Sunday, 19 November 2017

C is for... Cooper, Geraint & Mary

Parents of Torchwood operative Gwen Cooper. We first met them on the occasion of Gwen's marriage to long-suffering fiance Rhys. It was clear that they did not get on with his mother, Brenda. Both were shocked to see that Gwen was pregnant, as she had not informed them she was expecting a child. She was really carrying an alien Nostrovite, having only been impregnated through a bite the night before. Gwen told her parents all about her work with Torchwood after the ceremony - only for Jack to later Retcon the entire wedding party so they would not remember any of the strange events of the day.

Some time later, the surviving members of Torchwood found themselves under attack following the events of "Miracle Day", when people suddenly stopped dying. Going on the run, Gwen and Rhys left their baby Anwen with Geraint and Mary. By this point, Gwen had finally revealed the true nature of her work with Torchwood.
Geraint had suffered a couple of heart attacks prior to Miracle Day, but on suffering a third after it took place he fell into a coma. His condition meant that he was one of those who were to be cremated alive. Gwen arranged for him to be smuggled out of the hospital and he was hidden at home by Mary and Rhys. A Government official investigated and found him - and he was sent to one of the holding areas awaiting cremation. When the Miracle was overturned, Rhys was at Geraint's bedside and was able to allow him to speak to Mary by phone before he died.

Played by: William Thomas (Geraint), and Sharon Morgan (Mary). Appearances: TW 2.9 Something Borrowed (2008), TW 4: Miracle Day.

  • Thomas had previously appeared in Doctor Who twice - as the funeral parlour assistant in Remembrance of the Daleks, and as Mr Cleaver in Boom Town. He was the first actor to appear in the programme in both its classic era and the new version.

C is for... Cook, Captain

The famed interplanetary explorer, whom the Doctor and Ace encountered on the planet Segonax. He and his companion Mags had come to visit the Psychic Circus, but had stopped to excavate a buried robot on the way. The Doctor and Ace found him to be a bit of a bore, but another visitor - Whizzkid - proved to be a big fan of the Captain's travels. The Captain later exploited this to make sure Whizzkid when into the circus ring to entertain the Gods of Ragnarok before himself. He also maneuvered the Doctor and Mags into going ahead of him.
Cook had found Mags on the planet Vulpana, and knew that she was a lycanthrope. Moonlight - even artificial moonlight - would trigger her transformation and the Captain used a theatrical light to create a moon effect. He hoped that Mags would kill the Doctor, and so please the Gods, but she turned on him instead. The Gods reanimated his corpse in order to stop Ace and Kingpin from getting a powerful amulet to the Doctor. He failed, his body falling into a deep chasm.

Played by: T P McKenna. Appearances: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1988).

  • Producer John Nathan-Turner had been trying to get McKenna into the programme for a number of years. In the previous season he had been considered for both the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers and Kane in Dragonfire.

C is for... Control

A female creature who travelled with the alien entity Light. Light was cataloguing all known life in the galaxy. When he arrived on a new planet, he would send one of his creatures out to interact with the native species, whilst the other would remain on his ship to act as a control comparison. Light would hibernate until the experiment was completed. In Victorian Perivale, Control found herself imprisoned as her colleague had taken on the role of Josiah Smith, and he intended to evolve into what he saw as the ultimate human being - the head of the British Empire. Control succeeded in escaping, and began evolving herself, turning into a Victorian lady.

She freed Light, so that he could put a stop to Smith's schemes. After the Doctor had defeated Light, and Smith had been locked away, Control elected to travel the universe in Light's ship with the explorer Redvers Fenn-Cooper and the Neanderthal Nimrod.

Played by: Sharon Duce. Appearances: Ghostlight (1989).

  • Duce is married to Dominic Guard, who had played Olvir in Terminus in 1983.

C is for... Constantine, Dr.

Dr Constantine was a physician at the Royal Hope Hospital in East London during the Blitz. He helped tend to a young boy named Jamie who was brought in, badly wounded by a falling bomb. The boy survived, miraculously, and Constantine studied him in Room 802 of the hospital. Soon, everyone who had come into contact with the boy fell into a coma and began to exhibit the same physical conditions as Jamie - even down to the gas mask which seemed fused to his head. Constantine stayed on alone at the hospital to care for those affected, but he too had caught the affliction. The Doctor saw him transform into a gas masked zombified being.
Later, Jamie called upon all the affected staff and patients of the hospital when the Doctor, Rose and Jack went to the Chula ambulance ship, whose nanogenes had caused his condition. Constantine had earlier indicated that Jamie's sister, Nancy, knew more about the boy than she was saying. She was, in fact, his mother. When the nanogenes recognised the relationship and worked out the correct genetic pattern, Constantine, Jamie and all the others were returned to normal.
Constantine had lost his family in the war, and he would have looked after Nancy and Jamie after the time-travellers had departed.

