Friday, 20 September 2019
As well as Doctor Who Magazine, another publication I buy every month is Fortean Times. It occasionally features Doctor Who - such as the cover piece in June 2006 above. Throughout its long life, Doctor Who has often touched on matters of a Fortean nature. For those not in the know, Charles Fort (1874 - 1932) was an American writer who became quite obsessed with strange phenomena. He was an open minded sort of person, of a "more things in heaven and earth" philosophical bent. He studied odd happenings, and scoured libraries to find news items of bizarre events. He soon set up a network of correspondents, who sent him clippings from local papers all over the globe, compiling his studies in the form of four books - The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932). He was extremely cruitical of mainstream science, believing that scientists' minds were closed to their own prejudices rather than looking at evidence objectively, and that they ignored or discarded anything which didn't fit with their preconceived views.
Fort was the first person to claim that unexplained aerial phenomena might be visitors from another world - aliens travelling in spaceships - and he also coined the word teleportation.
Fortean Times was founded in 1973, and it covers many of the subjects which Fort was interested in. A typical issue these days has two regular UFO columns and a ghost one, as well as regular items on conspiracy theories, cryptozoology, and forteana from the classical world. There are book and film reviews, and the inside back page always covers bizarre deaths. The rest of the magazine covers a wide range of topics. The latest issue, for instance, has an article about myths surrounding the Beatles (e.g. the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory).
Here are a few instances when Doctor Who has delved into Fortean territory, starting with the most common subject coverd by the magazine...
The first flying suacer to appear in the porgramme was the one belonging to the Daleks, in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964). Doctor Who has never really gone down the X-Files route when it comes to aliens visiting our planet. No-one gets abducted for a good probing, and no cattle get mysteriously mutilated. As a science-fiction series, it is a given that the universe is chock full of aliens, many of whom have come to Earth (usually to invade). Star Trek is the same, although Star Wars is set a long time ago, in agalaxy far, far away.
As mentioned above, Fort was the first to hypothesise that the various sightings of strange objects in the sky - going back to Biblical times - might, at least in part, actually be extraterrestrial in nature. Modern Ufology began in 1947, when the USAAF said they had a bit of crashed spaceship, and then they said they didn't. Then the person who first said they did said it again when he retired. The modern conspiracy theory would appear to have started around the same time then. 1947 was also when a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing a strange spaceship which moved like a saucer flying through the sky. He never actually described the vessel itself as a flying saucer - he was describing its movement - but you know how jouranlists are.
As well as the abductions, probings and cattle mutilations, two elements of UFO lore which appear often in film, TV and literature are the Men in Black, and the aliens themselves are often described as being tall, thin and grey, with big black eyes - usually referred to as "Greys". The Men in Black are men, obviously, who dress in black suits and drive in black cars, and they turn up after people have reported a UFO sighting. They try to convince the witness that they were mistaken and are often described as passively threatening. It has also been claimed that they may be alien themselves, rather than secret service operatives, as they can exhibit strange hypnotic powers. Witnesses have later claimed they have been spied on and had their phones tapped after a visit from them.
Doctor Who finally got round to covering both the Greys and the Men in Black in Series 6, with the introduction of the Silents.
They are aliens, working very deep undercover, who have the power to make you forget ever having seen them, and they look a bit like the traditional image of a Grey. We also saw them haging around in Area 52 in The Wedding of River Song. As they have been influencing the human race for millennia, all conspiracies could probably be laid at their door.
Closely associated with UFOs are...
There are two schools of thought when it comes to long-extinct civilisations who possessed seemingly advanced technology. One is that they were human, but who had super powers like telepathy and access to all sorts of science. They lived in Atlantis, so got wiped out when it sank. Except some of them might have gone underground and might be around still. Their subterranean cities can be accessed via openings at the North Pole, and this is where UFOs come from - not aliens at all. The Atlanteans come out every so often to abduct, prod and mutilate.
The other school of thought is that our ancestors were visited by aliens, who gave them the means to build pyramids etc. It must have been aliens, because, let's face it, early human beings wouldn't be able to group together and construct the pyramids or Stonehenge themselves, using mass labour, and ropes and pulleys, would they? (Actually, we all know that it was a renegade Time Lord who helped build Stonehenge, but we'll let that pass...).
The champion of the ancient astronaut theories is that well known convicted fraudster and embezzler Erich Von Daniken - so what he says must be true. Millions of people bought his Chariots of the Gods book and believed every word of it, and unfortunately it also found its way into Doctor Who in the first half of the 1970's. Azal, a Daemon from the planet Daemos, came to Earth in prehistoric times and mucked about with human evolution before nodding off for thousands of years. The Master wanted his powers and so woke him up. Turns out the Earth was merely an experiment, and Azal would have destroyed it if he deemed it a failure. Later, the Doctor thinks that the Exxilons might have been the ones who visited the Earth and gave us our fancy building skills.
