Wednesday, 22 March 2017

March Figurines

Two figurines this month - both from the John Nathan Turner era of the show. From his first season comes a rather fine Marshman, from Full Circle. They've certainly gone for a realistic modeling, as the skin looks like a costume with its noticeable wrinkles.
Joining the Marshman is the Silver Nemesis Cyber-Leader, from JNT's penultimate season.
Next month's release will include The Veil from Heaven Sent, and the Destroyer from Battlefield. May will see the release of the Cyber-Controller from Attack of the Cybermen.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Inspirations - The Aztecs

Another story that has always tended to be known by just the one title. In fact, the "naming controversy" is only really confined to the first two stories.
The writer is once again John Lucarotti. He lived for some time in Mexico, so would have become interested in the Aztecs and their culture during that time.
The last historical story had featured real people - Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Lucarotti could have gone down the same route and featured historical characters - Pizarro and Montezuma II - and shown the actual events surrounding the meeting of the Conquistadors and the Aztecs. The clash of cultures and resulting conflict would seem to have been a more obvious starting point.
Peter Shaffer had used this for his play about the meeting of the Spanish and the Incas - The Royal Hunt of the Sun - which opened in London after The Aztecs was commissioned, but before it was broadcast. The publicity for the play would have helped the Doctor Who story, even though they deal with the Spanish clashing with entirely different indigenous cultures.
Lucarotti instead decides to show us the Aztecs at their peak, before the coming of the Spanish. The arrival of the Europeans is talked about, as something that will happen soon and sweep all of this away.
The two aspects of Aztec culture we know best about - their knowledge and their use of human sacrifice - are embodied in the two main characters whom the time travellers meet. Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, is presented as a good, kind man, who is open minded. Tlotoxl - High Priest of Sacrifice - is presented as an evil person, an old fashioned villain who is unwilling to countenance that his religion is wrong in any way. For inspiration in his performance, John Ringham looks to Richard III - specifically as portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the 1955 film of Shakespeare's play.

Unusually, Tlotoxl does not get his comeuppance at the conclusion. Autloc wanders off into the wilderness to become a hermit, and Tlotoxl ends up stronger, with his own candidate for High Priest of Knowledge ready to take over.
Setting aside the performance, is Tlotoxl bad? One of the points which the Doctor strives to make in his debates with Barbara is that she cannot judge the Aztec culture by her 20th Century English viewpoint. He points out that in this city, it is Autloc who is the odd man out. Human sacrifice has a role in this society and is accepted. It honours the gods and benefits the society, making the crops grow and the rains fall. Tlotoxl believes this to be true, and so when he suspects that Barbara is a false god he seeks to undermine her by any means possible - including poisoning her. She poses a threat to their established order, so is he wrong for trying to do this? Of course not. We, the viewers, are also looking at the Aztecs filtered through those 20th Century western values.
Barbara wants to cherry pick the good things, as she sees them, of Aztec culture and eliminate the nasty ones - hoping that when Cortes gets here the civilisation will have an easier time. Naive thinking for someone who claims to have specialist knowledge of this period, as European illnesses alone will kill millions, and the Catholic Church will not tolerate any heathen religion, human sacrifice or not. At this point the Church is burning fellow Christians for even the slightest taint of unorthodoxy. The Conquistadors have come for gold and for souls, and that's it.
It should also be noted that the Aztecs weren't just defeated by the Spanish alone. Cortes was aided by thousands of other Mexican troops from neighbouring kingdoms, who wanted to smash Aztec dominance for their own reasons.

The Aztecs is the first story to look at the consequences of time travel. More recently, we have been introduced to the notion of Fixed Points in Time, but this wasn't the case back in 1964. Right from the earliest days of the series, viewers began questioning why it was okay to meddle in the affairs of Skaro, but not of Earth. Shouldn't the Doctor be an observer, who doesn't do anything to upset the order of things wherever he landed? Why was it okay to help the Thals and wipe out the Daleks, but not to save the Aztecs from near genocide?
Story Editor David Whitaker, responding to a letter from a viewer, claimed that History was like a road running across an undulating landscape. At times, the road dipped out of view, so anything could happen, but it had to resume its course after a while. He described History like Justice - not only being done but seen to be done. What we know to have happened always needs to be seen to happen just as the History books tell it. In the next season, Whitaker's successor will have his own ideas about History, and one story will have the time travellers actively trying to prevent something that is seen to have already happened - and they will succeed.
The Doctor has always had a special relationship with the Earth, and we know that one day the Universe will be populated by what look and sound like British people. Maybe this is why Earth history is protected so much - because humans will have such an impact on the cosmos further down the line. The Doctor may always have seen the Fixed Points in Time, just never mentioned them, and so knows that his actions on Skaro, or Vortis, or Peladon, were simply the right thing to do.