Played by: Richard Wilson. Appearances: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005).

  • Wilson is best known for playing grumpy pensioner Victor Meldrew in the BBC sitcom One Foot In The Grave - catchphrase: "I don't believe it!".

C is for... Connolly, Tommy

Teenage son of Eddie and Rita Connolly, who lived on Florizel Street in North London. He talked his father into getting a TV set, as the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was due. He was horrified when his grandmother was struck down by a mysterious condition - her face rendered smooth and featureless. Many neighbours were also afflicted. Tommy worked out that his father was reporting these victims to the police, who would turn up in the middle of the night and take them away. Tommy warned the Doctor and Rose about what was happening. Later, he rebelled against his father and joined the Doctor in his investigations, accompanying him and Inspector Bishop to the electrical store belonging to Mr Magpie, from where Eddie had bought their TV. He witnessed the Wire removing Bishop's features, and saw the creature's victims trapped in TV screens. He then accompanied the Doctor to the BBC transmitter at Alexandra Palace, and helped him trap the Wire onto a video tape.
The Doctor gifted him his scooter, and also advised him not to judge his father too harshly. Tommy helped his father move out of the family home.

Played by: Rory Jennings. Appearances: The Idiot's Lantern (2006).

  • Jennings was actually in his early 20's when he played Tommy. His youthful looks often had him playing younger roles. He now presents a Chelsea FC cable show alongside his acting.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Inspirations - The Underwater Menace

By Geoffrey Orme - his only contribution to the programme. This adventure had a troubled gestation - something which we will see happening a lot over the Patrick Troughton era of the show.
Initially known as "Doctor Who Under the Sea" or "In Atlantis" or "The Fish People", it was originally going to be the new Doctor's second story. Pencilled in to direct was Hugh David. These four episodes were going to get a larger budget as well. The production team decided that the script might be too ambitious to realise, so it was shelved in favour of a story by William Emms - "The Imps". This also proved to be rather over ambitious, and so the underwater story came back to the table. David contacted a friend of his who was then working out at Pinewood on the latest Bond movie, Thunderball - the one with the all the underwater action. The friend informed David that it was impossible to achieve by Doctor Who's usual production methods, even with an increased budget. David managed to get transferred onto The Highlanders, and its scheduled director - Julia Smith - was assigned The Underwater Menace.
The production was as troubled as the script development, with the cast openly deriding the story, and the director being reduced to tears. Michael Craze was unhappy that some of his part had to be apportioned to Frazer Hines, who had just joined late in the day with the previous adventure.

The story is set in the very near future. We have references to the Mexico Olympic Games - which were scheduled to take place the year after broadcast - as Polly finds a piece of souvenir ware on the coast of the rocky volcanic island on which the TARDIS has landed. This turns out to be the remains of the lost civilisation of Atlantis, the survivors of which are dwelling in a city deep beneath the surface.
Now, every Doctor Who fan is aware that a series that has lasted more than 50 years, with nearly a dozen producers / showrunners, and with more than a dozen script / story editors, is going to have some continuity problems. Some of these continuity problems have become the stuff of legend, such as the UNIT dating conundrum, and we have always loved to debate them. Recent writers have played with these, offering off hand comments that try to plug gaps or resolve the seemingly unresolveable. The authors of the Virgin New Adventures novels apparently laboured under the delusion that they were contractually obliged to address these issues, and write entire novels that might explain why Warriors of the Deep bears no relation whatsoever to either The Silurians or The Sea Devils (to give but one example). To be honest, we'd rather these continuity glitches were left alone. If anything, we miss them when they're gone.
One of the continuity arguments used to be about Atlantis. It looked at first glance like there were three mutually exclusive versions of its destruction - two of them by the same writers exactly a year apart. (That's how bad continuity can be in Doctor Who).
This story doesn't actually pose a problem, as it doesn't really say categorically how Atlantis came to be destroyed. We're simply seeing the aftermath centuries later. In The Magician's Apprentice, however, Steven Moffat has Clara and UNIT searching for the Doctor, and so they look to see where in history he is making the most "noise". There's a line - purely for the fans - about a triple paradox with Atlantis. As I've said, the Atlantis we see here comes much later, and could be the kingdom destroyed either by Kronos or by the Daemons - or both.
(When I reviewed this story many moons ago, I came up with the idea that Atlantis could be the name of a country / continent as well as that of a city on that country / continent. Kronos could have wiped out the city, and then the Daemons came along and destroyed the wider kingdom, or vice versa).

