Having some IT issues at the moment, with limited internet access, so the blog will be pretty much text only until I get the problems resolved. Hopefully normal service will resume quickly.
Wednesday, 20 January 2021
One of the biggest issues with The Macra Terror is that no-one can quite agree on what the Macra actually are. This is a problem caused by the script development process. Ian Stuart Black's original story idea was for something called "Dr Who and the Spidermen", then "Dr Who and the Insect-Men".
Let's get it out of the way now - spiders are not insects. They belong to the arachnid family, but a lot of people lump spiders and insects together - especially children. Anything with more than four legs is a "creepy-crawly".
Gerry Davis, the story editor at the time, had looked back through stories already produced and noticed that spiders hadn't featured before. One was to have appeared in the very first story, back when it was hoped that a tale about the TARDIS travellers being shrunk to miniscule size would have opened the series. It was decided then that the effects wouldn't be manageable, and the inclusion of a "giant" spider would go against Sydney Newman's "No Bug Eyed Monsters" dictat.
Huge insects would have to wait until the miniscules idea was finally attempted with Planet of Giants which opened the second season, although in this all the insects tended to be dead or, like the giant fly, die before they can actually threaten the TARDIS crew. And there aren't any spiders.
The closest we did get to a spider was the Animus in Season 2's The Web Planet. Here there are alien creatures which look like Earthly insect life - woodlice, ants and butterflies. The Animus is described as being spider-like, but the realisation on screen is more of a multi-tentacled creature than a spider.
Black's story title changed again to "Dr Who and the Macras". The inspiration for this came from a visit to the Natural History Museum by the designer Kenneth Sharp, where he saw a tiny crab species called Macrocheira Kaempferi, named after its discoverer and the fact that that it looks like a human hand.
Sharp's design went off to Shawcraft Models to be constructed, and it turned out to be a huge crab. It was a massive prop, the size (and cost) of a small car. Whilst the script called for a number of these creatures, only one prop was built, so only one could ever been seen at a time. It was extremely difficult to move around and position in studio.
Whilst the Macra became crabs, the script did not keep up with design developments. One line of dialogue, for instance, is "The colony is in the hands of grotesque insects!". The Macra are also referred to as being like "germs" and "bacteria".
The other big problem with The Macra Terror is the Doctor's actions here. He appears to be gleefully committing genocide. They are intelligent creatures - being able to take over at least one person's mind initially to set up the hypnotic devices which then influence all the other colonists and visitors. They use the humans to mine the gas they need to survive, operating complex machinery themselves. What is not at all clear from the script is where the Macra come from. Have they arrived after the colony was founded and taken over, or - as is more likely - are they the indigenous lifeform? If the latter, were they forced underground by the colonists and are simply trying to fight back, or make the most of the bad situation they find themselves in? They manipulate the humans, but there is no indication that they harm them in any other way - like prey on them for food. If they don't exist elsewhere on this planet, or in colonies of their own off-world, then the Doctor is engaging in an act of genocide when he helps destroy them. In the next story he'll simply let the villains get away with a slap on the wrist, but then they are humanoid. The implication here is that it's okay to kill the Macra because they are monstrous and non-humanoid in appearance - despite the programme already having broadcast stories about never judging by appearances.
[We'll later discover that the Macra do survive into the far future (Gridlock), but that wasn't known when this was transmitted].
The Macra depend on the gas to survive, and it's seemingly only available in underground areas. Fresh air stuns them - so how come they can wander about in the open on the surface at night? The atmosphere doesn't change when the sun goes down, as the Doctor, Medok, Ola and his guards all move around at night without any difficulty.
And how did the Macra get by before the humans arrived to mine the gas for them?
Only one photograph exists of the Macra - apart from screen grabs from the few brief clips that survive (where they are hard to make out). The producer wanted them to be used in advance publicity - and hoped for some pictures of the prop alongside some young ladies from the cast who were appearing as colonists (the dancers and majorettes). Davis, on the other hand, favoured holding them back for the end of Episode 1 big reveal, which is why we got a couple of pictures of the Pilot and Ola instead, or a couple more of the Controller being menaced by a big claw.
A claw was needed early, as it had to feature in the cliffhanger at the end of the previous story. At this stage in the series' production, episodes were being made only a week before they were to be broadcast.
