Wednesday, 20 February 2019

CGI: Gallifrey


Reading between the lines of the article in the most recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine, about the new effects and location scenes for Logopolis' Blu-ray debut, there is a suggestion that it is intended that each box set might have at least one story with new visual effects. Both of the sets already released have had one story with new effects - Revenge of the Cybermen in the Season 12 set, and Castrovalva in the Season 19 one. New VFX would obviously be a good marketing ploy for those who don't see the need to replace their DVD collection with costly box sets just for some new documentaries which might turn up on You Tube one day anyway.
For Logopolis, they have not only added new CGI material, but they have also shot alternative scenes at the location where the story was originally to have been filmed - Jodrell Bank in Cheshire.
Optional new CGI effects have been on offer since the earliest days of the DVD releases. The first release to have them, back in 2002, was The Ark in Space, where viewers could have the model shots of the space station and the rocket ship replaced.


Doctor Who fans idolise the VFX people and have always forgiven them for the odd dud effects shots, and some people thought that replacing model shots with new CGI effects was tantamount to blasphemy. However, no-one really complained as the new effects were entirely optional, and had to be chosen from the "Special Features" menu - so not even the default setting. Compare with the outcry when the first Star Wars trilogy was released with new effects, plus some major changes - such as replacing the actor who originally played Anakin Skywalker (Sebastian Shaw) with Hayden Christensen - and purchasers were denied the option of seeing the original versions.
Another early release to be given the CGI treatment was The Dalek Invasion of Earth, where the shot of Battersea Power station was replaced, as well as the more substantial upgrade of the Dalek spaceships - from a pastry cutter dangling on strings in front of a photo of the Houses of Parliament, to snazzy Century 21-style saucers, which went on to be used in the series itself when it returned to the screen in 2005.


Over the years a number of other DVD releases have offered these optional CGI effects - often alternatives to model shots or fancier laser beams. Some releases have included new sequences that were poorly realised in the original broadcast version - such as the destruction of Irongron's castle in The Time Warrior, or of the freighter in Earthshock.
For the most part, I have been perfectly happy with the new effects, and will generally watch the discs with these switched on. I can understand why purists might object and insist on watching the stories as they were originally shown - but unless you are watching the 1960's stories on an old 405-line TV set, that takes half an hour to warm up, then you aren't actually viewing them as broadcast anyway.
Why put up with the pastry cutter Dalek ships when you can have the lovely saucers?
One VFX which was certainly worth replacing was the giant Mara snake which features in Part Four of Kinda. For the DVD release, just this one sequence was upgraded. Instead of the patently plastic pink thing we saw back in 1982, we now have the option of seeing a much more impressive, far more realistic snake.


One story I am in two minds about, though, is The Invisible Enemy. This had some fantastic model sequences, courtesy of the great Ian Scoones. The DVD release retains some of these but replaces many others. Whilst giving Titan a murky yellow smog for an atmosphere might be more scientifically accurate, the original sequences just look much better. However, I was never happy with K9's blaster effect, and it is nice to see that they got rid of that obviously pre-cut pillar which Leela asks the mechanical mutt to knock down into a barrier. The new effects also sort out the mistake of having the Bi-Al Foundation shown already damaged before the space-shuttle crashes into it.
And whilst the exploding castle is far better than the stock footage of a quarry explosion that was originally used for The Time Warrior, the new CGI sequence looks a little cartoon-y.
I'm very glad they chose to offer new effects for Revenge of the Cybermen, as it has always jarred when you watch this after viewing The Ark in Space with its new effects turned on.
It should be noted that even having millions of dollars to spend, and companies of the standing of Industrial Light & Magic or Weta on board, does not guarantee an escape from dud VFX shots.
I read an on-line article recently titled "The 50 Worst Special Effects in Movie History" - link below - and there are some very big movies included in the list, including work from the likes of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.
https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/50-worst-special-effects-movie-history/
Having seen most of the films on the list, I found myself nodding along in agreement throughout, and even guessed some of the ones that would feature in advance.


So, what stories still to be released on Blu-ray might get the new CGI treatment? There's an interesting shot in the making-of documentary on the DVD release of The Web Planet, of one of the Larvae Guns firing. It appears to have added CGI, which leads me to wonder if they once considered having optional new effects for this story. Presumably the clip comes from a test sequence. Apart from the Larvae Guns, there aren't really that many FX shots in the story that need replacing, however. The Chase might benefit from some changes - such as a new version of the Mechonoid city, or an enhanced Dalek-Mechonoid battle sequence. That Mary Celeste model certainly ought to go. It wasn't until Genesis of the Daleks that we actually saw the Daleks fire their death ray, so Dalek firepower could be upgraded for any of their stories prior to this. (Day of the Daleks has a whole CGI VFX-heavy Special Edition already).
Two other B&W stories that might benefit from VFX upgrades are The Dominators, and The Seeds of Death. The former has some rather poor model work in the first and fifth episodes. The latter has a couple of lacklustre rocket base models - one for Earth and one on the Moon, which appear to be the same model with a different backdrop. The story lacks any good establishing shots of the moonbase, where more than half the story is set.
Pertwee stories might be harder to work with, as many of them have picture quality issues at the best of times. CGI sea serpents and Drashigs might be an idea for Carnival of Monsters, and I can't be the only one who'd like to see the 10,000 strong Dalek army in Planet of the Daleks not realised using a couple of dozen Louis Marx toy versions.
In the same way that Revenge jarred after watching Ark, so any K9 story looks bad after seeing the blaster effect used for The Invisible Enemy and for The Invasion of Time. I'd like to see all his stories upgraded if only for this one effect to be improved.
One other Tom Baker story I'd like them to tackle - again for just one FX sequence - is The Android Invasion. We get a very good look at Guy Crayford's spaceship, and it looks absolutely nothing like a Saturn 5 rocket - stock footage of which they use for the spaceship's lift-off.