Enough of continuity squabbles. There's another 200 odd of these Inspirations posts to go, so we won't have heard the last of them.
The Underwater Menace has a real B-Movie feel to it, with its mad scientist villain. Had this been a movie, it would have been directed by Ed Wood, and Bela Lugosi would have played Professor Zaroff. If unavailable in rehab, George Zucco would have sufficed. A movie would probably have had some kind of giant monster - probably an octopus or dinosaur. The only octopus here is an ordinary sized one - pet to Zaroff. We do get some stock footage of sharks in Part One, as the Doctor and his companions are going to be sacrificed by being dropped into a shark-infested pool.
The only "monsters" here are the Fish Workers. The publicity might have highlighted them as the monster of the week, but they only feature briefly at the close of Part One, and then have their bizarre underwater ballet sequence in Part Three. They're really quite benign creatures.
The scene mentioned above about the sharks is reminiscent of something out of one of the old adventure serials they used to show at the cinema on Saturday mornings (or indeed on BBC TV on school holiday mornings) - most famous of which is Flash Gordon.
However, it's to another adventure serial of the same era that we need to look for inspiration for this story. The Undersea Kingdom was Republic's answer to Flash, back in 1936. The star is Ray "Crash" Corrigan. He's a navy lieutenant who just happens to be a sporting hero, who joins a mission in an atomic submarine to investigate the source of a spate of earthquakes. They're being caused by the villainous Unga Khan. Unlike Zaroff, who claims to want to raise Atlantis, Khan wants to sink the rest of the planet. You can see how well he fares just by going to You Tube, where they have the entire serial. Don't watch the episodes back to back, however. Play the game, and spend a week trying to work out how he's going to get out of that one...

If you are a fan of publications such as Fortean Times, you'll be aware that the legend of Atlantis is linked to all manner of yet-to-be explained phenomena. It has been written about since the time of Plato. If UFO's don't come from outer space then they originate from Atlantis. Its citizens were the ones who gave the ancients the knowledge to build the pyramids and other monumental structures, and people who have ESP are descended from them. Evidence for it has been (allegedly) found in the West Indies, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean. (The Pacific region has its own lost continent). Less fanciful theories look to the Minoan civilisation, and the cataclysmic eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (which returns us to The Time Monster). The Atlantis myth may be a garbled version of a real event, but it was a powerful local state that was laid low rather than a flying saucer-building super-race.

Now we have to talk about Professor Zaroff. Sorry, but we do. Cinema's earliest most famous mad scientist is probably Henry Frankenstein, as played by Colin Clive in the classic 1931 Universal movie. Technically, he only comes across as mad to his friends and family, as he is utterly obsessed with his work - which just happens to be trying to put God out of a job. He wants to create something (life from dead tissue), and will go to any lengths to achieve this. Sadly, Hollywood took him as a template, twisted it, and came up with decades of similarly obsessed scientists who instead want to destroy. This is where Zaroff comes from. Certainly, after the first A-Bomb, the public started to become wary of scientists, and thought that they were prepared do anything they liked just because they could. We fell out of trust with them. They no longer strove to help us, but experimented with things that could ultimately destroy us. Note how many of the 1950's monster movies revolve around mutation due to exposure to atomic testing - many of which feature a scientist who has brought things about due to his (and they were always men) obsession. Scientists in these movies are often portrayed as having good intentions, but care little for the consequences. They're sociopaths who want to benefit Mankind.
The problem with Zaroff is that he is simply Bonkers. That's the technical term - with a capital B. The Doctor thinks so too. Just look at the way he tries to describe Zaroff's state of mind to King Thous in Part Two. No deep psychological analysis needed. Zaroff has no good intentions whatsoever. You can't even excuse him as being "misguided". He plans to blow up the planet, just to see what it is like to blow up the planet. In a way Joseph Furst plays him the only way he can. A bit of background that existed in the earlier drafts had him grieving for his dead wife and child, killed in a car crash, and thus making him suicidal - damning the world along with himself. Unfortunately, there is no such motivation on view in the finished programme.