The claw menacing the Controller brings us to a dodgy plot point. The Macra go out of their way to convince the colonists that they don't exist, and yet they are happy to have the Controller go on a big TV screen and be menaced by one of their number. The colony has also been led to believe that their Controller is the smartly dressed individual who appears reassuringly in photos around the place, and yet they allow him to be seen as a haggard and frail old man, who is clearly not the person whose voice they continually hear.
The claw on the full size prop has a longer top pincer than the bottom, yet the one that menaces the Controller has pincers of equal length.
Lastly, the character of Chicki changes appearance between Episode 1 and Episode 4. (The actress who plays her in the first episode - Sandra Bryant - asked to be let go as she had another job, and the part was recast with Karol Keyes for Episode 4).
Sunday, 17 January 2021
The principal inspiration for Battlefield, the second story from Ben Aaronovitch, is the Arthurian legend.
Arthur himself is mentioned - though he's merely a long-dead corpse in this. The villainess is Morgaine, and her evil son is Mordred. Heroic knight Ancelyn derives his name from Lancelot, and the Doctor is believed to be Merlin.
Arthur's sword Excalibur plays a crucial role. At one point Ace rises from Lake Vortigern with the sword - looking like the Lady of the Lake. Archaeologist Peter Warmsley quotes from Alfred Lord Tennyson's Arthurian poetry. (James Ellis, who played Warmsley, thought his part underwritten, and so added a lot of Tennyson himself. Most was cut but some sections remain).
Ancelyn mentions the Battle of Camlann, which was Arthur's final battle where he killed Mordred but was fatally wounded himself.
Between 1468 - 1470, Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d'Arthur whilst in prison (having been implicated in a failed plot to overthrow King Edward IV. He was in and out of prison often). It was published in 1485.
This work pulled together a number of much older English and French works on Arthur - such as Chretien de Troyes' 12th Century poems on Lancelot and the Grail. It forms the basis for most of our popular ideas about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, including the Grail legends.
In this Arthur inherits the Round Table from Guinevere's father, when they get married. Morgan Le Fey is Arthur's half-sister, and Morded is her son - but also Arthur's child through an act of incest. Excalibur isn't pulled from a stone, but given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. Lancelot and Guinevere's relationship is presented as courtly love, and not at all adulterous.
In 1958 TH White published The Once and Future King, which was a modern updating of Malory's work. This includes Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone.
Rather than claim that King Arthur, Morgaine et al derive from our Dark Ages, Battlefield opts to have them all derive from an alternative universe, where magical powers are real. Doctor Who had always claimed that magic did not exist - things which appeared magical always had to be given a scientific explanation. The best example of this is The Daemons.
Lake Vortigern gets its name from a 5th Century English warlord who is said to have invited the Saxons into England to help defend it against attacks from the Picts and the Scots. Vortigern wasn't his name but his title - it means Great Chief or Supreme Lord. He was not a King of the Britons, as many have claimed.
Battlefield was the first story to feature UNIT since The Seeds of Doom back in 1976. The Brigadier is called out of retirement to rejoin the organisation, having last been seen teaching at Brendon School in Mawdryn Undead, and then attending a UNIT reunion in The Five Doctors. Nicholas Courtney expected to be killed off in this story, which he was okay about - so long as it was a heroic demise - but the writer couldn't bring himself to do it in the end. The Brigadier is now married to a woman named Doris. This comes from Planet of the Spiders, where the clairvoyant Professor Clegg "reads" the Brigadier's watch and senses him receiving it from a young woman named Doris in a Brighton hotel, for unspecified favours rendered.
UNIT now have blue badges and uniform flashes, which reflect real UN troop insignias. The Brigadier's replacement is Brigadier Winifred Bambera. Surprisingly she doesn't seem to have heard anything about the Doctor, and doesn't even seem to know much about her predecessor.
The UNIT passes which Ace shows depict the Doctor in his Third incarnation, with Dr Liz Shaw as his assistant.
"Bessie" makes her final appearance in the show - apart from the clip from The Five Doctors seen in The Name of the Doctor. A number of old monsters are also referenced when the Brigadier talks about the weapons UNIT has brought - such as gold-tipped bullets for "you know what" (i.e. Cybermen). The Doctor also lists a number of monsters to prove to Bambera that he is the Doctor.
