Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Unseen Stories (3)


As far as references to unseen adventures are concerned, things change with the arrival of the Third Doctor. For a start he has had his memory tampered with by the Time Lords - dematerialisation codes, temporal flight equations, etc. He surprises himself when introduced to Liz Shaw by recalling that the people of the planet Delphon communicate with their eyebrows. This doesn't necessarily mean that he has been there, however, but if his eyebrow wiggling really does mean "how do you do?" in that language then it might just suggest he has personal knowledge of the species, who have never featured in the series.
He tells us in The Silurians that he has been potholing before, but not recently, and intimates that he has seen dinosaurs in the flesh. He'll encounter a lot from this incarnation on, but again they haven't been seen on screen before. This story also features the infamous line where the Doctor seems to be suggesting that he is thousands of years old. What he actually says is that his experience covers thousands of years - as in he has witnessed that sort of time span in his travels.
On hearing the alien signals being beamed to and from the aliens in The Ambassadors of Death, he clearly states that he recognises them, but just can't recall the details. He has encountered them before, but the Time Lord-induced amnesia is interfering with that recall. Strange, though, that there doesn't seem to be any trace of recognition when he finally sees their spacecraft and meets the aliens in person.
Another vague memory is of the noise heard when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, as mentioned in Inferno. He may have been there in a multi-Doctor adventure, as we know that the Ninth Doctor was also there at the time of the eruption. He mentions meeting the Queen's grandfather in Paris. That would be George V, who reigned 1910 - 1936. We know he visited France during the First World War, as he suffered a serious accident when he fell from his horse whilst inspecting troops there in 1917.
It should be pointed out that all of these references must relate to his First or Second incarnations as, of course, he is stuck on Earth at this period.
His familiarity with the technology and physical attributes of the Lamadines might just be learned knowledge, but his memory doesn't fail him when it comes to recalling his youth on Gallifrey, and his schooldays with the Master.
That "thousands of years" line makes a comeback in The Mind of Evil, when he is about to claim he has been a scientist for that length of time. This one is harder to square, however, as he really does seem to be suggesting it is his lifespan to date - despite only being around 450 in Tomb of the Cybermen, and travelling uninterrupted with human companions since that story.
This story also has the Doctor telling Jo Grant about the time he was locked in the Tower of London with Sir Walter Raleigh, who would go on about this thing called a potato he had brought back. Raleigh was imprisoned by both Queen Elizabeth and King James, so this is at least his second time spent in the Tower, as he previously told Ian and Barbara that King Henry VIII had sent him there.
The Third Doctor is the first to really name-drop at any opportunity. Saying that he is a personal friend of Chairman Mao might simply have been a way of ingratiating himself with the Chinese peace conference delegate, so doesn't necessarily mean he has met him, let alone count him as a friend.
The Daemons suggests that he has some clouded memory of the titular creatures, the mere mention of Devil's End sending him running off into the night to stop the archaeological dig. Hearing the Master talk of world domination makes him think about Hitler, or possibly Genghis Khan - he can't remember which - suggesting he may have heard both of them speak. Whilst the former could be from a recording, the latter means he must have seen him in person. (He does later claim that the Khan's assembled hordes failed to break into the TARDIS).
Another name-drop is Napoleon Bonaparte in Day of the Daleks. He claims to have given "Boney", as he was entitled to call him, the phrase about an army marching on its stomach. This one does sound a bit more made up for Jo's benefit.
More royal connections: he claims to have attended the coronation of either Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria - again he can't recall which.
His claim to be a personal friend of Lord Nelson does sound as if he means it, but his other claims in The Sea Devils to have been at Gallipoli and El Alamein are clearly just attempts to coax someone into lending him their boat. He also mentions the Crimean War, and his Second incarnation had previously said he witnessed the Charge of the Light Brigade, so there may be a kernel of truth hidden in the lie.
In The Time Monster we get more references back to his childhood - schooldays with the Master once again, plus the story he tells Jo of his encounter with the hermit who lived in the mountains above his home. The odd thing about this latter reminiscence is that he says something along the lines of "I laughed too when I heard it" - suggesting it isn't even his own recollection. (It is pinched wholesale from a Buddhist text after all). Was he simply telling Jo an uplifting parable to raise her spirits?
Unless it took place during the potential Season 6b, the banning of Miniscopes occurred before he left Gallifrey. He has visited Metebelis III before, and recognises a Plesiosaur when it attacks the SS Bernice - again suggesting he has seen dinosaurs before. We know that he has claimed to have trained with the Mountain Mauler of Montana, who sounds like a wrestler, but in Carnival of Monsters he also says that he was taught some boxing techniques by John L Sullivan, who was most active in the 1880's. He won 40 of his 44 fights, and only lost one (the other three being two draws and a "no contest"). Sullivan was the last of the great bare knuckle fighters, but the Doctor insists on Queensbury Rules for his fight with Lt Andrews (drawn up by the Marquis of Queensbury - Lord Alfred Douglas' father, and so a key player in the fall of Oscar Wilde).
The Doctor definitely visited the planet of Draconia before - assisting the Fifteenth Emperor in combating a space plague. His story about attending an intergalactic conference and being captured by the Medusoids does sound like another of those made up stories told to cheer Jo up - certainly the description of the other delegates whom he encountered (horses with purple spots etc).
The Doctor finally gets to Metebelis III in The Green Death, and it's not the paradise he has previously described, so he obviously visited a different part of the planet, or he went there at a different point in the planet's history - presumably much later as it seems quite primordial here.
His comments to Sarah about the Vandals having a bad reputation might imply an encounter with them, or it might just be learned knowledge about their culture.
He tells Sarah that he has been to the planet Florana more than once in Death to the Daleks - another good place for a holiday - and also informs her that he has seen a temple in Peru which reminds him of the Exxilon city.
Finally, we get some more name-dropping in Planet of the Spiders - learning some escapology tricks from Harry Houdini (someone he will mention a couple of times in later incarnations, so presumably a real encounter), and he tells Sergeant Benton that some of the best coffee he ever tasted was made by Mrs Pepys. However, in his famous diaries Samuel Pepys states that his wife couldn't stand coffee, much preferring tea. It's possible she might have been good at making it, just never drank it herself. Pepys was also a notorious womaniser, and the lady introduced to the Doctor as his wife might have actually been one of his many mistresses.
The Doctor once again mentions the Gallifreyan hermit story to Sarah, in front of K'anpo (the hermit himself), so this suggests that his story to Jo was a genuine recollection after all.