They weren't our only visitors. As well as Silents and Exxilons, the whole of ancient Egyptian society was based on a visit by the Osirans. Horus was an alien, who came to Earth with a host of his animal headed kin to put a stop to Sutekh, who wanted to bring the gift of death to just about everybody and everything. (I've never understood those villains who want to destroy everything except for themselves and their followers. What do you do if you ever succeeded? It would be boring as hell).
Other aliens - parallel universe ones this time - gave Britain its King Arthur mythos.
We've mentioned it already, but let's take a closer look at...
Until 2015, Doctor Who had a problem with Atlantis. It seems to have been destroyed three times, in three different ways. First up was The Underwater Menace, which is set in the modern day but sees the Doctor and his companions arrive on a volcanic island which conceals the remnants of Atlantis deep underground. There is no mention of alien intervention - simply that the city sank beneath the seas due to some natural catastrophe, just as Plato would have it. Jump forward to 1971 and The Daemons (again) and we find out that it was another experiment by Azal, and he was the one who destroyed it. This story was written by Barry Letts and Robert Sloman, as the final adventure of Season 8. The pair reunited for the Season 9 finale and came up with The Time Monster. One year later, and the same two writers come up with a totally different version of what happened to Atlantis. This time it was the Master's fault, as he unleashed the captive Chronovore Kronos and it took revenge on its captors by destroying the city by flapping its wings for a bit.
Steven Moffat finally tackled this discontinuity issue by having all three events be equally true. In searching for the missing Doctor in The Magician's Apprentice, UNIT uses a computer program to identify where and when in history the Doctor might be due to the impact he has on the timelines. Atlantis is shown to be very busy, with a triple paradox evident.
Another paradox might have been noticed - a double one this time - had they looked at a well known Scottish loch...
The Loch Ness Monster (and other aquatic mysteries):
It has recently been stated that the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie from now on) is really a number of big eels. Their DNA has been found, but there is no trace of any prehistoric marine creature. Nessie is far too smart to have survived in the loch for all these years to get caught out by some biologists. She'll have been paddling down the other end of the loch when they did their tests. The earliest sighting of a creature in the vicinity was recorded by a fan of St Columba, who wrote his biography. This claims that a monster had been terrorising the area for some time - eating sheep mostly. A boat Columba wanted to use to cross the River Ness had come adrift and one of his followers jumped in to swim out and retrieve it. he was attacked by the monster, but Columba had a really good pray, and the creature withdrew. Of course, this was the River Ness, and not the loch itself. Interest in the loch and its monster really began in the early 1930's, when a new road was built alongside it. There have been dozens of sightings of something large, serpentine and moving in the loch every year since, and I don't think they can all be put down to eels somehow.
We all know that what people have really been spotting is the Skarasen, cyborg dinosaur pet of the Zygons, whose spaceship crashed into the loch centuries ago.
Unless, of course, they are mistaking it for the Borad. He was a scientist from the planet Karfel who turned himself into a half-man / half reptile following an experiment. he fell into a time tunnel and ended up in the Loch Ness area in Victorian times.
Personally, I don't think he would have survived. If the weather and the midgies didn't get him, he would probably have been eaten by the Skarasen.
For those who believe in Nessie, the popular thought is that it is some kind of plesiosaur. One of these turned up in the Indian Ocean in 1926 and threatened the SS Bernice. It's never properly explained if this was simply another exhibit in Vorg's miniscope, which he put in with the merchant ship, or if it had really been patroling the Indian Ocean, still alive in 1926, and got scooped up along with the Bernice.
Sightings of sea serpents since the year 1812 might be down to the huge serpentine creature which the Doctor freed from the Thames in Thin Ice.
In The Fury from the Deep, the Doctor digs out an old volume of myths and legends and finds one from the 16th Century about the intelligent seaweed creatures which have been threatening a natural gas complex. It normally lies dormant deep under the sea, but the gas rigs have disturbed it - but sailors through the years have sometimes spotted it.
On a couple of occasions, maritime mysteries have been found to be down to alien intervention. There is no real Fang Rock off England's Channel coast, but The Horror of Fang Rock was based in part on the real life mystery of Flannan Isle's lighthouse. The first hint that something was wrong was when a passing ship reported that the light was not lit, despite poor weather, on December 15th, 1900.
A ship wasn't able to get to the isle until December 26th, when it was found that the lighthouse was empty. Three men were missing. One of their oilskins was still hanging up - meaning one of the men had gone out into stormy weather unprotected. The only sign anything untoward might have happened was a single upturned chair. The last log entry was at 9am on the 15th. No bodies were ever found... Did a Rutan get them?
The most famous martime mystery is that of the Mary Celeste, when the ship was found adrift and abandoned off the Azores on December 5th, 1872. Perhaps everyone had jumped overboard when a party of Daleks appeared on deck, as The Chase would have us believe.