A few final points. Lucarotti has done his homework, obviously, so Barbara gets to talk about their gods, and Susan is tutored in some of their ways. The Doctor has to fashion a wheel and pulley system, as the Aztecs did not exploit the wheel.
The Aztecs never used that name to describe themselves - they were the Mexica. It was the Spanish who called them Aztecs.
Cocoa beans were used for barter and as a form of currency. Vassal kingdoms were expected to provide cocoa beans by way of annual tribute. The oily layer which formed on chocolate beverages was also used as a form of sun block. Preparing a cocoa drink wasn't especially used as a form of marriage proposal, but it did form part of the marriage ceremony itself, so Cameca might be jumping the gun a bit here.
The programme came in for some criticism about the authenticity of the costumes. They were all properly researched. The location of this city is never specified, and might lie at a high altitude, and Mexico does have its seasons like everywhere else - so Tlotoxl and company might not necessarily be over-dressed.
The Aztecs inherited a great deal of astronomical knowledge from earlier Mesoamerican cultures, and so would have been able to predict a solar eclipse. Their cities were laid out on astronomical alignments.
Of the character names, Ixta could derive from the Mexican coastal town of Ixtapa, but it is also another name for Iztaccihuatl - the country's third highest mountain. Iztapalapa is a suburb of Mexico City, its most densely inhabited.
Next time, we head off into Space, in the 28th Century, and it looks like the TARDIS has never landed on a spaceship before...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Reviews - a word about future developments

Just a quick word about my on-going reviews of Doctor Who stories. Naturally, each week I will be letting you know my thoughts on the new stories that are going to be making up Series 10. These will probably be on the Saturday night, but might not see light until the day after. I often like to watch an episode twice before commenting on it, with a pause between.
As far as the on-going series reviews go - the ones that commence with "In which..." and conclude with "Things you might like to know...", I will be cutting back on these for the 12 weeks that the new series runs. As I have now reached Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, I will also be phasing in reviews of Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures stories - trying to ensure that they gel together and interrelate. My look at Series 3, for instance, will be interspersed with reviews of TW Series 1, as End of Days has to fit in with the start of Utopia; Rani can't have joined Sarah, Luke and Clyde until after Journeys End, and The Last Sontaran has to come after The Poison Sky - but before Journeys End, and so forth.
Confused? I hope you won't be.
The A-Z entries will carry on weekly, as I like the randomness of them, and the Inspirations ones will also carry on regardless, as I love revisiting the earlier stories - and they offer me a chance to delve into all sorts of weird and wonderful tangents.

Story 177 - Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

In which the Doctor and Rose return to the Powell Estate to visit Jackie. She tells Rose that her maternal grandfather is due to visit shortly - but he has been dead for some years. However, just as Jackie predicted, a shadowy figure materialises in the kitchen. The Doctor discovers that these apparitions are appearing a couple of times a day all over the planet, and are all over the media. People are presuming they are the ghosts of dead loved ones, but the Doctor suspects that something is trying to break through into this world from some other dimension. Returning to the TARDIS, with Jackie in tow, he sets up a device to monitor a ghost when it next materialises so he can trace the source. His actions are noticed by Torchwood, the organisation behind the "ghost shifts". They use CCTV to spot the TARDIS, and boss Yvonne Hartman realises that the Doctor will be on his way to them. A couple of her employees - Adeola and Gareth - sneak off for a romantic tryst in a section of their building which is closed for refurbishment. They are attacked, and return to their posts seemingly devoid of emotion. Adeola lures another colleague - Matt - to the same location, and he too returns changed.