It actually hurts to watch.
There are fewer stories which would benefit from upgrades once you get into the 1980's. A few Davison stories have already been given the new CGI option - including Earthshock, the whole of the Black Guardian trilogy and The Five Doctors. Regarding the former, there were two Fiona Cumming directed stories where she went back and re-edited them into slightly condensed movie versions, with new VFX. Enlightenment works quite well, but the same can't be said of Planet of Fire, which has too much material cut out of it, as well as being given a whole new prologue sequence that doesn't fit well at all.
No amount of fancy new CGI effects can save some stories, however. I'm looking at you, Twin Dilemma and Timelash. I'm sure Colin Baker would love to have his costume CGI'd out from every one of his episodes.


Of course, the one story we would all love to see given new VFX - one which even the purists would accept - is Invasion of the Dinosaurs. I've written about this before, but that was a while ago so I'll repeat. There aren't actually that many dinosaur scenes in the story where you also have people in shot. Scenes where you see the Doctor or the Brigadier in shot with a dinosaur are few and far between - and in some cases the actors are only seen in long shot. There is no reason why the dinosaur sequences couldn't be cut out completely and replaced, with new actors playing UNIT soldiers, such as the scene early in Episode 2 where they fire at a T-Rex, and they could employ body doubles for Pertwee and Courtney for those long shots.
I'll be sorely disappointed if, when they get round to releasing the Series 11 Blu-ray box set, we don't get some decent CGI dinosaurs.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Know Your Daleks No. 248


The Recon Dalek.
Daleks lack subtlety. If they want to take over your planet, they simply turn up in a fleet of spaceships and invade. However, this was not always the case. In the past, a special Reconnaissance Dalek was sent out in advance of the invasion force to check out the planet's defences and suitability for exploitation, and to report back before the fleet made its move. These Daleks went so deeply undercover that no-one had ever heard of them for the last 55 years.
They had a number of special abilities which made them a formidable foe, but they tended to be prone to defeat at the hands of primitive societies armed only with swords, spears and axes. The Recon Daleks had been trained to deal with laser weapons etc, so when one of them encountered an army of Anglo-Saxon warriors in Dark Ages Britain, it got its backside whipped. These warriors decided to cut the Dalek mutant into three parts and bury them in parts of the world that hadn't actually been discovered yet. This amazing foresight extended to them realising that the three bits of dead Dalek might just conceivably come back to life again and magically transport themselves together. Their amazing foreknowledge did not stretch as far as planning any contingency should one of the guardians of the three bits get killed before they could reach their destination. Nor did they bother checking in with this part of the operation to make sure that the bit was actually being guarded. No-one questioned the lack of a Christmas Card from Yorkshire in 1500 years.
Back on Skaro, meanwhile, the Emperor Dalek decided that the Recon Daleks were rubbish and a waste of resources, and so discontinued the programme.
The descendants of the original guardians were mightily peeved when they realised that they really should have checked up on the Yorkshire guardians sooner, as some archaeologists dug up the British bit in January 2019 - the only archaeologists in recorded history not to be in the pub on a Bank Holiday. Recon Daleks merely needed ultra-violet light to spring back to life and teleport their assorted bits back to base to become reanimated.
Unlike other Dalek mutants, they could take over the mind of a person whom they physically latched on to - which was handy for getting around.
The person would then be compelled to kill people and to help build a new shell for it.
Recon Daleks were programmed to seek out the most useless materials to build their new shells, in the event that they were ever hacked to pieces by primitive warriors, armed only with swords, spears and axes. They were genetically programmed not to seek out the nearest high-tech manufactories of special metals, or any other industries which could supply half-decent shells.
In order to fulfill its mission, knowing that its fleet would have been hanging around in space for 1500 years waiting for its report, only rusty old bits of iron would do for making a new casing. Corroded metals clearly provide the maximum defensive capabilities. If Dalekenium shells could fall prey to swords, spears and axes, then some rusty farm machinery must surely be of superior defence against tanks, machine guns and bazookas. If the farm you raid has some ballistic missiles hanging around, so much the better. These can be housed in the skirt bumps, of which there are only three to each skirt panel, rather than the usual four.
The new shells can be built remarkably quickly - in just the time it takes, say, for someone to hold a conversation with their estranged father in a cafe.
As far as the Doctor is concerned, it really helps if her companions' estranged fathers are carrying around combination microwave ovens on a Bank Holiday - as you do. That's because such ovens contain components which are even more effective than swords, spears and axes at destroying Recon Daleks, and work even better than tanks, machine guns and bazookas.
A word of caution. In the event that the Recon Dalek loses yet another shell, it can still run around and attack people - estranged fathers are particularly at risk. If this happens, simply park your TARDIS alongside a convenient Black Hole or super nova and wait for the Recon Dalek to be sucked into it. Works every time.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Inspirations - The Face of Evil