The inspiration looks like it comes from those old Saturday morning serials, but Ming the Merciless had a plan - to conquer the Earth / Universe - and Unga Khan wanted to make Atlantis great again by dragging down the rest of the world to his level. If any of them had intended to destroy the planet they were actually standing on, then there would have been a handy escape capsule hidden nearby.
Is it just a coincidence that Zaroff's name is just one letter out from that proto-hipster prof who appeared in all three of the Flash Gordon serials?
Some other potential inspirations before we sign off. In the 1950's & '60's there was as much excitement about us all living in underwater cities as there was about us living on the Moon or on Mars. The hugely popular TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau began its 10 year run in 1966, so we were all marveling at what went on beneath the waves then pretty much as we are at the moment watching Blue Planet II.
We also have the Cornish myth of Lyonesse - another sunken kingdom which has Arthurian connections, and which featured in a poem by Walter de la Mare (Sunk Lyonesse, 1922). 1965 had seen the release of the Vincent Price film City Beneath The Sea, inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe tale The City In The Sea. Note the film's Gill Men. It was made by the same team behind the Aaru Dalek movies, and featured dialogue written by one David Whitaker.
Next time: Brexit hasn't happened, or by 2070 we're back in, as the UK is bossing a load of Europeans about on the Moon. No-one's worrying about climate change, because we can control the weather now. Polly devises a new cocktail, Jamie has a lie-in, and Ben suddenly knows all about nuclear reactors. The Cybermen spot the similarities between this and an earlier story, so logic dictates that they have to make their return...

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Story 185 - Human Nature / The Family of Blood

In which a history master at Farringham School for Boys dreams that he travels through time and fights aliens. The maid who cleans his rooms - Martha Jones - assures John Smith that this is just his imagination. The year is 1913, and Smith and Martha have been at the school for around a month. The socially awkward teacher has taken a liking for the school matron, Joan Redfern, and decides to pluck up the courage to ask her to a ball that is going to be held in the village hall. He tells Joan of his dreams, and shows her a journal he has made of them - his Journal of Impossible Things. Martha tries to convince the matron not to heed Smith. Joan becomes indignant that a maid should interfere in what Smith does. That night, Martha goes to the TARDIS, hidden in a barn some miles away, and activates a recording which the Doctor had made.
Some weeks ago, the Doctor and Martha had encountered a hostile alien force called the Family of Blood. They exist in a gaseous form, and have a very short life-span. They want to take the Doctor's body so that one of their number - Son of Mine - can have a prolonged existence as a Time Lord. They have a stolen spacecraft that can travel in time, and the Doctor knows that they will hunt them down. To avoid detection, he decides to use a Chameleon Arch to rewrite his biology. He will become a human being, with a set of new memories grafted on. His Time Lord essence will be stored in a fob watch. They only need to hide for a month or so, then the threat will be gone as the Family will have died out by then. The Doctor has made a recording to help Martha cope whilst he is John Smith, but he had not reckoned on falling in love with someone.

That same night, the Family's spaceship arrives nearby. A pupil named Jeremy Baines comes across it whilst out hunting for alcohol, and he is taken over by Son of Mine. He returns to the school to seek out the Time Lord. A fellow pupil named Tim Latimer has mild telepathic gifts, and recognises the change in Baines. On a visit to Smith's rooms, he spots the fob watch and is drawn to it, slipping it into his pocket. The Family take on more bodies for themselves. Farmer Clark sees one of his scarecrows move. Thinking it is one of the pupils playing a prank, he investigates, only to find that it is just straw. He is taken over by Father of Mine. The Family can animate scarecrows to use as an army. They attack a girl named Lucy Cartwright, who becomes the host for Daughter of Mine. Jenny, a friend of Martha's who is also a maid at the school, is taken over by Mother of Mine. Tim is compelled to open the fob watch, and the Family sense the Time Lord's presence at the school. John Smith is walking with Joan when a little of the Doctor's character slips out, as he uses a cricket ball to prevent an accident. Martha discovers that Jenny has been taken over and runs off to the dance to warn the Doctor. Tim sneaks into the dance and sees the Family arrive. They now know that Smith is the Doctor, but he has no idea of his real self. Martha helps everyone flee the hall. Smith and Joan head back to the school to warn the staff and pupils.