I wonder if Flannan Isle is haunted...?
In Doctor Who, the supernatural doesn't exist. Everything has a rational explanation - usually aliens again. Whenever ghosts have appeared, it has generally been something to do wth time. The UNIT soldiers who glimpsed a figure in armour in The Time Warrior probably thought they were seeing a ghost on the landing, but it was really a Sontaran officer travelling forward in time from medieval times. The Caliburn Ghast in Hide was really a vision of another time traveller - her image appearing in the same spot throughout history, as she was trapped in a pocket universe where time went very, very slowly indeed.
The Sarah Jane Adventures, however, suggested that ghosts might be real. In The Eternity Trap, the ghosts haunting an abandoned country house are once again due to alien intervention and people being dislocated in time. However, once the villain of the piece has been destroyed and the "ghosts" can be laid to rest, Sarah glimpses the 17th Century owner of the house and his children at an upstairs window.
I have my own theory about ghosts, and it also has to do with time. I recall the story of the Roman soldiers seen in a cellar in York, who could only be seen from the knees up. The Roman road which ran through the place was knee deep beneatht he modern flooring. Ghosts also are often said to pass through walls - walls which might once have had doors in them. They can be seen to float (perhaps an earlier floor level). They also have a habit of appearing on anniversaries, and repeating their actions, like clockwork. I think that what people are seeing is a glimpse into another time. Perhaps 100 years from now the future owner of my flat will hear the tapping of a keyboard coming from the living room in the middle of the night and come to investigate - only to find there is no-one there...
More Fortean Who coming soon.
Monday, 16 September 2019
Logopolis - the final story of Season 18, and the end of Tom Baker's lengthy tenure of the TARDIS.
When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer of Doctor Who, he would have been well aware of how difficult his star could be - having witnessed first hand the headaches Baker had given his predecessor. From the start he intended to make sure that this wouldn't be his experience. He would rein Baker in, stamping his authority on all aspects of the show, but ideally he wanted to cast a Doctor of his own. Baker himself had been ill, and contemplating moving on anyway. He could see the writing on the wall, and guessed what JNT wanted, so he offered his resignation. Later, he expressed dismay at how quickly this was accepted.
Script editor Christopher H Bidmead had experienced a troubled year on the show - from finding the script cupboard bare on his arrival to having to extensively rework other people's material. He decided to leave. An interim script editor was identified - Anthony Root - to take over from him on a short term secondment. However, he wouldn't be starting until the beginning of Season 19. Bidmead had championed the writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, who had already contributed Meglos. They were invited to write a second story which would form the season finale. What they came up with was a story which is known as "Project 4G" or "Project Zeta-Sigma".
This would form part of another trilogy which would bridge the regeneration of Tom Baker into Peter Davison, JNT's choice for his new Doctor. The trilogy would comprise The Keeper of Traken, "Project 4G", and a story called "Day of Wrath" - which ultimately became Four to Doomsday.
"Project 4G" ran into problems and was moved to third place in the trilogy, becoming the new Doctor's debut story.
Bidmead himself stepped in to write the final story of the season, whilst still holding the script editor post.
He decided that he wanted to explore the TARDIS more. It generally got the Doctor from adventure to adventure, but it was a very long time since it had been the focus of a story. Bidmead was also inspired by his interest in computers. He had already named a piece of equipment in Warrior's Gate after his own machine, and could no doubt take it apart and put it together gain. One thing he noticed was that he could see how much memory was being used as an application ran, and where on the machine it was. He got the phrase "block transfer" from this. Likewise bubble memory, and numerical registers. The Monitor (a computer component) tells the visitors to Logopolis that his people work in registers, making their calculations in their heads and only seldom using technology - in this case the machinery needed to run their copy of the Pharos Project so that it will keep the CVEs open and prevent the destruction of the universe. The name 'Logopolis' derives from 'city of words', as the Logopolitans intone their calculations. Their settlement, from the air, looks like a giant brain.
The Pharos Project is based on the SETI Project - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The name, as Tegan points out, comes from the lighthouse at Alexandria, which was destroyed by a fire in antiquity.
As far as we know, Bidmead came up with the idea of the TARDIS within a TARDIS in the opening episode, but you'll recall that Barry Letts was still acting as exec-producer at this time, and no doubt he would have reminded him that this had been done before in one of his own stories - The Time Monster - where once again it is all down to the Master and the Doctor having their TARDIes in the same place at the same time. (This would be Letts' last involvement with the series as, from Season 19 onwards, it was felt that JNT could manage on his own).