The Face of Evil was initially advertised by the BBC as the first story of a new season. The Deadly Assassin had finished in the run up to Christmas, and it was decided to have a short break before the next adventure aired. Episode One was broadcast on New Year's Day, 1977.
The writer is someone we haven't met yet - Chris Boucher. You will have seen that very few new writers have come on board since the 1970's began. Boucher had submitted a script called "The Silent Scream" which had impressed Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe. He was asked to go away and come up with a new storyline based on that old chestnut, the Mad Computer. They're ten a penny these days, but Doctor Who had only featured deranged computers a couple of times before this - e.g. The War Machines and The Green Death.
As the story developed, it went through a number of title changes. Initially it was "The Dreamers of Phados", and then "Prime Directive", before becoming "The Mentor Conspiracy". After a spell titled "The Tower of Imolo" it settled upon "The Day God Went Mad" - possibly one of the best titles we never had. With Mary Whitehouse causing problems for the BBC, it was decided that this was a little too controversial, so The Face of Evil ended up as the title under which Boucher's scripts were eventually broadcast.


Boucher was given one story element which he had to include - a one-off companion for the Doctor. She was to be someone whom the Doctor could mentor, a character unlike the recent contemporary Earth companions such as Liz, Jo, Sarah and Harry.
Whilst Holmes tended to look to classic Horror / Sci-Fi movies for inspiration, Boucher has stated that his main inspiration was a science fiction novel named Captive Universe, written by Harry Harrison, and published in 1969. This tells the tale of a young Aztec man named Chimal, whose people have been cut off within an isolated valley by an earthquake which occurred generations ago. There are two villages, separated by a river, and both societies live under strict religious laws which ban the two groups from intermingling. An evil goddess kills anyone who ventures beyond the river. Chimal wants to know what lies beyond the valley and falls foul of the priests who run things. Facing sacrifice, he is helped to escape by his mother - who is then killed in his place once he has gone.
In The Face of Evil we have two societies separated by a barrier which is patrolled by a deadly god-like entity, one of which is dominated by its priest or shaman (Neeva), and Leela is the young tribe member who questions things. He father is killed in her place.


Once he escapes from the valley, Chimal discovers a network of strange tunnels, and emerges to find that he is actually on board a vast generational spaceship. His people are the passengers, being taken to a new life on another planet. The crew of the ship have been in command so long they have forgotten their true purpose and the ship has flown past its target world. They resemble the Tesh, seen in this Doctor Who story, whilst Chimal's people are clearly the Sevateem equivalent.
Chimal's presence outside of his own community eventually leads to the ship being set back on its intended course.
Taking this story as a backdrop, Boucher develops his two societies, who have been separated by their spaceship's computer, Xoanon. A xoanon was an ancient Greek statuette of a god.
Way back in 1966, there was Doctor Who story called The Ark - about another generational spaceship. This story had been structured in two halves - with the second pair of episodes showing the TARDIS return to the Ark to show the consequences of the Doctor's intervention in the first two episodes. The Face of Evil also shows us the consequences of the Doctor's previous interventions - this time referring to some unscreened adventure.


At some point in his current incarnation, the Doctor had helped a spaceship crew known as the Mordee Expedition, who we will later discover had originally come from Earth or one of its colonies.
Their computer was damaged, and so the Doctor used his own mind to help repair it via a memory transfer. What he hadn't realised was that the computer was just developing its own artificial intelligence. His memory print caused the computer to become mentally unstable. When the Survey Team set off to explore the planet, leaving the technicians behind on the ship, Xoanon decided to embark on a eugenics experiment. It set up a force barrier to keep the two groups apart, in order to study how they developed in isolation.
Cut off from their ship, the Survey Team degenerated technologically over the centuries to become a hunter-gatherer society, dominated by superstition based on ancient memories of their origins. Xoanon set itself up as their god. The Technicians, confined within the ship, developed an ascetic lifestyle, also dominated by the computer.
Xoanon by this time had developed a split personality - its own in a constant struggle with elements of the Doctor's personality which had been left behind.
When the Doctor arrives he can't recall being on this planet before - yet the Sevateem he encounters all recognise him as the Evil One who has imprisoned their god. He discovers why this should be the case when Leela shows him a mountain beyond which Xoanon is said to be held captive. This has the Doctor's face carved into it - an image clearly inspired by Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, which has the features of four US Presidents carved into it - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Construction began in October 1927, and it was finally completed in October 1941.


The story thereafter is pretty much the Doctor having to navigate between the two societies as he endeavours to undo the damage he did when he first tried to fix the computer.
He is joined in his adventures by Leela, who was named after the Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled. She came to prominence when she took part in the hijacking of TWA Flight 840 on 29th August 1969, which was en route to Rome from Tel Aviv. All the passengers and crew were released unharmed after the flight had been diverted to Damascus, though the aircraft was subsequently damaged by the hijackers. After her photograph had appeared in the international press, she underwent plastic surgery so that she would not be recognised when she carried out further hijackings. In September 1970 she was part of a team which attempted multiple hijackings. The El Al flight she was on was diverted to London Heathrow where she was arrested, though she was released soon afterwards as part of a hostage exchange.
Cast as Leela was Louise Jameson. Tom Baker took an instant dislike to the character, which resulted in him being less than cordial towards the actor playing her. He was unhappy with her skimpy leather costume, and Leela's propensity towards violence - especially her use of the knife and the toxic Janis Thorns. The latter were supposed to be pronounced as in Janice, but this was changed to sounding like the Roman god Janus when Baker and Jameson thought they sounded like a one-hit wonder female singer from the early 60's.
The revealing costume was designed deliberately for the benefit of the dads who would be watching.
Whilst Baker hated the character, Holmes and Hinchcliffe liked Leela and decided to keep her on for further stories.
One of the Tesh is seen briefly wearing a spacesuit. The helmet which forms part of this costume has an interesting history. It was first seen being worn by one of the alien delegates in the Dalek stories Mission to the Unknown and The Daleks' Master Plan It was then reused in Season 10, appearing in both Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks. Its last outing was in The Android Invasion. It had originally been made for the ABC science fiction serial Pathfinders to Mars back in 1960.


