst it is in transit.


Journey 179: Void to location / date unknown.
After Romana and K9 have agreed to stay behind in E-Space to help free more of the Tharils from slavery, the TARDIS momentarily materialises in mid-air above the ornate monochrome gardens where we last saw Romana and K9.


Journey 180: E-Space, date unknown, to Traken, 1981.
The aged Keeper of Traken is able to enter the ship in transit, and he asks the Doctor to come to his planet in order to ease the transition from his Keepership to the next. He is able to adjust the co-ordinates before even appearing on board. The ship materialises in the grove close to where the Melkur statue stands - really the disguised TARDIS of the Master. The Master makes the TARDIS apparently vanish - by hiding it in a pocket of time, just out of synch.
We know the date as Traken is destroyed in the subsequent story, when it is 1981 on Earth.


Journeys 181 & 182: Traken, 1981, to Barnet By-Pass lay-by, England, 1981.
In order to measure a real Police Call Box so that he can repair the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor lands the TARDIS where he will find one of the few remaining ones in England. The ship lands a few feet away. The Doctor then makes another short hop to materialise around the real Police Box - unaware that the Master has made it here first.


Journey 183: Barnet By-Pass, 1981, to Chelsea, London, 1981.
In order to, quite literally, flush the Master out of the TARDIS, the Doctor decides to land it in the Thames and open the doors. He misses, and the ship lands instead on the Cadogan Pier, at Chelsea Embankment. The Doctor has a confab with the mysterious Watcher on Chelsea Bridge.


Journey 184: Chelsea, London, 1981, to Logopolis, 1981.
The date appears to be the same as Logopolis suffers the same fate as Traken. The Logopolitans are expecting the Doctor's arrival, so he must have phoned ahead. The Master sabotages the Block Transfer Computations which the Logopolitans are using to fix the TARDIS - causing it to shrink with the Doctor still aboard.


Journey 185: Logopolis, 1981, to location unknown, 1981.
With the Doctor travelling to Earth with Tegan in the Master's ship, the Watcher takes Adric and Nyssa to a point outside of the Universe. From here they can see the spreading Entropy field which threatens to destroy everything. Nyssa sees her home planet vanish. Quite why the Watcher does this is unclear as, after a few minutes, he then takes them to Earth anyway.


Journey 186: Point outside the Universe to Pharos Project, Sussex, 1981.
The Watcher materialises the TARDIS in the grounds of the radio-telescope which is seeking signs of intelligent life in the Universe. Four aliens actually turn up, but they manage to miss this. The Pharos Project is used to run the program that halts the Entropy field, but at the cost of the Doctor's Fourth life. Turns out the Watcher was a projection of himself all along, so the regeneration is given a push and another era ends.

Season 19 will see the period of the over-crowded TARDIS, and the Fifth Doctor begins his open door policy...

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Know Your Cybermen No.1


The Tenth Planet (1966).
If you think that The Tenth Planet marks the first ever appearance of the Cybermen then you would be wrong. It is their only appearance, as they differ from what follows in almost every detail.
These are the original inhabitants of Earth's twin world of Mondas. Many centuries ago it left the Solar System - cause unknown - and drifted to the edge of the galaxy. This peripatetic existence led the population to experiment with life-enhancing surgical techniques. Limbs and organs of flesh and blood were replaced with those of metal and plastic. Certain emotions were also found to be weaknesses - and these were also removed.
In December, 1986, Mondas returned to the Solar System. Cybermen first landed at the Snowcap Space Tracking Centre at the South Pole, which is where the TARDIS crew had recently turned up.
In appearance they are all over 6 feet tall, covered with a flexible but extremely strong material - capable of deflecting bullets. They have a bulky accordion-like attachment on their chests which appears to act as their heart / lung functions. Beneath this hangs a circular object in a rectangular frame which turns out to be a weapon. Their hands are still human looking, though they have great strength and can twist a machine gun 90 degrees.
On top of the head is a barrel-like lamp, connected to the skull by three tubes - one at the rear and two on either side of the head.
They appear to have retained their humanoid skulls under their faces. The eyes are black discs. When they speak, their mouths open but their lips do not enunciate their words. A strange electronically treated voice issues. The Cybermen appear to be doing this for the benefit of the humans, and they may not speak in anything but machine code at other times. Tubing extends around the body - carrying hydraulic fluid or some other substance. Joints are reinforced with metal bands.
These Cybermen have names, and individuality still seems to be important to them. They try to gather biographical data on the humans who they plan to convert.


Mondas is Earth's twin and, despite its itinerant wanderings, the continents have developed identically to Earth's, although the planet is inverted - the poles being at opposite ends to ours. It is never clear whether the planet's return to the Solar System is a natural phenomenon or if it has been artificially guided here. This will be clarified only in subsequent stories. The planet has the ability to drain energy - including bio-chemical. When this process starts to run wild, the Cybermen suggest that they have no power to stop it, so it may be a natural process, or they are using technology they do not fully understand.
The Cybermen intend to convert all of the Earth's population to become like them, and believe this is the logical thing to do. They believe they are doing us a favour, in other words. When the power drain goes out of control, they decide that the Earth must be destroyed - sacrificed to save Mondas.
When Mondas is destroyed, all of the Cybermen on Earth collapse and die. Their power source has not been transferred to this planet. Why they have no in-built power source, such as batteries, is never explained. When they die, their bodies collapse in on themselves - as though the organic components have wasted away.
This is quite categorically the end of Mondas and of the Cybermen who lived there.

Story Notes:
Interestingly, in March 2015, a BBC Horizon programme mentioned the theory that a planet had been knocked out of the Solar System millions of years ago - but it was an Ice Giant, neighbouring Saturn, and not a rocky Earth-like world.
A twin of Earth on the far side of the Sun had been one of the earliest story ideas for Doctor Who back in 1963. Here, everything would have been backwards.
Co-writer of The Tenth Planet, Dr Kit Pedler, was a leading ophthalmologist who was brought in to act as a sort of scientific adviser on the show. He was worried about the moral implications of transplant surgery. If you replaced too much, would you still be human? He originally envisaged the Cybermen as "star monks". Design wise, he wanted the limbs to be transparent, and for their heads to be in the centre of their bodies.
As the fourth episode was being written, Pedler fell ill and his fellow writer Gerry Davis wrote the ending. This is why the Cybermen stop philosophising and become more generic alien invaders in Part Four.
Though never explicitly stated, it is Mondas' power drain that leads to the Doctor regenerating for the very first time - though that term won't be heard for a few more years. The following story will simply say that he has been "renewed", with the help of the TARDIS.
This particular design of Cyberman was the one used throughout the 1960's comic strips, where you might have seen them on skis.
Neil Gaiman had hoped to include an original Cyberman as part of the Cyberiad in his Nightmare In Silver.
Realising that they finally had a menace to equal the Daleks (one they didn't have to pay extra for), producer Innes Lloyd commissioned a follow up Cyberman story almost at once - as we will see next time...

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Know Your Cybermen...


A little blog update.
Starting later this week there's a new series of occasional posts looking at the evolution of the Cybermen, story by story. This comes on the heels of last year's (very) popular series looking at the Daleks.
Hopefully each week I will be covering a Cyberman story, the ongoing TARDIS Travels, plus a classic story review (unfortunately it is Time-Flight up next. Sorry...). All that plus any news that is worth commenting upon.
And don't forget I am now on Facebook - just haven't worked out how to make the link. I told you it would take me a couple of weeks to work that out...
The first Cyber-post should be up tomorrow night, with Season 18 of the TARDIS Travels on Saturday.