After causing all sorts of continuity problems by having the Brigadier retired by 1977 in Mawdryn Undead, JNT ensures that this story is definitely set in the near future. There is mention of a King (presumably Charles III), and £5 coins.
Script Editor Andrew Cartmel was a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament, and he wrote the scene in which the Doctor and Morgaine are in the UNIT command vehicle, where she is planning to launch the missile. So passionate was he about the anti-war message that the scene ran to several pages, so had to be pared right back.
Jean Marsh was the obvious person to play a witch-like role - she had just appeared as witches on the big screen in both Return to Oz and Willow. She finally gets to play alongside Courtney here. In The Daleks' Masterplan, she had played his sister (Sara Kingdom), but only arrived as his character (Bret Vyon) was killed.
This story marks the last time that the TARDIS console room is seen the classic era of the programme. It was hastily put together, and the shortcomings of the set had to be hidden by the lights being left unusually dim.
Whilst Cartmel listed this story as one of his top three favourites, Aaronovitch hated it. He disliked the dialogue and thought the knights should have looked more high-tech. He also hated both the design and the music. He wished it had been a three part story.
Next time: the writer uses his rather tedious work experience as inspiration for a story about evolution...
Thursday, 14 January 2021
In which the Doctor decides that Clara and the TARDIS should get on a little better. He sets the ship to Basic Mode, then starts to show her to operate the controls. Unfortunately this coincides with the arrival nearby of a salvage spaceship, operated by the Van Baalen brothers - Bram, Gregor and Tricky, who is an android. They have spotted the TARDIS as potential salvage and activate a magnetic grab which pulls it on board their vessel. As the TARDIS is rocked by explosions, a strange metal object appears from nowhere. Clara goes to pick it up, only for it to burn her hand.
The Van Baalens believe the TARDIS to be an empty escape pod. They are surprised when Tricky spots the Doctor lying beside his ship, having been thrown free. He decides to enlist their help to rescue Clara from inside - promising them valuable salvage if they help. Once in the console room, they find Clara is not there. To force them to continue their search, the Doctor activates the self-destruct mechanism.
Clara, meanwhile, has found herself in the maze of TARDIS corridors. As she attempts to find her way back to the console room she comes across a variety of rooms, including the swimming pool, an observatory, a storeroom containing the Doctor's old cot, and the library, which is a vast gothic space. Among the books she finds a volume about the Time War, and discovers mention of the Doctor's name. She then finds herself hunted by a strange misshapen creature with glowing red eyes. This pursues her through the ship.
The Doctor and the Van Baalens come upon a chamber n which their is a huge tree-like structure, with glowing pods at the end of its branches. Gregor ignores the Doctor's warnings and decides to remove one of these pods. The structure is part of the TARDIS architectural reconfiguration system. Tampering with it triggers the ship's automated defences. It begins to attack the Doctor and the salvagers, and they find themselves going round in circles. The Doctor is reunited with Clara. He discovers that he cannot reset the self-destruct mechanism due to damage when they were seized by the salvage ship. The Doctor must go to the heart of the ship to reboot the engines to stop them exploding. More of the misshapen figures appear, including a pair who seem to be fused together. Gregor is apparently killed by them.
The Doctor, Clara and the remaining Van Baalens head for the heart of the ship. When he becomes injured Tricky is shocked to find that he is bleeding. The Doctor forces Bram to confess the truth to his brother. he is not an android after all. He was badly hurt and had to have some bionic implants to survive, but also lost his memory. Bram and Gregor decided to convince him he was an android as a joke, which was prolonged and got out of hand. IN a chamber containing the Eye of Harmony, the Doctor discovers that one of the creatures stalking them shares the same DNA as Clara. He realises that these beings are versions of themselves. Bram and Tricky bump into each other as the dual creature grabs them, as this is a version of them. The Doctor and Clara finally arrive at the engine room to find it already being torn apart by an explosion. The ship is holding it together. The Doctor finally confronts Clara about who she really is, and tells her about his meetings with other versions of her. The Doctor notices the burn mark on Clara's hand and sees it is writing. They must return to the console room and activate a button on the metal object which she had picked up. Temporal distortions allow the Doctor to pass this through time to his earlier self, just before the salvagers operated their grab.