The Doctor allows himself to be captured by Torchwood troops, along with Jackie, who has been brought along by accident. The Doctor pretends that she is Rose, prematurely aged. He sees that Torchwood have a lot of captured alien technology, which Yvonne claims is to be exploited in order to make Britain great again. She explains how the organisation detected a strange anomaly in the sky above East London, and so built a skyscraper around it so that it could be examined. Jackie identifies their location as the tower of Canary Wharf. Something came through the anomaly - a large bronze sphere which is impossible to analyse as it gives no readings whatsoever. Investigating it is Dr Rajesh Singh. At the same time, the ghosts began to appear. Torchwood are manipulating these, making them appear when they open the anomaly. They believe that it will act as a power source. The Doctor identifies the sphere as a Void Ship - designed to exist in the gap between universes. Rose emerges from the TARDIS and dons a lab coat to look around. Spotting a familiar figure, she follows him to the Sphere chamber where Dr Singh captures her. The person she was following is Mickey Smith, who is posing as one of Singh's assistants.

The Doctor convinces Yvonne to cancel the next "ghost shift" as every time the anomaly is opened it is destroying the fabric of this dimension. It is through the cracks forming that the ghosts have arrived. Adeola, Matt and Gareth carry on with the shift, however, under the control of someone else. The Doctor discovers that they have been converted, with alien implants in their skulls. The anomaly opens, and the ghosts start to become corporeal. They are Cybermen. At the same time, the Void Ship suddenly becomes active. Rose and Mickey see it begin to open. Mickey believes that it contains some sort of Cyberman leader, escaped from the parallel Earth he had settled on. However, it actually houses a quartet of Daleks, who have a Dalek-shaped machine with them. These Daleks, one of which has black livery, have names - Sec, Caan, Jast and Thay. They refer to the machine as the Genesis Ark. They demand information, and Singh volunteers to give this. The Daleks drain his mind, killing him in the process.

Meanwhile, the Cybermen have invaded the entire Earth. The Doctor learns of the Daleks' arrival when a pair of Cybermen are despatched to investigate the Sphere chamber. They try to offer an alliance, but the Daleks refuse. Yvonne and Jackie are taken away to be converted. Two figures suddenly materialise in the control room - one of whom is Jake Simmonds. He destroys the Cyber-Leader and its troops, freeing the Doctor. He then uses a transportation device to take the Doctor back to the parallel Earth - arriving in their version of Torchwood. The Doctor is reunited with Pete Tyler. He learns that the Lumic Cybermen were defeated but not destroyed. One day they vanished, and it was realised that they had crossed over to the other universe. The parallel Torchwood had invented devices that could transport people across the dimensions. The Doctor insists that Pete and Jake return with him to help defeat the Cybermen. Pete is resistant, until the Doctor mentions Jackie is there. She, meanwhile, had been able to escape when the Cyber-Leader was destroyed - as her guard was upgraded automatically to become the new Leader. Yvonne was not so lucky, and has been converted.

The Doctor offers to help the Cybermen deal with the Daleks. He goes alone to the Sphere chamber and is reunited with Rose and Mickey. The Daleks are identified as the Cult of Skaro - a clique created by the Emperor during the Time War to think beyond normal Dalek logic and so defeat the Time Lords. They reveal that the Genesis Ark is not of their making. It is captured Time Lord technology, and needs a time traveller to activate it. The Cybermen attack, and in the confusion Mickey touches the machine - bringing it to life. The Daleks take it to the main storage room, whose roof opens. The Genesis Ark floats up into the sky. The Doctor and his friends rush upstairs to see what happens, and on the way Jackie gets to meet Pete when he saves her from some Cybermen. The Cybermen follow, but one of their number rebels and stops them - the converted Yvonne Hartman.