Monday, 20 January 2020

The New Series 12 Trailer


As mentioned in my review of Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror, BBC America last night released a new trailer covering the second half of the season which has now appeared on the BBC's Doctor Who YouTube channel. The timing is slightly unusual - you would have expected this to have landed after the mid point of the series, rather than after only Episode 4. It might be a sign of concern about the ratings. If you think the UK ratings are a worry, you should seek out the US ones:
https://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/doctor-who-season-12-ratings/

Most of the clips in the new trailer haven't been seen before, although the first one is of the Doctor atop the lighthouse which we have seen. The beach setting might suggest that this comes from Praxeus, as we saw the flock of birds appear on a beach. This next shot is certainly from this story.


There are a number of shots from Fugitive of the Judoon, most of which we already saw in last night's teaser trailer for the episode. The one significant addition is a shot of a woman named Gat, who appears in this story. Possibly the titular fugitive?


The presence of a Judoon in the background shows that this has to come from next week's episode. We also see a shot of guest artist Neil Stuke, as well as the Doctor and his character's wife surrounded by Judoon in Gloucester Cathedral.
We next get a shot of actor Ian Gelder, which I'm told might be from Episode 7.


As you can see, he's in the TARDIS, and one other clip shows a figure materialise in the TARDIS out of black smoke-like particles. Now Gelder voiced the rag-like Remnants in The Ghost Monument, which might just be a coincidence, or this episode might be furthering the Timeless Child arc - speaking of which we hear, but don't see, Sacha Dhawan's Master, and the ruined Gallifrey also reappears. (Gelder is already acquainted with the Doctor Who universe, having featured in TorchwoodChildren of Earth).


We then move on to the Cyberman story - or might it be stories? There is some thought that a lone Cyberman might feature in Episode 8, to be followed by more Cybermen in the series finale. You'll recall that we were promised two-parters, plural, and it is believed that the second two-parter might be Episodes 9 & 10. That would actually mean the Cybermen are in three consecutive episodes, so the lone one might be in 7, and the Gelder story is Episode 8, just to space them out. Either that or there is no lone Cyberman story and they only feature in a double part finale. The long held rumour of a Mary Shelley / Cyberman episode might be confirmed by this image:


The actress on the right is apparently Lili Miller, and she may well be playing Shelley. The costumes look right for 1812.
We then have a few shots which are hard to place:


Most of the first trailer turned out to be from the first three episodes, but there are still a number of images which are yet to appear - such as the gas-masked soldiers wielding ray guns, soldiers being blown into the air by explosions, and Graham being confronted by some large alien looking contraption in a hanger-like space. There are also some shots of the Doctor out in the countryside, with a white church in the background. The new trailer has some similar shots, one of which appears to show a gravestone behind the Doctor.