Time is reset, and Clara no longer remembers anything she saw or heard in the last few hours. The TARDIS leaves this region of space before the Van Baalens can seize it.
A slightly different timeline has been created, however, as Tricky now knows his true identity.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS was written by Steve Thompson, and was first broadcast on 27th April, 2013.
Fans had been clamouring for a story which showed more of the TARDIS interior since the show returned in 2005. Older fans, with longer memories, could recall long sequences of identical grey corridors (with roundel walls), or images of the TARDIS interior looking somewhat like the insides of a derelict mental hospital. Basically, it was always a bit of a let down. This story, sadly, proved the same.
If you are going to do a story which features other parts of the TARDIS then you really need to present something really interesting. Hexagonal corridors were a Sci-fi cliche within months of Star Wars opening. The only new space we see which looks impressive is the library, although some have noted that it looks a bit Hogwarts, so not terribly original. The engine room is just a blank white void. The chamber with the Eye of Harmony is just what looks like a sun in a black space. Regular visitors to the Doctor Who Experience in its last few years will know that the adventure section began with a visit to a room containing the tree-like architectural reconfiguration structure. The problem is that none of the spaces look as if they should go with any of the other spaces. At least Christopher H Bidmead's TARDIS scenes were set in an architecturally consistent space.
Things aren't helped by the framing story. The sub-plot about Tricky (Jahvel Hall) being duped into thinking he's an android is just plain stupid. At least he's the most interesting of the Van Baalens, who are not very well played. Ashley Walters (playing Gregor) is usually very good, but just seems to be going through the motions here. Mark Oliver (Bram) gets least screen time.
These are the only guest artists for this story.
There is a prequel of sorts to this, though it was presented as a DVD extra on the Complete Series 7 box set, and not released on-line in advance of the episode. This was Clara and the TARDIS, in which Clara has discovered that her bedroom has gone missing. She goes to the console room to argue with the ship, only to see other versions of herself turn up from other nights - all looking for their bedrooms.
The TARDIS' apparent dislike for Clara has been a recurring theme since the second episode of this series. Clara learns the Doctor's name, and he finally speaks to her about his suspicions about her - but these are all forgotten as time gets reset.
Overall - a great disappointment. We were promised much and they failed to deliver. As mentioned, the actual storyline is terribly weak. Ironically, this story was intended to redress the disappointment of seeing the TARDIS interior in The Invasion of Time... 201st position (of 241) in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, so I'm not the only one who didn't like it very much.
Things you might like to know:
- The title is obviously inspired by Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the 1871 novel by Jules Verne. This is the only Doctor Who story to have "TARDIS" in its title.
- As well as the book about the Time War, we have the Encyclopaedia Gallifreya, which is liquid rather than paper. When opened we hear voices. This includes Timothy Dalton, as Rassilon, from The End of Time.
- As the TARDIS systems break down and time becomes distorted we also hear some voices from previous stories. These include Susan and Ian from An Unearthly Child; the Third Doctor from Colony in Space; the Fourth Doctor from The Robots of Death; the Fifth Doctor from Time Crash; the Ninth Doctor from Rose; the Eleventh Doctor from The Doctor's Wife; Martha from Smith and Jones; and Amy from The Beast Below. All the phrases relate to the TARDIS itself.
- The TARDIS observatory features the telescope from Tooth and Claw, which was really a light collector / focussing device.
- The ship is described as being infinite in size, yet in Castrovalva the Doctor jettisoned 25% of it - meaning it had to be of finite size.
- The lettering on the metal button which Clara picks up does not match the burn marks on her hand. The correct words, but on the button they are middle aligned, and on her hand they are left aligned. Also, as it rolls across the floor we can see that it doesn't have any writing on it at all.
- An initial story idea was that the TARDIS would collide with a school trip party, and the ship would be overrun by teenagers.
Sunday, 10 January 2021
Companion to the First and Second Doctors. He was a young Cockney seaman, attached to HMS Teazer. When his ship left for the West Indies on a six month posting, Ben found himself instead based at barracks back in England. Depressed, he started hanging out at the 'Inferno' nightclub in Covent Garden. The owner asked her friend Polly to try to cheer him up, which is how he came to meet the Doctor's companion Dodo Chaplet. Polly worked as secretary to computer scientist Professor Brett, who had installed a revolutionary super computer named WOTAN in the new Post Office Tower. This had been visited by the Doctor and Dodo. When Polly was harassed by one of the 'Inferno' customers, Ben stepped in and beat him up.