The Ark opens, and thousands of Daleks emerge. It was a Time Lord prison capsule, bigger on the inside. The Daleks and Cybermen begin fighting each other, massacring the humans who get in their way. The Doctor has been observing events using 3D spectacles, and finally has his friends ask him why. He has noticed that everyone who has passed through the Void has been soaked in a form of radiation. If he opens the anomaly fully, everything tainted will be sucked in - but that will include all of them. Everyone must retreat to Pete's World - including Rose. She refuses to leave the Doctor.
Once everyone has left - including Jackie - the Doctor and Rose open the Void. Daleks and Cybermen are all sucked in, along with the Ark. The Cult of Skaro escape by triggering an emergency temporal shift, transporting themselves through time. Rose loses her handhold and is pulled towards the breach, but at the last moment Pete appears and transports her to his world. The Void closes forever - trapping Rose on the parallel Earth.
Some weeks later, she starts to get dreams which call her to a beach in Norway. She travels there with her father, mother and Mickey. The Doctor appears - sending an image of himself through the last hole in the breach before it closes. It transpires that the location is known as Bad Wolf Bay. The Doctor is about to tell Rose how he feels about her when the connection is broken. He has little time to grieve, however, as a woman in a wedding dress has suddenly appeared in his TARDIS...

The two part finale to Series 2 was written by Russell T Davies, and was broadcast on the evenings of 1st and 8th July, 2006.
The Torchwood story arc finally plays out - though we already knew very early on that it was an organisation devoted to using alien technology in defence of Britain, and was antithetical to the Doctor. It is a direct sequel to the earlier two part Cyberman origins story, reintroducing the parallel Pete and Jake Simmonds. Graeme Harper directed all four episodes as one big recording block - so the finale was in the can long before earlier episodes.
Davies had to find a way of separating Rose from the Doctor without killing her, and so trapping her forever in a parallel universe seemed like a good option. Killing her off was out of the question, as too many young viewers identified with her and travelling in the TARDIS had to remain a positive experience. Davies makes sure that her mother is with her, and both her parents are reunited in a sense. The nice, down to earth Jackie gets to have a rich, successful Pete, and Rose has potential boyfriend material in Mickey.
This time round, the Cybermen have a Cyber-Leader - with black markings on the handle bars. We discover that when one is destroyed, leadership downloads into another unit. The Cybermen now have guns built into their forearms. When it comes to fighting against Daleks, they come off second best.
Terry nation had always fought against any kind of Dalek- Cyberman team up. It had been suggested back in 1968, but got vetoed, and we got The Wheel In Space instead. It came close in 1973, when the Cybermen were to have had the Ogron role in Frontier in Space.

As all of the Daleks had been wiped out in the previous series finale, we are introduced to the Cult of Skaro. They escaped destruction in the Time War by hiding in the Void Ship. Dalek Sec is the black one. Davies makes sure he doesn't paint himself into the corner this time round by having them transport themselves away through time - so available for a rematch.
As well as linking to previous stories, these two episodes set up a lot of what is going happen over the next two series.
Davies also elects to link the closing seconds into the forthcoming Christmas Special - rather than dwell on the grieving Doctor and Rose. This was intentional - to show that the adventure always continues.
A relatively small guest cast for a big two part finale, as most of the characters are returnees. Dr Singh is played by Raji James, and Yvonne Hartman is Tracy-Ann Oberman - best known for an Eastenders role, which gets referenced in Army of Ghosts.
Of note amongst the junior cast is Freema Agyeman as Adeole, since we are going to see a lot more of her soon. Matt is Oliver Mellor, who was in Coronation Street for a number of years, and Gareth is Hadley Fraser. There is another rare, at this stage, appearance by an actor who had appeared in the Classic Series. The chief of police is David Warwick, who had been Kimus in The Pirate Planet.
We have a number of "celebrity" cameos - I use the term loosely - in the sequence where the Doctor channel hops to learn more about the ghosts. There's Barbara Windsor banning the spectre of Den Watts from the Queen Vic pub, and medium Derek Acorah claims they are putting him out of business. The "Ghostwatch" programme is hosted by real TV presenter Alistair Appleton. We also have Trisha, with someone on her talk show claiming to be in love with a ghost. Note the explosion at the Burberry factory in her audience. Chav-tastic.
And introducing Catherine Tate as the bride...