Fans have long debated just when the Fourth Doctor first encountered the Mordee expedition, as many of the Tom Baker stories up to this point don't have much opportunity for missing adventures to be slotted in between them. It can't have been a previous incarnation of the Doctor, due to the whole Face of Evil bit.
One popular theory is that the Doctor slipped away from the UNIT HQ sickbay just after his last regeneration and met the expedition then. This might explain why he made such a botched job of things, if he was still getting over the regeneration trauma.
The Doctor does not intend to take Leela with him when he departs. She rushes into the TARDIS ahead of him and somehow manages to dematerialise the ship all by herself - something which has annoyed fans ever since.
Next time: Agatha Christie meets Dune. With robots.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Prisoner of the Judoon - SJA 3.1


In which Sarah Jane Smith goes to the offices of Genetec to interview its director, Mr Yorke, about his nanotechnology advances. She raises concerns about what might happen if the nanoforms escaped into the environment - prompting Yorke to ask her to leave. Later that day, Sarah and her young friends are alerted to an object heading from space towards London. This proves to be a crashing spaceship. Mr Smith picks up a distress call from the pilot - a Judoon officer. UNIT are heading for the main crash site, but Mr Smith has identified the landing place for an escape capsule. Worried about what would happen if UNIT and the Judoon clashed, Sarah decides that they will deal with the capsule and its occupants themselves. They trace its crash site to a derelict housing estate. As they leave Bannerman Road, they are interrupted by Rani's mum Gita, on the lookout for opportunities for her florist business. She hopes that Sarah's connections might be able to open some corporate doors. Sarah sends her to Genetec.
Once at the crash site, they are confronted by an injured Judoon - Captain Tybo. He was transporting a dangerous alien criminal named Androvax, who has now managed to escape.


Whilst Luke and Rani look after Tybo, Sarah and Clyde hear a scream coming from a nearby hall. They locate a small girl who wants to know where her mother has gone. However, Sarah has been scanning and identifies the child as alien. Androvax emerges from her body then merges into Sarah's. He is a member of the Veil species, which can inhabit the bodies of others. Clyde is placed in a trance. He is found by the others who wake him up. The Judoon commandeers a police car in order to give chase. The possessed Sarah goes to the attic where she learns of the earlier visit to Genetec, and decides to go and see Mr Yorke again. Tybo and the others arrive soon after, to discover that Androvax has set Mr Smith to self-destruct...


Luke is able to make Mr Smith halt the countdown, and it tells them that Sarah has gone to Genetec. Gita, meanwhile, has also gone there with Haresh and a load of plants. She intends to leave them around the building in the hope of being given a contract to provide a regular supply. Haresh is worried that they have basically broken in. Sarah / Androvax confronts Mr York and releases the nanoforms, which begin to devour the building. Androvax wants the to build him a new spaceship so that he can flee the planet. Determined that the Judoon captain will not kill Sarah in order to get at Androvax, Clyde and Rani lock Tybo in a laboratory. Androvax captures Luke in order to use him to help create the spaceship, and he will require him to also help pilot it. Tybo calls upon reinforcements as a Judoon spaceship enters the solar system. A number of them beam down to the Genetec premises - witnessed by Gita and Haresh.


The nanoforms become dormant in low temperatures, so Clyde and Rani use fire extinguishers to subdue them. The spaceship is nearing completion on the roof of the building. Luke steals its power source and forces Androvax to release his mother in exchange for it. The Judoon arrive and recapture him before he can use it. Luke then uses the ship's computer to deactivate the rest of the nanoforms. Tybo decides to punish Clyde and Rani for obstructing him in the line of his duties by grounding them - banning them from leaving Earth. When they get back to Bannerman Road, Gita tells them all about her encounter with aliens.


Prisoner of the Judoon was written by Phil Ford, and was first broadcast on 15th and 16th October, 2009. It marks the beginning of the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
To help launch the new series, a popular alien was drafted in from Doctor Who - the rhinoceros-like Judoon police force. Being somewhat dimwitted and pedantic, a lot of fun could be had with them. It was policy that the Daleks and Cybermen would never be used in the SJA, as they didn't fit with the programme's lighter, more optimistic (and death-free) tone.
As with Smith and Jones and The Stolen Earth only one Judoon is ever seen without its helmet - Captain Tybo. The others all wear their helmets, as only one animatronic mask existed. Once again Paul Kasey plays the principle Judoon, and Nick Briggs provides the voice.