A running theme throughout this season has been that of entropy, and it features prominently in this story. According to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy always increases over time. If you make a cup of tea, it will lose heat the longer it sits there. The simple definition is that it is the amount of energy which is unavailable to do work. It can also be a measure of randomness or uncertainty. In Logopolis, we learn that the universe has long passed the point of heat death, where there is no more energy left in its closed system, so the Logopolitans have opened the system up to external sources of energy - bubble universes such as E-Space. Access to these is through the CVEs. When the Master upsets the running of the planet, the CVEs begin to close. No more energy is able to transfer, so the universe begins to die.
Logoplis sees the introduction of a new female companion to accompany Adric, and who will help bridge the regeneration. This is Tegan Jovanka. JNT was offered the two names to choose from, and elected to use both, making Jovanka (a Slavic christian name) the surname. It has always been claimed that the decision to make her an Australian air hostess was a means to tempt Quantas to give the production team cheap flight tickets, as there was a plan afoot at this time to enter into a production deal with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to film a couple of episodes "down under". ABC declined the offer, although the BBC pursued it for a time. JNT made sure that Tegan was a BBC copyrighted character, as he also decided to bring back Nyssa and have her carry on as a regular - leading to the "overcrowded TARDIS" of the Peter Davison era. As mentioned last time, as Nyssa had been created just for his story, Johnny Byrne was paid for every story in which she appeared.
Throughout the story, the Doctor keeps seeing a mysterious white figure, referred to as the Watcher. It was hoped that viewers might think that this was the Master - even though we had already seen him "regenerate" into Anthony Ainley. The Watcher proves to be a version of the Doctor himself - an interim entity from between the incarnations. We had already seen something similar with Cho-Je in The Planet of Spiders, the last time the Doctor regenerated. There, the younger monk was a future projection of the Time Lord K'anpo - the form he would later regenerate into. There are other Pertwee references with the Master's use of the Tissue Compression Eliminator - first seen in his debut story Terror of the Autons, but not used again until The Deadly Assassin. We also have the radio telescope setting. The Master made his debut at just such an establishment, and the Ainley version also has one as a backdrop for his first proper story.
Next time: Bidmead gets called back and writes the debut for the new Doctor, basing it partly on a picture which really annoyed JNT...
Wednesday, 11 September 2019
In which the TARDIS becomes erratic. The Doctor materialises the ship and steps outside in search of the cause - only for it to dematerialise without him. Amy is still on board. Some time later, a young man is walking past No.79 Aikman Road, Colchester, when he hears a call for assistance coming from the door's intercom. The front door is open. He goes inside and an elderly man asks him to come upstairs to help him. Once inside the flat, he is attacked. His downstairs neighbour - Craig Owens - hears a thud, and notices that the strange damp patch on his living room ceiling appears to be getting worse. Craig is living on his own at the moment, his flatmate having just inherited a lot of money from an unknown relative. He has a friend named Sophie who visits regularly, and he wants her to be his girlfriend - but is too nervous to ask. She suggests that he advertise for a lodger. The next morning the doorbell rings and Craig finds the Doctor on his doorstep. The TARDIS had landed in a nearby park before dematerialising without him, and he has traced the cause to 79 Aikman Road. The Doctor gives Craig a large sum of money for rent and announces himself as his new lodger. Craig is unsure at first, but the Doctor soon wins him over. He is quite looking forward to living in a house, for a time at least. He is in contact with Amy in the TARDIS, and asks her to do some research on the house. She, meanwhile, wants to know how he will cope passing himself off as an ordinary bloke.
The Doctor sets out to find various items which he can use to build a scanner device. He does not want to alert the upstairs neighbour, so is unable to use any advanced technology in case it is detected. More people are lured into the house by the person upstairs - though the mysterious neighbour appears in different forms. To one person it is a younger man and to someone else it is a young girl. After each enters the flat, the TARDIS goes wildly out of control - and the stain on Craig's ceiling grows. The Doctor fails to catch Craig's hints about being left alone with Sophie when she visits. He quickly spots that her desire to go travelling, but doesn't do anything about it, is a sign that she would prefer to stay with Craig were he to ask her. The next day, the Doctor agrees to play football with Craig and his friends. He annoys Craig by being much better than him, single-handedly winning the game. After the match, the Doctor witnesses a temporal distortion, and Amy confirms that the TARDIS has gone out of control again. Another person has been lured to the upstairs flat whilst they are out. Despite the Doctor's warnings not to touch it, curiosity gets the better of Craig and he touches the ceiling stain. He falls ill and can't get to work the next day, despite an important presentation needing to be delivered. The Doctor tends to his illness. Craig wakes that afternoon and rushes to work - only to find the Doctor has taken his place and proven to be a huge success with his colleagues.