Episode endings:
  1. The ghosts start to move into formation and are revealed to be Cybermen, whilst Rose and Mickey watch as the Sphere opens and a group of Daleks emerge and float down towards them...
  2. The breach has been closed. The Doctor stands alone in the TARDIS, tears in his eyes. As he prepares to move on, he suddenly sees a figure standing in the ship, wearing a wedding dress. Cue "What?", "What?" "WHAT!?"
  1. A newspaper reporter tries to sell his editor a story about an organisation named Torchwood. The editor asks him to bring in some evidence . He does so some time later - such as Queen Victoria's involvement and the destruction of the Sycorax spaceship. The reporter is dragged away by a pair of mysterious men, and the story spiked. We then see the reporter in a strait-jacket, shouting that Torchwood exists, and that he knows about the ghosts...
  2. A news reader announces a state of emergency. Footage is shown of troops battling Cybermen. The newsreader then calls on people to flee for their lives, including her own family if they are watching. The studio comes under attack by Daleks...

Overall... It's a Russell T Davies series finale, so there's lots to love as well as a great big Deus ex Machina to sort things out at the end. Personally I think it is one of the better series finales. A fantastic cliffhanger to episode one, and pieces fit together as Rose and her family are sent off into a new life, with resolutions for Jackie and Pete - and potentially Rose and Mickey. It rates in the top 50 of the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, and the ending to Rose and the Doctor was judged the most emotional romantic farewell ever in a Channel 4 programme. Such a pity RTD went and spoiled the ending - though plans for Rose's return in Series 4 were already underway when this was first broadcast.
Things you might like to know:

  • Episode titles were initially considered as "Torchwood Rises", and "Torchwood Falls". 
  • The "Tardisodes" get discontinued after this, which is a shame. We will later get the odd prequel once Steven Moffat takes over.
  • We will see some of the aftermath of the Battle of Canary Wharf in Torchwood Series 1, when it is revealed that Ianto Jones was present and tried to save his partially converted girlfriend Lisa.
  • Harriet Jones is the President of the UK in Pete's World. She clearly doesn't get a chance to usher in a golden age in our universe, so perhaps the Doctor has experienced more of Pete's World than we have seen.
  • Producer Phil Collinson wanted it to be Mickey who saved Rose from being sucked into the Void at the conclusion - showing that he still loved her even if she no longer loved him. Exec-Producer Julie Gardner argued for it to be Pete, to show that he had accepted her as his daughter.
  • As mentioned, Tracy-Ann Oberman was well known for Eastenders. She had played the wife of "Dirty Den" Watts, and had been responsible for murdering him - hence the in-joke of his appearance in the Queen Vic as a ghost. What the Cyberman would have thought about being confronted by Barbara Windsor, lord only knows.
  • And yes, dialogue had already shown that Eastenders was a TV programme in the Doctor Who universe, but this puts the top hat on it. Dimensions In Time can definitely be written off from the canon. Hooray!
  • A few BBC spoilers before this was broadcast. The Radio Times had featured an article about Neil Gorton's team several weeks before - and in the background to a photo of him was a Cyberman head with black Cyber-Leader handle-bars - though none had appeared in the Rise of the Cybermen two-parter. A trailer for the second half of the season had also shown a clip of a Cyberman bursting through plastic sheeting - again absent from the earlier story. These let us know that the ghosts were going to be Cybermen, and not the Gelth as some fans had speculated.
  • The BAFTA ceremony that Spring had also featured an appearance by a Dalek on the red carpet - and it was a black one. The same trailer that had shown us the Cybermen were coming back also showed people being killed with the Dalek extermination effect.
  • It was widely believed that the Genesis Ark was going to contain Davros - partly because of its design but also due to that name.
  • Broadcast coincided with the World Cup latter stages, so the Radio Times had two cover variants to collect - a Cyber one and a Dalek one, with the monsters holding footballs.
  • The Ghostbusters bit is quite naff - but that was a thing you already knew.
  • The Eternals, from Enlightenment, get a mention. They have a name for the Void - the Howling.
  • The Doctor informs us of his liking for "Allons-y" for the first time. It will become a crucial plot point in a later story, and he will also get to meet an Alonso to say it to soon.
  • Watch out for the guy who gets on the bus behind Rose in the opening medley. The camera set up inside sees him sit immediately behind her, but the next shot from out on the street shows him seated further back.
  • And the alien planet with the manta rays was filmed on Bad Wolf Bay - that rock formation is going to become incredibly familiar - using stock CGI elements already created by The Mill.
  • The Egyptian sarcophagus at Torchwood is indeed supposed to be a reference to Pyramids of Mars
  • The spaceship found at the base of Mount Snowden will get another mention in David Tennant's final story, as it was from this that the Immortality Gate was salvaged. In the SJA story featuring Matt Smith's Doctor, UNIT have a base at the foot of the mountain.
  • The Fall of Arcadia is mentioned. We will later get to see that this is actually the second city of the Time Lords on Gallifrey, and we will get to witness it as well.
  • As mentioned above, this finale was filmed along with the other Cyberman story, so the last story filmed for Series 2 was the Impossible Planet two-parter. David Tennant had to be sneaked out of the wrap party to film the concluding sequence with Catherine Tate, who had been smuggled to the studio in Cardiff.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