Androvax of the Veil - the "Destroyer of Worlds" - is a new reptilian bipedal alien. He is played by Mark Goldthorp. The character was given a long CGI tongue, which was also used for the human characters whom he merged with. The other guest artist is Terence Maynard, playing Mr Yorke.
Rani's parents, Gita and Haresh, have a strong role to play in the proceedings, with a comic subplot of their own - and they finally get a glimpse of the sort of life their daughter leads, although they never catch sight of Sarah, Luke, Clyde and Rani at Genetec's premises. Lis Sladen also gets to play evil for a change, as she is possessed by Androvax for most of the two episodes.


Overall, a fun way to start the new season. The sequence where Tybo commandeers the police car and insists on sticking to the speed limit, then orders another driver to turn his music down at gun point, stands out.
Things you might like to know:
  • This was Nick Brigg's only contribution to The Sarah Jane Adventures. He had already appeared in Torchwood: Children of Earth by this point, so this makes him one of only a handful of people to feature in all three series.
  • Mr Smith identifies the spaceship Androvax is creating as similar to one which crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and is stored in Area 51. An animated Doctor Who story featuring David Tennant was in production at the time this SJA story was made - Dreamland - and it used the same spaceship design as the one seen here.
  • The third series of SJA begins with an on screen monologue spoken by Daniel Anthony (Clyde), which lets new viewers know a little about the background to the series, and features clips from forthcoming episodes. This had previously been seen in a cinema trailer for the series. It will be used again for the fourth and fifth series, with appropriate new episode footage inserted.
  • A number of police / crime TV series are referenced in the dialogue throughout the story - generally courtesy of Clyde. Series mentioned include Softly, Softly (1966 - 69), Starsky and Hutch (1975 - 79), I Spy (1965 - 68) and 24 (2001 - 14).

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Inspirations - The Deadly Assassin


Aren't all assassins deadly? You'd have to be a pretty inept one not to be. Some Doctor Who story titles are clumsy, and some make little or no sense, whilst others can be downright misleading. This story title certainly has a certain clunkiness about it.
Once Lis Sladen had announced her departure, Tom Baker - now fully established in the role of the Doctor and with ideas of his own about the character and the programme in general - began to argue against the need for him having a companion. A new companion was already being developed, however - lined up to appear in the last half of the season at least. This would be an Eliza Doolittle-type character whom the Doctor would teach and mentor. She wouldn't be introduced until the fourth story of the season, and so Philip Hinchcliffe decided to indulge his star with a single companion-less story - to demonstrate how this set-up wouldn't work, if anything. As this would need someone very familiar with the format of the show to write it, special dispensation was sought from the Writers Guild for the series' Script Editor to do it. Script Editors commissioning themselves was generally frowned upon, but permission was granted, and so Robert Holmes began work. This would have financial implications for him, as we will see when we get to The Sunmakers.


After a couple of years of horror movie homages, Holmes decided to write a political thriller - to be set on Gallifrey, the Doctor's homeworld. It had first featured in 1969 at the conclusion of Patrick Troughton's tenure, when the Doctor was brought home to face trial for interfering in the affairs of other races. After a brief glimpse at the beginning of Colony in Space, when the Time Lords had begun sending the Doctor on secret missions - breaking their own rules - it was only seen again when it came under attack by Omega. It took three Doctors to defeat him, but the Time Lords rewarded him by lifting the exile imposed after the trial.
Holmes was aware of the seeming hypocrisy of those missions which the Time Lords had sent the Doctor on, and came to think of them as being more than just aloof god-like beings. If Gallifreyan society was so great, why had the Doctor left it? Also, what was it about all these rogue Time Lords knocking about the cosmos - especially his own creation, the Master? As well as the Master, we had also seen the time-meddling Monk, the War Chief, Omega and, more recently, Morbius (in a story heavily rewritten by Holmes himself). If Time Lord society could produce renegades like this, then it had to have a darker side.
Holmes envisaged Gallifrey as something akin to an ancient University, like Oxford or Cambridge - full of elderly male dons who knew little about the world beyond their quads and cloisters. He also based it on the Vatican - an enclosed society of strict hierarchy, again populated by elderly men, out of touch with the modern world.
The names and titles of the characters reflect these influences. Borusa is a Cardinal (a senior Catholic cleric), Goth - from the word Gothic - is a Chancellor (a university title). The Castellan (the governor of a castle or fortress) is named Spandrell - a Gothic architectural feature. The Commentator is called Runcible - a made-up nonsense word devised by the High Victorian poet Edward Lear for his 1871 ode The Owl and the Pussycat. (It was later used as the name for a sort of trifurcated spoon).
The main council chamber is called the Panopticon. This was a type of prison designed by the 18th Century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in which the cells were built in a circle surrounding a central tower, so that the guards could easily observe the inmates at all times. The word comes from 'all seeing' - which is suggestive of how the Time Lords look down upon the universe.