Later that evening he met the Doctor for the first time when he came to the club in search of Dodo.
ben became worried when Polly failed to meet him for lunch the next day, and so went to find the Doctor at the home of civil servant Sir Charles Summer. The Doctor suggested he have a look around Covent Garden as a tramp they had seen the night before had turned up dead there. Ben entered a warehouse where WOTAN was having robotic War Machine constructed. Polly was here, under WOTAN's mental control and she helped to capture him. However, she later allowed him to escape, and he went to warn the Doctor and Sir Charles. he later helped the Doctor capture one of the War Machines so that it could be reprogrammed to fight against WOTAN.
When Dodo elected to stay behind in London, Ben and Polly went to find the Doctor to inform him. They then saw the old man enter a Police Box. ben had earlier picked up a key which the Doctor had dropped, and he used this to enter the TARDIS. He and Polly were then whisked off to 17th Century Cornwall. Ben did not believe they had gone back in time at first, and was insistent on returning to London as he was expected back at his barracks. He thought that the Doctor might have hypnotised them, but realised the truth when they met the church warden Joseph Longfoot. When Longfoot was killed by the pirate Cherub, Ben was blamed and locked up with Polly.
The TARDIS next materialised at the South Pole in 1986, where Ben encountered the Cybermen for the first time. He attacked one of them and was locked up in a crew room in which there was a film projector. He used this to blind his Cyberman captor and used its weapon against it, which he hated having to do. After the Doctor fell ill, Ben used information which he had given to him to advise the base crew in what to do to defeat the Cybermen. He sabotaged the Z-bomb so that general Cutler could not attack the planet Mondas, as this might have also destroyed the Earth. He then led the scientists in using radioactive fuel rods to overpower the Cybermen.
On returning to the TARDIS after the Cybermen had been defeated, Ben and Polly saw the Doctor collapse on the floor and change his appearance. Despite seeing this with his own eyes, Ben refused for a long time to accept that this stranger was really the Doctor. In the colony on the planet Vulcan, Ben revealed some information about his childhood - including having lived near a brewery and having a headmaster who was arrested for fare dodging. Ben finally accepted that this was a new incarnation of the Doctor when the Daleks recognised him as such.
When the TARDIS arrived in 18th Century Scotland, Ben found himself captured by English Redcoats and was locked up on a slave ship. Ben tore up the papers which a crooked solicitor wanted to use to enslave the captives. The captain, Trask, ordered that he be keel-hauled. Ben used his navy training, and a trick of Harry Houdini's, to escape death.
In the city of Atlantis, Ben and new companion Jamie were sent to work in the mines but managed to escape. He then pretended to be a city guard in order to help capture the insane scientist Zaroff.
On the Moon, in 2070, Ben was given the task of helping the crewman responsible for the base stores. After the Cybermen invaded, Polly came up with a potential weapon to use against them, but it was Ben who devised the means of delivering it. Always protective towards Polly, he insisted that he and Jamie should be the ones to attack the Cybermen. Later Ben donned a spacesuit and went out onto the lunar surface to help rescue one of the base crew - throwing a bottle of Polly's plastic solvent into a Cyberman's chest unit.
In a colony on an alien world the Doctor and his companions came under mental attack by the giant crab-like Macra creatures. The process took place whilst they slept. Only Ben was affected, and he became fiercely loyal to the colony's regime - even denouncing his companions. The conditioning began to break down, and he eventually assisted the Doctor in destroying the Macra.
After arriving at Gatwick Airport, Ben was abducted by the alien Chameleons, miniaturised and placed in storage in their spacecraft.
Ben always longed to get back to the London of 1966, to resume his naval career, so when he learned that it was the very day he and Polly had first entered the TARDIS, he elected to remain behind. Polly had similar feelings and opted to leave the Doctor and Jamie at the same time. The Doctor hoped Ben would one day become an admiral, with Polly looking after him.
It later transpired that he and Polly were running an orphanage in India in the 2000's.