That evening, Craig decides to loo in the Doctor's room to see what he has been up to, and discovers a large apparatus made out of junk in the middle of the bed. He decides to ask the Doctor to leave, as he is fed up of him being more popular than he is, with Sophie, his colleagues and with his football mates. The Doctor decides to tell him the truth of why he is here, using telepathy to instantly update him. They hear someone else going upstairs, and Craig is horrified to discover that it is Sophie. They rush up to the flat and discover that there is an advanced spacecraft inside. Amy confirms that 79 Aikman Road is supposed to be a bungalow - with no upper floor. The people seen on the stairs are merely computer generated avatars, created by the ship whose pilots are missing. The vessel needs someone to take over - and only someone who desperately wants to travel will suffice. The avatar has recognised this in Sophie, but now that the Doctor is here he will make a much better pilot. Craig finally declares his love for Sophie, and she is released as she now prefers to stay with him. The Doctor also manages to break free and they rush outside. They see the upper floor disappear, to be replaced by the ship, which the Doctor has identified as a time-ship with a camouflage capacity - just like the TARDIS. This is what had been preventing the TARDIS from materialising in the same location. The time-ship vanishes.
After the TARDIS has safely arrived in Colchester, the Doctor then uses it to go back in time and set up his rental of Craig's spare room. Whilst she was alone in the ship, Amy has found an engagement ring in the Doctor's pocket - little realising that it is her own...
The Lodger was written by Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast on 12th June, 2010. It was based on Roberts' comic strip of the same name for Doctor Who Magazine 368. This had featured the Tenth Doctor being temporarily stuck on Earth, waiting for Rose in the TARDIS to catch up with him, and having to share with Mickey Smith. In both cases the Doctor plays football and is much better than his flatmate, who comes to regret having him stay. In the comic strip Mickey mistakes the sonic screwdriver for a toothbrush, whilst in the TV version the Doctor grabs a toothbrush instead of his screwdriver.
This is therefore only the second Doctor Who TV story to be lifted wholesale from another medium - the first being the Human Nature two-parter which came from one of the New Adventures novels. Elements of two Big Finish audio adventures had also offered tenuous inspiration for other stories - Dalek / Jubilee and Rise of the Cybermen / Spare Parts.
The story is notable also for being an Amy-lite one. She does appear throughout, but is confined to the TARDIS control room and only appears briefly each time the Doctor calls her on his radio.
The main guest artists are James Corden, as Craig, and Daisy Haggard, as Sophie. Corden had shot to fame through his appearances in The History Boys, on stage and in the movie version, before co-creating and appearing in Gavin and Stacy with Ruth Jones. The National Theatre stage show One Man, Two Guvnors went to Broadway and this led to him moving to the USA where he currently hosts a popular chat show - The Late Late Show. Haggard had appeared in a wide variety of British TV roles, from sketch shows to Jane Austen.
Both Craig and Sophie will return to the series in the next season.
The last episode was light on story arc elements, but they are back this week.
The time-ship's origins are never explained, but we will see the vessel again in the next series, when its creators will be revealed.
Craig has a postcard for a Van Gogh exhibition on his fridge, and behind the fridge there lurks the crack in space and time.
Overall, a lightweight episode, played mainly for laughs with the fish-out-of-water Doctor trying to adjust to conventional living. Hardly deserving of a sequel, however. One thing I was really unhappy about was the use of not one but two head butts when the Doctor makes telepathic contact with Craig - a totally stupid and unnecessary thing to do in a show watched by children.
Things you might like to know:
- This was a late replacement for what would have been Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife, which was deferred to the following year on budgetary grounds. Many fans were confused when the Blue Peter design-a-TARDIS-console competition winner failed to appear in Series 5.
- Roberts later claimed that this story was going to feature the return of Meglos, the villain of the story of the same name from Season 18.
- One of the potential story titles was "Something at the Top of the Stairs", which is probably a play on "Nothing at the End of the Lane" - an early title for Doctor Who's first ever episode.
- Before becoming an actor Matt Smith had his sights set on becoming a professional footballer. An injury caused him to change career plans, but he continues to love the game (as does Mr Corden). The football match sequence was pretty much designed to allow Smith to show off his talents. Naturally, the Doctor wears a number 11 shirt.
- Daisy Haggard is the great-great-great niece of She and King Solomon's Mines author H Rider Haggard.
- The Doctor cooks Craig an omelette. This would be a reference to Gavin and Stacy, in which Stacy's mother only ever cooks omelettes.
- The Doctor cures Craig using tea - just as that drink had revived the Tenth Doctor from his post-regeneration coma. Tea leaves were also an integral part of the Time Flow Analogue device which the Third Doctor put together from odds and ends in The Time Monster. The Eleventh Doctor builds a similar Heath Robinson machine here. In both instances, the Doctor creates the device because of a nearby enemy time machine.
- The Doctor sings La donna e mobile in the shower - just as the Third Doctor did in Spearhead from Space.
- The one big mystery about this episode which was never explained: just what on Earth was that picture in the hall all about?