Holmes set the action within the Capitol on Gallifrey, citadel of the Time Lords. There are hints that not everyone who lives on Gallifrey is a Time Lord. Who is Commentator Runcible broadcasting to, for instance? Then we have the security forces - the Chancellery Guards. A very lowly position for a Time Lord, surely, and they don't seem to regenerate when they are killed.
Another inspiration for the kind of Time Lord society envisaged by Holmes might be the Gormenghast trilogy of books by Mervyn Peake, published between 1946 and 1959. These describe a vast crumbling castle where everyone is bound by archaic ritual.
For the main villain, Hinchcliffe and Holmes decided to bring back the Master. As Roger Delgado had died in 1973 it was necessary to recast the role. The actor chosen was Peter Pratt, best known for radio drama and who was famed for his work with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Director David Maloney was a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan, and knew he needed someone with a good voice as the part would be played from under a mask. In order to give the character motivation, it was decided to have the Master reduced to a walking cadaver, barely existing at the end of his incarnations. (Holmes invented in this story the notion that Time Lords can only regenerate 12 times, and so have only 13 incarnations. This would have been a safe thing to do, when they were only on the fourth incarnation in 13 years. Holmes wasn't to know that the 1980's would see them whizz through Doctors). The Master's monstrous appearance, and his lurking in the catacombs beneath the Capitol, seem to have been inspired by The Phantom of the Opera - something which Holmes would revisit at the end of this season.


The Hand of Fear had concluded with the Doctor receiving a telepathic summons to return to Gallifrey - necessitating the departure of Sarah, as she is unable to go with him. This implies a law of the Time Lords, but it might simply be something he made up, as we now see that he had a vision of the President being assassinated - and it is he who has pulled the trigger. When the TARDIS arrives, the Doctor learns that it is Presidential Resignation Day. He slips past the guards and goes to the Panopticon wearing purloined robes, in order to stop the killing. He is decoyed up to the higher levels, and the assassin shoots the President from close at hand - but the Doctor is the interloper found to be holding a rifle.
The inspiration for all this is clearly the assassination of President John F Kennedy, on 22nd November 1963 - the day before Doctor Who was first broadcast. In particular, the inspiration derives from the commonly held belief that Lee Harvey Oswald was merely a patsy - set up as a scapegoat by others, and the shots which killed JFK came from somewhere else (the famous grassy knoll).
Most reference works will mention the book / movie The Manchurian Candidate as a primary inspiration for The Deadly Assassin. This deals with American soldiers being brainwashed by the Chinese, in league with powerful US communist sympathisers, into carrying out a political assassination. The book was written by Richard Condon and published in 1959. It was filmed in 1962, starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury. The 2004 remake, with Denzil Washington, replaced the communists with a big business syndicate.


The problem of not having a companion makes itself felt very early on, as the Doctor is forced to talk to himself for much of the first episode. He is then teamed up with Castellan Spandrell and with Co-Ordinator Engin, who basically become one-off companions in parts two and four.
The third episode is the one that everyone remembers, however. The Time Lords have this thing called the Matrix - which is a repository for the minds of every Time Lord who has ever died. This allows them to predict future events. The Doctor realises that the Master must have access to the Matrix - otherwise how was he able to prevent the Time Lords foreseeing the assassination, and for it to have been transmitted to the Doctor's mind.
In order to track down his old enemy, the Doctor decides that he must join his mind to the Matrix, and so enters a nightmare realm which is under the control of the Master and the real assassin, whose mind is also there. We have a series of adventures in this dreamscape, many of which are quite surreal. Apart from the Third Doctor's fight with the dark side of Omega's mind in The Three Doctors, we haven't seen much in the way of surrealism in the series. The closest would have been the Second Doctor story The Mind Robber, set in the Land of Fiction. The assassin proves to be Chancellor Goth - the man tipped to become the next President. He had learned that he was going to be passed over for the position, however - so assassinating the President before he could announce his successor was his only option.
The Episode Three cliffhanger - in which Goth holds the Doctor's head underwater, and Maloney opts to use a freeze-frame - brought down the wrath of Mary Whitehouse upon Philip Hinchcliffe's head, and would ultimately result in him being moved on from the programme. She had been sniping at the show for a number of years, but this was the final straw. Whitehouse had an objection to the series' cliffhangers at the best of times - feeling that children would be left for a whole week with some traumatic image. With this episode however, it was claimed that a child had told his parent that if his baby sibling did not behave then he would hold him under the bathwater until he went quiet, just like Doctor Who. The BBC upheld the complaint, and the offending sequence was shortened for the story's repeat screening the following summer.


With Goth defeated, the Master's true scheme is revealed. He plans to steal Gallifrey's energy source in order to give himself a new regeneration cycle - something which will destroy the planet. He wanted Goth to become President only so that he could acquire the various symbols of Rassilon which would enable him to achieve this aim. (It should be noted that this is the first story to mention the fabled architect of Time Lord society. Actually, pretty much everything we now think about when it comes to the Time Lords derives from this story - from Rassilon to the costumes).
The Doctor manages to win the day, saving the planet and knocking the Master down a crevasse.
The wily old Cardinal Borusa decides to manipulate the truth for public consumption - removing the Doctor's role from the narrative and making Goth out to be a hero who died saving Gallifrey.
Shortly after the Doctor departs, reminded of just why he left in the first place, Spandrell and Engin see a slightly rejuvenated Master follow close behind. Hinchcliffe and Holmes had set this up so a future production team could bring the character back with a new actor playing him.
Mrs Whitehouse was not the only person to take umbrage at this story. One of its biggest critics was the President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society - Jan Vincent-Rudzki. He was appalled at Holmes' revisionist take on the Time Lords. As far as he was concerned they ought to be the aloof, god-like beings as seen on the programme before. He was shocked to see them portrayed as decadent and corrupt, and resorting to torture to gain a confession from the Doctor. He disliked how a pair of elderly Time Lords were seen to complain of aches and pains. Basically, he didn't like that they were portrayed as human. However, I have already pointed out Holmes' own views on the Time Lords above - a society which the Doctor had rejected, and which was capable of creating monsters of its own.
Next time: One of the best story titles never used. The Doctor experiences the consequences of a previous intervention by himself, in a tale of mad computers and eugenics. Let's face it, having no companion didn't really work, so it's time to welcome Leela...