Played by: Michael Craze. Appearances: The War Machines (1966) - The Faceless Ones (1967).
- Craze began his career as a child actor and singer. He featured in an ITV sci-fi series (Pathfinders, starring Gerald Flood) before joining Doctor Who. He retired from acting and ran a pub for a time and was a popular guest at many conventions. On 8th December 1998 he had an accident whilst helping a neighbour. He fell down some stairs and suffered a fatal heart attack. The Doctor Who theme was played at his funeral.
- He married Edwina Verner in 1968. She was a production assistant on The Tenth Planet, which is how they met. Craze had just had an operation on his nose, and Verner threw some polystyrene snow into his face which aggravated the injury - but he married her anyway. They named their son Ben.
- Ben features briefly in Twice Upon A Time, which recreates moments from The Tenth Planet. In this he was played by Jared Garfield.
- His brother Peter made three appearances in Doctor Who - in The Space Museum, The War Games and Nightmare of Eden.
Father of Maria Jackson, who became a companion to Sarah Jane Smith some years after she had left the TARDIS. Alan had split from his wife, Chrissie, and he and daughter Maria moved into a house across the road from where Sarah lived. Alan's attempts to make friends with Sarah were met with a cold shoulder, initially. Maria became involved in Sarah's work with aliens after seeing strange lights at night coming from Sarah's garden, witnessing her communing with an alien being. Alan was later taken over by the Bane after drinking their Bubbleshock drink. Sarah and her computer, Mr Smith, invented a cover story to explain this away. It was decided that Sarah and Maria's activities would be kept secret from Alan.
Alan worked as a computer consultant. When Maria started at her new school she reported strange phenomena around the new science block. Sarah approached Alan as he had worked on a similar new school building where the same phenomena had been noted. It transpired that these buildings were the work of the Slitheen, who wanted revenge for the destruction of most of their family by the Doctor in Downing Street.
Later, Alan was accidentally turned to stone by an alien Gorgon, who had come to kill Sarah. Chrissie was convinced that Sarah was obsessed with Alan, and had made a statue of him. He was turned back to flesh and blood, with no memory of what had happened.
When the evil Trickster attempted to remove Sarah from history, Maria' memories of her were protected by an alien artefact. This later came into Alan's possession when Maria was removed from time, meaning only he could remember her. He captured the Trickster's Graske servant and learned the truth about what was going on. After the Trickster had been defeated and Sarah and Maria returned, Alan entered Sarah's attic and learned all about her encounters with aliens.
He insisted she stop seeing Sarah, Luke and Clyde, and even made efforts to move away from the area.
However, when the Slitheen threatened the Earth once again, Sarah had to call on his computer skills to help save the planet. After this, he became more accepting of what Maria and Sarah were doing.
Alan and Maria were on holiday in Cornwall when the Earth was stolen by the Daleks and moved across space to the Medusa Cascade, and so were not around to help Sarah and Luke.
However, soon after this Alan was offered a new job in the United States, which he could not turn down. There was one last adventure against a lone Sontaran, during which Chrissie also learned about her daughter's activities, before he and Maria emigrated.
When Clyde fell under the malign influence of his estranged father, who himself had become possessed by a Berserker artefact, Alan was able to assist remotely from the States.
Played by: Joseph Millson. Appearances: SJA Pilot Invasion of the Bane (2007), SJA Series 1 (2007), SJA 2.1 The Last Sontaran, SJA 2.4 Mark of the Berserker (2008).
A senior UNIT operative who worked closely with Kate Stewart at the Tower of London HQ. She helped investigate the mystery of how all the world's aircraft could have become frozen in mid-air. When Clara Oswald arrived, she had Jac search for the Doctor through history, and she employed an algorithm to seek out temporal paradoxes - knowing this would pin-point the Doctor's whereabouts.
She was later involved in a terrorist incident involving a rebel Zygon group who had been settled on Earth. Clara took her to her flat where they found a secret tunnel beneath the building, accessed through one of the elevators. However, in the tunnel she discovered Clara inside a Zygon pod, and realised that she had been lured into a trap by a Zygon duplicate. Jac and the UNIT soldiers with her were killed.
Played by: Jaye Griffiths. Appearances: The Magician's Apprentice, The Zygon Invasion (both 2015).