Sunday, 8 September 2019
The story opens with a bit of a puzzler, carrying on from the conclusion to the previous story. The Doctor states that the TARDIS has landed, and yet it is still moving. Ian suggests it has landed on top of something, whilst Barbara offers that they may have landed inside something. She is correct, as they have materialised inside a spaceship. The puzzle is that the Doctor seems confused by the readings in the first place. This suggests that he hasn't been travelling in the ship for all that long - bearing in mind how often the TARDIS will arrive on spacecraft from now on. We know that the Doctor and Susan have had a number of adventures prior to the arrival of Ian and Barbara, at least two of which took place on alien planets - Esto and Quinnis. However, all the other references seem to be Earthbound - be it descriptions of previous TARDIS disguises, or historical figures who they have met - Henry VIII, Pyrrho, Gilbert & Sullivan. It does seem odd that the TARDIS has never landed inside a moving object during all their travels to date.
The Doctor and his companions emerge from the TARDIS to have a look around. They find two crew members, who appear to be dead. The Doctor works out that they must have only just died, from their watches. Hartnell fluffs his line here, describing the watches as the "non-winding time".
Captain Maitland suddenly stirs to life, and indicates that someone should fetch him something from a nearby shelf. Ian picks up a gizmo and asks if he means this, and Maitland indicates "yes", only for Ian to ignore him, put it back and pick up another item, which Maitland also indicates is the right thing. How could Ian have known to ignore the first item and pick the second?
Whilst the Doctor and his companions deal with the crew, we see an alien hand do something to the TARDIS lock. We've seen the distance between the TARDIS and where everyone is standing, and it's only a few feet. They even smell the burning as the lock is removed, yet no-one looks and sees the Sensorite in the middle of the control room stealing the lock.
A short time later we'll discover that there aren't even supposed to be any Sensorites on the spaceship at this time. Their travel pods make a high pitched whining sound, but we don't hear the lock-stealing Sensorite leave.
At one point a camera bumps into the desk.
Barbara and Susan are then sent to fetch some water, and walk right past the big "WATER" sign in the control room - wandering instead off down a corridor. Susan seems confused by the locking mechanism, even though it is exactly the same as the ones they operated in the Dalek city.
Much is made of opening the large circular doors. Maitland spends ages trying to open one with a cutting tool, only for Ian to lose patience and simply push it up. Why couldn't they have just done this in the first place? You could also see the marks on the door before Maitland started cutting it. The other spaceship crewman, John, has a special way of unlocking the doors - but it is just the same as everyone else, waving your hand in front of the sensor.
The cast must have been annoyed that the rare mineral to be found on the Sense-Sphere is Molybdenum - as everyone struggles to pronounce it, especially Hartnell. He attempts the word twice then just says "mineral" instead.
A quick reminder that Doctor Who was never meant to be watched in one sitting, as we do with the DVDs these days. The audience was never expected to remember specific images from the previous week's episode. In some cases, the cliffhanger reprise was played in from the ending of the last episode, but on many occasions the scene was re-enacted at the start of the new one. This has lead to many discrepancies - such as the Sensorite looking in through the window at the end of the first installment and the replay for the start of the second. He looks totally different, and isn't even holding the same stance.
Our first proper look at the aliens is in a corridor, and unfortunately the director elects to show us their feet first. They have big flat circular feet - and one of the Sensorites is standing on the foot of his colleague. Rather diminishes their threat.
Most of the above takes place in just the first episode, and the start of the second. When I first started these posts I said that I wouldn't catalogue every boom-mike shadow, but I would mention when the actual boom was in shot. Once the action moves down to the Sense-Sphere we get a couple of occasions when this happens, in the sequence when the Doctor and his companions first meet the First Elder.
Something most commentators mention about this story is the unlikelihood that the Sensorites really can't tell each other apart without their badges of office. All the Sensorites we meet look and sound different.
The Sensorites are supposed to be a peaceful people, who trust each other implicitly - yet they have a death ray set-up covering their palace - including rooms in the First Elder's personal chambers. It is said that no-one ever goes into the room where the ray is controlled from these days, but it seems folly to have left it operational all this time.
The First Elder continues to maintain that no Sensorite could possibly be working against them, even when all the evidence points to just that. The City Administrator signals his villainy from the start, and no-one seems to think it suspicious that the killer of the Second Elder manages to escape when in his personal custody.
Not so much a fluff from Hartnell, as an outright mistake: the piece of uniform found in the tunnels. Ian picks up a scrap of cloth which has the letters "- INEER" on it - obviously part of a flash reading "ENGINEER". Despite it being in front of his nose, Hartnell spells out "- INNER".
A proper Hartnell fluff: "I rather fancy that's settled that little bit of solution".
Another fluff which doesn't come from Hartnell: "I heard them over... over... talking" from one of the Sensorites.
Thursday, 5 September 2019
The Keeper of Traken is the first story to be written by Johnny Byrne, and introduces the character of Nyssa. It also marks the return of the Master after four year gap.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had been reluctant to include a story arc in his first season, but ended up with two back-to-back trilogies.