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Story 201 - Planet of the Dead


In which a young cat burglar - Lady Christina de Souza - steals the priceless Cup of Athelstan from the International Gallery in London after it has closed for the night. Discovering that her getaway driver has been arrested, she runs out onto the street and jumps aboard a No.200 bus, which is headed south of the river. She finds herself sitting next to the Doctor, who is using a device to track rhondium particles. As the vehicle passes through a tunnel under the Thames, pursued by police cars, the machine goes haywire. The police at the other end of the tunnel report that the bus has not passed through. It has vanished. On the bus, the Doctor and his fellow passengers are thrown around. When the turbulence passes, they discover that they are now stranded in the middle of a vast desert, in broad daylight. They have passed through a wormhole, which has wrecked the upper deck. Present are the driver, a woman named Angela, an older couple - Lou and Carmen - and a pair of young men, named Barclay and Nathan, as well as Christina. The Doctor has to inform them that they are now on an alien planet. The driver attempts to walk back through the wormhole - and the police back at the tunnel see his burned-up body emerge. The Doctor explains that it was the metal frame of the bus which protected them, and only it will get them all back home again. Back in London, UNIT take charge of operations. In command is Captain Erisa Magambo (whom Rose Tyler and Donna Noble had once met in an alternative timeline), and she is accompanied by the organisation's latest Scientific Adviser, Malcolm Taylor, who is a huge fan of the Doctor's. They are able to establish telephone contact with the bus thanks to the Doctor boosting a mobile phone. Malcolm tells the Doctor that the wormhole is getting bigger.


The self-assured Christina takes charge. Barclay and Nathan are tasked with digging out the bus' wheels, whilst the Doctor and Christina elect to go and explore. Carmen has mild ESP powers - she wins £10 on the lottery every single week. She senses death approaching them. The Doctor and Christina come across the wreck of a gigantic spaceship, and are then captured by a Tritovore - a bipedal insectoid creature with the head of a fly. It takes them into the ship where they meet another of its kind. The creatures accuse them of causing their ship to crash. They discover that this is the planet of San Helios, and up until one year ago it was covered in vegetation and great cities. The Tritovores had come to trade here. The Doctor wonders what could have wiped out all life here so quickly - reducing everything to sand. They discover that the spaceship flew into a swarm of massive flying manta-ray creatures, which are omnivorous. It was the swarm which destroyed all life here. The creatures have metal shells and, when they fly rapidly en masse around the planet, they generate the wormholes - which take them to new worlds to consume. Earth will be the next target. The Doctor realises that he can adapt the spaceship's power source to get the bus moving. Christina elects to use her burglary apparatus to descend into a deep pit to retrieve it. She wakes a dormant manta-ray and it attacks her. The Doctor pulls her to safety, but the creature kills the two Tritovores.


The Doctor and Christina race back to the bus, where Angela breaks the bad news that they have run out of petrol. The Doctor has brought four magnetic clamps from the Tritovore ship, and he these placed on each of the wheels. He needs a special metal to make the new engine work and so compels Christina to hand over the goblet which she had stolen from the museum, as gold will do the trick. As the alien swarm bears down on them, the bus floats up into the air and heads for the wormhole. On Earth, Captain Magambo orders Malcolm to close the portal, to stop the swarm coming through. The scientist refuses to obey her. The bus passes back through the wormhole and reappears in the road tunnel. It soars into the night sky over London. A small number of rays manage to come through after it, but these are soon dealt with, and Malcolm closes the wormhole. Captain Magambo has brought the TARDIS from the grounds of Buckingham Palace, where the Doctor had earlier parked it, and he states that he will divert the swarm to a safer location. Carmen tells the Doctor that she foresees his end. She tells him "Your song is ending, and it is returning. He will knock four times...". Christina wants to travel with the Doctor, but he rejects her. She is placed under arrest, but the Doctor then uses his sonic screwdriver to free her handcuffs and she jumps into the bus - flying off on new adventures of her own.


Planet of the Dead was written by Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast on 11th April 2009. It was the second of the special episodes which would lead up to the departure of David Tennant as the Doctor at the end of the year. The end of the Tenth Doctor is foreshadowed by Carmen's ominous prediction in the last few minutes. The broadcast date was Easter Saturday - an occasion marked in the script by having the Doctor eating an Easter egg on the bus when Christina first gets on.
This was the first episode of Doctor Who to be filmed in High Definition, which had previously been used for Torchwood's first two seasons. As such, this was the first story to get a Blu-Ray release.
The 2009 Specials employ guest artists as one-off companions. In this case, it is Michelle Ryan as Lady Christina de Souza. She had come to prominence in Eastenders and briefly played the Bionic Woman in a short-lived remake, as well as appearing as a recurring villain in the Merlin BBC TV series. Lady Christina's backstory is that her rich father lost his fortune in the collapse of the Icelandic banking system, which was topical at the time. She steals for fun as much as for profit, and it is this aspect of her character which leads the Doctor to turn down her request to join him in the TARDIS.
The bus is given the route number 200 - an acknowledgement that this was regarded as the 200th Doctor Who story since 1963. As you will have noticed from this post's title, not everyone agrees with this numbering. (See my piece on Utopia to find out why).