Trailers can be deceptive. As we saw with the last one, many of the seemingly unconnected shots actually came from the same story. None of the above might come from the finale - just from the middle section of the season. Trailers can also make weak stories look much better than they eventually turn out to be. That first trailer got me very excited about Series 12, then I watched Orphan 55, so I'm going to be a little more cautious with my enthusiasm this time round.

Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror - Review


A fairly solid episode, exciting and fun in places, but perhaps a little too talky and slow to get started to be judged anything better than "good".
We're back in history again, with more real historical figures (as with the second half of Spyfall). If Mary Shelley is in a later story (and the new BBC America trailer suggests she is) then this series will take the record for historical figures featured.
The episode primarily focused on the eponymous Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American scientist who was a pioneer of sorts in many fields. A brilliant scientist, but a poor businessman who failed to capitalise on his ideas. He was well played by Goran Visjnic, who is a fan of the inventor. Also appearing is Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) who is his polar opposite. He wasn't much of a scientist, but he was a brilliant businessman who knew how to make his fame and fortune from the scientific work of others.
Tesla is set up as a mirror of the Doctor - the inventor who creates for the sake of invention, whilst Edison is there to mirror the Skithra, who simply steal other races' technology but don't have a clue how any of it actually works. If Tesla is a Doctor-parallel, then Dorothy Skerritt (Haley McGee) is his companion / assistant-parallel.
The Doctor's companions only seem to know Tesla from the Elon Musk electric car named after him. I already knew something about him, having seen the 2006 movie The Prestige in which he's played by David Bowie. Tesla died penniless in 1943, but I wouldn't feel too sorry about this as he was also a great believer in eugenics and racial purity.
The Skithra were yet another well-realised alien race, although their Queen, played by Anjli Mohindra, was a little reminiscent of the Racnoss Queen. It was nice to see Paul Kasey get a role where he wasn't smothered in latex, especially creepy when they distorted his face.
The actual Skithra plan did not bear much thinking about. It was a nice idea to have an alien menace which simply wants to abduct someone to help them fix things, rather than conquer or destroy the planet. However, if they are able to steal all this alien technology, why couldn't they abduct someone from a more advanced species who might actually understand their purloined tech? When the Doctor refuses to allow Tesla to hand himself over, the Skithra Queen does then threaten to destroy all life on the planet - despite having just told Tesla that their weapons are one of the things they want him to repair.
A minor gripe was the Doctor's description of the Silurians as "alien" when she knows full well they were the original dominant species on Earth. However, even their creator - Malcolm Hulke - had the Third Doctor describe them as "alien" in their very first story.
If the Skithra were well realised then the story had some lovely visual flourishes as well. I particularly liked the train sequence near the start, with the hooded Skithra agent being left behind on the uncoupled freight wagon, plus the attack by the aliens on the Wardenclyffe laboratory. I think it was the murky green light that did it in both sequences.
I was rather disappointed with the conclusion. I have said before that the Doctor's new pacifist stance might be problematic, and here we saw the Skithra merely chased away - meaning that they are able to simply attack some other planet to get what they want. There's also the inconsistency around the Doctor telepathically removing knowledge of herself and future events from historical figures she meets. They made a big deal of her removing the memories of Ada Lovelace and Inayat Noor Khan, yet Edison and Tesla were left with their memories intact. Surely far more dangerous to leave them with these memories than Khan, who would be dead a year or so after meeting the Doctor.
So, definitely a step up from last week's nonsense, but it fell short of greatness as far as I'm concerned, mainly due to the pacing.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Technical Hitch - Update


I'm happy to report that my IT issues have now been resolved, so I can continue to post regularly again. The next post will be the review of Sunday evening's episode, which promises to be far better than last week's one (could hardly be worse), then things return to normal thereafter with additional posts through the week.
Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Season 14 comes to Blu-ray

On April 20th Season 14 will be released in the UK as the latest Blu-ray box set.
Another Tom Baker set had been expected  soon,  just to even up the releases.
This was the final season for producer Philip Hinchcliffe, and also saw the departure of Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and the arrival of Louise Jameson as Leela. Jameson will feature in the "Behind the Sofa" segments with Baker and Hinchcliffe.
It is a varied mix of stories. The Masque of Mandragora is one of the better pseudo-historicals, with great production values and an excellent cast. It is the last 10 minutes or so of The Hand of Fear which raise it above the average, with Sarah's heartbreaking departure. Then we have the game-changing The Deadly Assassin which dared to rewrite Gallifreyan history (something no one would be foolish enough to attempt these days surely...). Then we get the introduction of Leela in The Face of Evil, the superb Robots of Death and finally the much admired, though somewhat controversial, Talons of Weng-Chiang. The controversy lies in its use of caucasian actors portraying Chinese people, as well as its depiction of the Chinese characters in general, having as one of its inspirations the Fu Manchu stories.
Extras include a major piece on the life and career of Lis Sladen, and Matthew Sweet interviews Hinchcliffe. Sweet and Baker also add some new commentaries on some of the episodes from the fourth and sixth stories. Toby Hadoke's contribution is to catch up with some of the participants from the Whose Doctor Who documentary, which was broadcast just as the season ended.
Naturally, my copy is already pre-ordered.
No word when the US release may be, though I did hear that you will be getting the Season 26 box set on 24th March. The way this release keeps getting delayed in the UK, we might finally get it about then as well...
Strangely, still no word when the two Troughton animated stories are going to be released. I'm hoping the first - The Faceless Ones - will be out in March, as that was when The Macra Terror came out last year.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Orphan 55 - Review