He was paving the way for the departure of Tom Baker as the Doctor and was worried. Baker had been in the role for 7 years (longer than Hartnell and Troughton combined, and 2 years more than Pertwee) and the producer was concerned that, to the public at large, Tom Baker was the Doctor, and the Doctor was Tom Baker. He was synonymous with the role. What chance would his new Doctor have in following him? JNT's first thought was to bring back an old companion to help bridge the regeneration - letting the public know that the new boy was still the Doctor they knew and loved. Elisabeth Sladen was approached about reprising Sarah Jane Smith. She declined, but the meeting did lead to a potential separate spin-off series for her. JNT next approached Louise Jameson with a view to her reprising Leela, but she too declined - something she has since said she regrets. Lalla Ward had already left the series, taking John Leeson / K9 with her, and so the only companion was the recently introduced Adric. JNT decided to create a new female companion to accompany him, once the idea of an old companion return had been dropped. More on her next time.
JNT had met Byrne whist working on All Creatures Great and Small, from whence his new Doctor was to come. Script editor Christopher H Bidmead had met Byrne, and pursued him for a story idea. Little did he know that Byrne had already been approached by JNT to be his first script editor. Byrne had turned the job down as he didn't want to move to London from Norfolk, where he had a young family. He lived in a house called "Keeper's Cottage", which might well have partially inspired the name for his story.
Byrne had some experience of TV science fiction, having been heavily involved with Space: 1999. He had previously associated with the Beatles and Pink Floyd during his hippie-poet days. He had already approached the Doctor Who production office with ideas, which had not met with favour from Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe.
Byrne's initial story line involved a society which was split between two factions - one religious and superstitious, and the other scientific and rational. The mystical lot were the Greys, and the scientists the Black. You'll see immediately that this would pose a problem for inclusion in Season 18 -as it's very much the background to Meglos, which Bidmead was already working on with its writers.
Any story with involvement from Bidmead would naturally have the scientists as the good guys, but ex-hippie Byrne was on the side of the mystical Greys. The villain of the piece was a character called Mogen - so even the name was a little too close to Meglos. Mogen would arrive in the middle of a well-ordered society and create discord and imbalance.
The main friendly character was a man named Hellas (as in the Greek for Greece), who had a daughter named Nyssa (the name taken from a town in Turkey).
For the inspiration for his idealised society, Byrne must have looked to Thomas Hobbe's Leviathan. This was written during the English Civil Wars of the mid-17th Century, when the world was "turned upside down". Hobbes argued that a nation could only be run smoothly if it was undivided, with a strong monarchical figure to oversee it, proposing a social contract between all classes. One phrase which appears in the book is "organising principle", and the Keeper of Traken uses this very phrase to describe himself and the bio-mechanical Source which he controls. The Keeper uses the power of the Source to maintain peace and harmony across Traken and its empire - even down to the weather.
Any evil influence which invades this realm is automatically petrified, eventually eroding to dust. In Byrne's first drafts, the invading malign creature was Mogen, who fails to be totally petrified and can move around like a living statue. In 1979 the BBC adapted the children's fantasy story of The Enchanted Castle (by Edith Nesbitt). This also involves people being turned into statues but who can move around. The story has a Narnia feel to it, as it is about a group of children finding themselves in a magical domain. Mat Irvine provided VFX for the series. Another well known story of statues coming to life is Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. The BBC were in the middle of their TV adaptations of the complete works of Shakespeare at this time, and many see hints of these plays in The Keeper of Traken's visual style. The word "Elizabethan" often gets bandied about. This is certainly true of the costumes, but the set design is pure Art Nouveau. Just look at the metal tracery which surrounds the globe of the Source, or the decor of Tremas' apartments.
The Melkur - the renamed Mogen character - is based on another art style, that of the Futurists. The design is based on Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a 1913 sculpture by Umberto Boccioni.
Byrne was asked by JNT and Bidmead to make some changes, as ideas for the regeneration were finalised. Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe had brought back the Master by having him appear in a decayed form, at the end of his own regenerations. This got round the problem of Roger Delgado's death, without having to cast a new incarnation. They also left the Master very much alive at the end of The Deadly Assassin, slightly regenerated after having absorbed some energy from the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey. This was specifically so that a future producer / writer team could reintroduce the character, played by a new actor. JNT liked to employ people he had worked with on earlier productions - and one of these had been The Pallisers. Here he had met actor Anthony Ainley, and he was contracted to portray the new incarnation of the Master, in a set of stories which would bridge the Doctor's regeneration. The Master would be behind the Melkur, still in a decomposed form and out to steal the energies of the Source. At the conclusion, he would steal the body of Hellas, so Ainley would play this role as well under heavy make-up. JNT had a penchant for anagrams, as we will see, so Hellas became Tremas.