B is for... Beyus

Leader of the people of the planet Lakertya. When the Rani arrived with her Tetrap soldiers, Beyus elected to co-operate with her. In this way he hoped to save lives. One young man - Ikona - saw his actions as capitulation and collaboration, and thought him weak. When the newly regenerated Doctor arrived on the planet, he too argued against Beyus' behaviour. Beyus saw his daughter, Sarn, killed by one of the Rani's deadly traps, and began to doubt what he had done, but persevered with his help for the Rani. He wanted her to complete her work then leave them alone. However, he discovered that her experiments would result in the destruction of Lakertya, and so finally made a stand. He sacrificed himself to blow up the Rani's Time Brain and delay the launch of her missile that was due to explode an asteroid composed of incredibly dense Strange Matter.

Played by: Donald Pickering. Appearances: Time and the Rani (1987).

  • This is Pickering's third and final appearance in Doctor Who. He first appeared as Eyesen in episodes 5 and 6 of The Keys of Marinus in 1964, then returned in 1967 as the Chameleon copy of Captain Blade in The Faceless Ones - when one of his co-stars, as in Time and the Rani, was Wanda Ventham.

B is for... Bevan (Nikki & Jonah)

The Rift in time and space which ran through Cardiff often left behind alien beings and artefacts, but occasionally it also took things - and people. A boy named Jonah Bevan went missing one night on his way home. CCTV showed him on the Cardiff Bay barrage, disappearing in a blaze of light. PC Andy Bell introduced Gwen Cooper to a support group for the relatives of missing people, run by Jonah's mother Nikki.
Gwen found that Jack was deliberately frustrating her efforts to investigate Jonah's disappearance. She discovered the existence of a complex hidden beneath one of the islands in the bay. It was a medical facility, set up by Jack to care for those who had been taken by the Rift and later returned. Jonah was here - but he was now a mature man. He had been badly burned, and driven insane. He had looked into the heart of a Dark Star, and would scream for 20 hours a day.

Gwen was determined that Nikki deserved the truth about her son - no matter how difficult that proved to be. She took her to the facility. At first Nikki could not believe that this was her son, but he remembered things from his childhood only Jonah would know. She then experienced his screaming. Later she told Gwen that she would rather have not known the truth, but promised not to tell anyone about the facility.

Played by: Ruth Jones (Nikki), Robert Pugh (adult Jonah), Oliver Ferriman (young Jonah). Appearances: Adrift (TW: 2.11 - 2008).

  • Ruth Jones MBE is best known as co-creator / writer (with James Corden) on Gavin & Stacey, and for the title role in Stella.
  • A little claim to fame here - I took part in a charity quiz once, and Robert Pugh was on an opposing team. We beat them.

B is for... Bettan

A young Thal woman whom the Doctor met in their city. He had just failed to stop the launch of the Thal missile which had destroyed the Kaled city, and the Doctor feared that Sarah and Harry had been killed in the explosion. The Doctor saved her when the Daleks arrived to begin exterminating her people. Escaping to the wilderness of Skaro, the Doctor tasked her with finding as many survivors of either side as she could, along with some of the Mutoes - to form an army against Davros and his creations. Bettan led them to the Kaled bunker, where they set about mining the entry - planning on entombing the Daleks. Sarah and Harry talked her into delaying blowing the charges until after the Doctor had a chance to escape with the Time Ring they needed to be reunited with the TARDIS

Played by: Harriet Philpin. Appearances: Genesis of the Daleks (1975).