Oh dear.
After a promising start to the series we seem to have taken several steps backwards. I really didn't think highly of this episode at all, I'm afraid. Very good monsters, though wholly unoriginal, and nice location, but I can't credit it for anything else. The supporting characters were cardboard thin, and there were far too many of them - so none were properly developed. Was Kane supposed to be a businesswoman or a soldier? Kind of neither. Worse was Bella, who had a rollercoaster of a story arc, going from potential love interest for Ryan, to saboteur and killer, with a history of bomb-making, to reconciliation with her estranged mother, all in a matter of minutes. Such character development really needed time to play out, but it just never had a chance here. She switched from one thing to another in seconds.
Is there some kind of joke I didn't get about Hyph3n? Was she some kind of postmodern comment on bad costume and make-up? A woefully realised character.
The biggest laugh for me was one that wasn't intended, I'm sure, when the Doctor leads the rescue mission to retrieve Benni. She takes a pensioner, a little boy and a squirrel woman on a potentially lethal mission, in a hostile environment and in pursuit of savage monsters that have just slaughtered 20 or so vacationers.
The insistence on not showing anything gory on a Sunday evening meant that Benni's fate took place entirely off camera, and we didn't even get to see what Kane did with him. Telling us things rather than let us see for ourselves was one of the problems last series.
One interesting story element was that Orphan 55 was actually the Earth, and the Dregs were a devolved form of the human race. A nice idea - just a pity that it was done much better back in 1989 in The Curse of Fenric. 
Development of the Doctor also took a great leap backwards. Am I the only one getting really annoyed that she knows everything, recognising viruses, computer systems, and even weapons at a glance. Would it hurt to have her have to ask what something is, rather than just reel off technobabble?
It was also extremely annoying that the resolution just happened to rely on that virus fixing the teleport - very lazy plotting.
As for the big speech at the end... I have no problem with messages in a story, so long as they derive from he narrative. I don't like being lectured. Doctor Who fans are an enlightened lot, and I'm sure most people watching already have environmental concerns, so it really was preaching to the converted. Again, all this was done much better in the past, by Jon Pertwee in Colony in Space, The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Chibnall and Hime are simply jumping on the  XR / Thunberg bandwagon.
Like I said, I did like the Dregs, but as with the Thijjarians last season, it is a monster design which has been rather wasted, as what else can you do with them? I have to say that whilst the costume was rather good, there was some shockingly bad CG in evidence when we saw them en masse.
Overall, fairly dreadful, bringing back bad memories of last series.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

They dare to tamper with the forces of creation?

Details of the next few new episodes of Series 12 confirmed in the latest issue of DWM today. After this weekend's Orphan 55 which involves that big new monster which looked a bit like the Creature from the Black Lagoon attacking a holiday resort (Tranquility Spa), we have the clumsily titled Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror. This is the one in which Tesla and Thomas Edison encounter Anjli Mohindra's arachnids Queen Skithra, set in the New York / Niagra Falls in 1903. Episode 5 is the Judoon one - Fugitive of the Judoon. Only a single partner, as Episode 6 is Praxeus, whose synopsis mentions the Doctor having to tackle multiple incidents across the globe. Apparently this is the one with the swarms of black bird-like creatures (which might just be black birds).
This latter episode got me thinking about the theme which Chibnall said would run through the season (as opposed to a story arc). From what we've seen so far I suspect this might be something to do with tempering with nature. Spyfall was about rewriting human DNA. Orphan 55 might revolve around the creature fighting back because the holiday resort has been built in its habitat. Praxeus possibly about wildlife turning against humans? We know the Cybermen are coming soon, and they're a perfect example of what happens when science interferes with nature. If there is a Mary Shelley story (other than the Cyberman one) then that obviously also ties in with humans tampering with nature. Back in the summer there was mention of a story revolving around environmental issues, like plastics in the oceans.
So that's my prediction for Chibnall's series theme - tampering with the forces of creation, as Daleks were also once wont to do.