Appearing only briefly as the emaciated Master was Geoffrey Beevers, who had appeared in the series when his wife had been companion during Jon Pertwee's first season - Caroline John, as Liz Shaw. Beevers had appeared in an even briefer role as a UNIT soldier in The Ambassadors of Death. Peter Pratt's old costume from The Deadly Assassin had been found at a Doctor Who exhibition, where it had been on the point of being thrown away.
At this stage, the character of Nyssa had been written for just this one story, to act as a female companion alongside Adric. Companions were always created by the producer and script editor, then given to a particular writer to introduce in their storyline. The rights to the companion characters were always retained by the BBC. Late in the day JNT decided that he would like to retain Nyssa as an on-going companion, but she had been created solely by Byrne - so he was paid £50 every time she was used thereafter.
Byrne worked on drafts up to a certain point then took himself off on holiday, giving Bidmead permission to finalise the story as he and JNT saw fit. On his eventual return, Byrne claimed that he was happy with the changes they had made, which were mainly to tie the story in to the new story arc.
Next time: it's the end, but the moment has been prepared for...
Tuesday, 3 September 2019
It's been mooted for a while now that Season 26 was going to be released on Blu-ray this year - and they're just going to manage it. It hits the shops, in the UK at least, on December 23rd - so just in time for Christmas.
This was the final season of the Classic Era of the programme - the last four stories before cancellation. Those stories are: Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, and Survival.
The set includes the extended and the special edition versions of Battlefield and The Curse of Fenric as well as the following new extras:
- Comprehensive new interview with Sophie Aldred (companion Ace).
- Documentary about John Nathan-Turner (producer).
- Writers Room feature with Andrew Cartmel (script editor), Ben Aaronovitch, Marc Platt, Ian Briggs and Rona Munro.
- Feature on the creation of the Destroyer from Battlefield, including the actor who portrayed him (Marek Anton) and one of the designer / sculptors (Stephen Mansfield).
- A new making-of documentary for The Curse of Fenric.
- Behind the Sofa. We get McCoy and Aldred, as well as companion actors Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Anneke Wills, and writers Pete McTighe and Joy Wilkinson - who contributed to the Season 10 Behind the Sofa features.
Season 26 is widely regarded as the series when the programme really picked itself up after a period of decline, building on the successes of the 25th anniversary year. Doctor Who was basically getting good again, only to have the rug pulled from under it.
The season has its faults - even its own writer is unhappy with Battlefield - but it is amazing how much better it is than McCoy's first series.
There's a very nice trailer for the box set doing the rounds, which ties in with what The Sarah Jane Adventures said about what eventually happened to Ace - she's seen in the London offices of her 'A Charitable Earth' foundation.
The set is available to pre-order now.
Monday, 2 September 2019
Terrible news for all Doctor Who fans today as it is announced that Terrance Dicks has passed away at the age of 84.
I was singing his praises just last month in my piece about the Target novelisations, of which he was the principal author.
He joined the programme as an assistant script editor during Patrick Troughton's tenure - at a time when the series was in a state of flux. He was quickly promoted to full script editor and remained with the programme when Barry Letts took over as producer - between them ushering in what many regard as a golden age for the show. They certainly got the series back on an even keel, saving it from cancellation and reinvigorating it. Ratings improved and the public really took to the UNIT additions to the regular cast - even if Dicks felt that the Earthbound format was limiting.
It was whilst he was script editing that Target approached the production office with a view to releasing more novelisations of Doctor Who TV stories. Dicks would write many of these himself - partly because he wanted the income but mainly because he knew the show inside out.
He may not have written all that many of the broadcast stories, but in his capacity as script editor his fingerprints are all over the Pertwee stories. The Seeds of Death is also virtually all his.
His actual writing credits were:
The War Games (with Malcolm Hulke - his old landlord).
Horror of Fang Rock
State of Decay
The Five Doctors
We all know that the first version of The Brain of Morbius was also his. He asked for his name to be taken off it when Robert Holmes heavily rewrote it - suggesting that some bland pseudonym be used instead. Despite falling out with Holmes over this, he laughed when he saw the show go out credited to one Robin Bland. Dicks also wrote two of the stage productions - Seven Keys to Doomsday (a warm-up for Morbius) and The Ultimate Adventure.
A couple of other things he should be credited for are the championing of Robert Holmes (he might not have written for the show and become one of its greatest script editors if it hadn't been for Dicks), co-creating the Time Lords, and for being the co-creator of the Master (the definitive Roger Delgado incarnation).
Fortunately Terrance is immortalised not just through his numerous novels, but through his many contributions to the DVD range (and its Blu-ray upgrades). Listen to his commentaries, or watch his on screen contributions to the documentaries, and you'll hear his familiar repertoire of stories - whether they relate to the featured story or not.
He just liked telling stories, and he was very, very good at it.
Terrance - RIP.