Co-writer Gareth Roberts had originally hoped to use his creations the Chelonians in this story. They had been devised for one of his New Adventures novels - The Highest Science. They are later name-checked as one of the alien races converging on Stonehenge in The Pandorica Opens. Roberts' novel also features a group of humans transported to an alien planet in a bus which has been brought through a spatial anomaly. The Chelonians are a warlike race of turtle-like creatures, small and squat, with big shells on their backs. It was realised after the decision was made to film this story in a real desert location that such a costume would prove too hot and bulky for the actors to perform in. The Tritovores were devised instead - Russell T Davies having a liking for creatures which were basically humanoid in form but with a recognisably Earthly animal's head. The large masks meant that they were quite cool to wear.
The story of the bus being transported to Dubai and having an unfortunate accident soon after arrival is well known, but for completeness sake I will summarise. Realising that a sandpit or beach in South Wales just wouldn't work for the story, the decision was made to film oversees - and Dubai was selected. A red London double-decker had to be bought and sent over there. It couldn't be driven, as it would have had to pass over some politically unstable borders, and was too big to be flown out. It therefore had to go by sea. It made it all the way to Dubai safely, only for a crane operator to drop a container on it at the docks. There was an initial panic, until pictures came through of the damage. RTD realised that it wasn't as bad as feared and he amended the script to take the damage into account.
They only had a few days to film, and the first of these was totally ruined by a prolonged sandstorm.


The actors who got to go abroad for filming included Tennant and Ryan, as well as the bus driver and some of the passengers. The hapless driver is played by Keith Parry. Angela is Victoria Alcock. Nathan is David Ames, who went on to become a regular on Casualty. Barclay is played by Daniel Kaluuya, one of many of the cast of the Channel 4 series Skins who have gone on to greater things. He starred in the 2017 cult hit Get Out, and appeared in Marvel Studios' massively successful Black Panther.
Lou and Carmen don't ever leave the bus, so it was a trip to Wales rather than Dubai for Reginald Tsiboe and Eastenders' Ellen Thomas.
Also stuck back in Blighty were guest artist Lee Evans, who played Malcolm, and Noma Dumezweni, reprising the role of Captain Magambo after first appearing in Turn Left in Series 4.
The policeman who is relentlessly pursuing Christina, DI McMillan, is played by Adam James, who was an old friend of David Tennant's.
The two Tritovores - Sorvin and Praygat - are played by regular monster performers Paul Kasey and Ruari Mears. Only Kasey was required on location in Dubai.


Overall, it is an middling story. The ingredients should have given us something a little more epic. Evans' slapstick is a little irritating, and Christina comes across as not terribly sympathetic as a character. Between the DWM Mighty 200 poll in 2009, and the 50th Anniversary one in early 2014, it dropped from 99th to 191st place (out of 241).
Things you might like to know:

  • There was some criticism of the choice of Dubai for filming, due to its poor reputation for human rights - especially its treatment of gay people.
  • Back in 2006, Ellen Thomas had played one of the Clockwork Droids in The Girl in the Fireplace.
  • The Doctor complains about humans on buses always blaming him - a reference to the traumatic events of Midnight.
  • The Doctor had previously built a device for detecting rhondium particles in The Time Warrior.
  • He recommends Nathan and Barclay to Magambo as potential UNIT recruits - as he had earlier helped Martha Jones join the organisation. This seems at odds with his obvious dislike for their militaristic ways.
  • Malcolm has read all of the UNIT files on the Doctor. His favourite is the one about the Giant Robot (a reference to 1974 / 5's Robot, written by Terrance Dicks).
  • Malcolm likes to give names to units of measurement - including his own. A number of Malcolms (100) are said to add up to a Bernard - as in Quatermass. Remembrance of the Daleks had intimated that Bernard Quatermass exists as a real person in the Doctor Who universe, and the Doctor has never referred to Quatermass as a TV series, in the way he has with Star Trek for instance.
  • Having played Hamlet at the RSC for the previous 6 months, David Tennant was worried that he could get the Doctor's voice right. The same thing had happened to Billie Piper when she returned in Series 4 after a long break from playing Rose.
  • The bus has a poster for a mobile phone network called "Neon" on its side. This company will prove to belong to the millionaire Joshua Naismith, who will feature in The End of Time Parts 1 & 2.
  • Adam James had Jon Pertwee as his godfather.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

G is for... Gorgon


Whilst trapped in the Land of Fiction, the Doctor and Zoe found themselves lost in a labyrinth where they were attacked by Medusa, the Gorgon. They saw the snake-haired statue come to life and advance towards them. The Doctor knew that the creature existed only as a myth, but Zoe felt compelled to look at her face. Recalling how the Greek hero Perseus had defeated the Gorgon using his polished shield, the Doctor pulled a mirror from his pocket and had Zoe look into that. The Gorgon then returned to stone.

Played by: Sue Pulford. Appearances: The Mind Robber (1968).
  • In Greek myth there were three Gorgons - the sisters Medusa, Stheno and Euryale. They were the daughters of Phorcys and Ceto. Medusa appears in both versions of the film Clash of the Titans, in which Perseus is aided by the winged horse Pegasus. In the original Greek myths, however, Pegasus was only born after she was killed - springing from her dead body.