The Family lay siege to the school with their scarecrow army and launch an attack. The pupils are forced to fight them. Martha attempts to convince Smith that he really is the Doctor, and finds an ally in Joan. She suspects that the Doctor's dreams may be true, and had noticed that his life seemed to be merely a list of facts. Smith is horrified that he will have to cease to exist for the Doctor to return. The Family seize the TARDIS, and then start to bombard the village. Hiding out at the Cartwright's home, Joan and Martha attempt to get Smith to accept who he really is. For a moment he gets to see what his life would have been like if he had remained as the teacher, marrying Joan and having children before growing old and dying in bed. Tim arrives with the fob watch, and tells them of the heroic Time Lord he has seen in it. Smith goes to the Family's spaceship to give himself up. He hands over the fob watch. However, it proves to be empty. The Doctor has returned. He has stumbled around the ship in his guise as Smith, pretending to be clumsy when he has in fact been sabotaging it. The Family flee before the vessel explodes. The Doctor then takes his revenge on each of them. Father of Mine is imprisoned in dwarf star alloy chains at the heart of the TARDIS, whilst Mother of Mine is left suspended on the edge of a Black Hole. Daughter of Mine is trapped in a mirror - every mirror. Son of Mine is left frozen in time and set up as a scarecrow, to guard over the fields of England for all time.
The Doctor asks Joan to join him in his travels, but she rejects him. She loved Smith, but the Doctor scares her. Would anyone have died in the village had he not come here, she asks him. The Doctor gives Tim the fob watch before he and Martha depart. Tim had frequently had a vision of a battlefield, and the watch had saved his life as he knew when to leap to safety from a falling bomb.
In 1914, Europe went to war. Tim one night found that his vision had come to pass, and the watch saved him. Many decades later, now an old man, he attends a Remembrance Day service, and sees the Doctor and Martha watching from a distance, wearing red poppies...

Human Nature / The Family of Blood was written by Paul Cornell, and was first broadcast on 26th May and 2nd June, 2007. It was adapted from Cornell's 1995 Virgin New Adventures novel Human Nature, which featured the Seventh Doctor and companion Bernice Summerfield. A poll to mark the programme's 35th anniversary had voted this book the fans' favourite. Cornell had developed the plot with fellow NA writer Kate Orman.
Cornell had previously written the Series 1 story Father's Day. To date, he has not written any further episodes for the series.
Russell T Davies loved the novel, and so approached Cornell about adapting it for Series 3. A well as the change of Doctor / companion, there are a number of significant differences between the book and the screenplay. In the book, the Doctor decides to become human in order to understand grief, as Bernice is mourning a character who was killed in the previous novel. He purchases the means to do it - rather than using a piece of TARDIS technology. His Time Lord essence is stored in a cricket ball rather than a fob watch. Joan is a fellow teacher. The enemy are called the Aubertides, and they are shapeshifters, rather than a species who possess people's bodies. It is slightly later in the novel as well - already into 1914. The scarecrow army are Davies' idea, as the series since 2005 had to include a monster each week. Cornell was not convinced, but the scene where the pupils gun down the scarecrows as the hymn To Be A Pilgrim plays is one of the strongest of the two episodes.
In the book, the Doctor rejects Joan at the end, rather than the other way round, as he cannot love her in the same way now that he is no longer human. A big change is the character of Tim. In the book he becomes a conscientious objector, and saves the man's life as a Red Cross orderly. He later wears a white poppy when revisited in the epilogue.

The main guest cast is headed by Jessica Hynes (known as Jessica Stevenson until 2007) as Joan. She was best known for starring in, and co-writing, Spaced, with Simon Pegg. She'll be back at the end of David Tennant's tenure as the Doctor, playing Joan's granddaughter Verity Newman.
Playing the Family we have: Gerard Horan (Father / Mr Clark), Rebekah Staton (Mother / Jenny), Harry Lloyd (Son / Baines) and Lauren Wilson (Daughter / Lucy). Lloyd was a regular in the first two seasons of Robin Hood (as Will Scarlett), and featured in the first series of Game of Thrones as Daenerys' brother.
Also from Game of Thrones we have Thomas Sangster playing Tim. He goes by the name Brodie-Sangster these days. He first came to prominence in the movie Love Actually, and is now a regular in the Maze Runner franchise.
One other guest of note is Pip Torrens as the headmaster, Mr Rocastle. He can be seen in the TV series Versailles these days.

The cliffhanger: The Family have arrived at the village dance and they take Martha hostage. Father of Mine aims his gun at Joan and Smith is offered a choice - the life of his friend or that of the woman he loves...
Story Arc: As the story is set in 1913, we don't have any Saxon references over these two episodes, but the Chameleon Arch is introduced, and the fob watch, and these will play a significant role in a few week's time.

Overall, a fantastic two parter which is deeply moving at times. David Tennant is wonderful as Smith (he won an award for his role in this story). Great performances all round really. Various polls have put it in the top 10 best Doctor Who stories ever. The DWM Mighty 200 had it in 6th place, whilst the 50th Anniversary poll placed it at 9th.
Things you might like to know:

  • One tiny thing that always spoils this for me is the very first shot after the opening credits, as I always get distracted by the schoolboy who can't march properly. Once you've noticed him you can't ever un-notice him. 
  • John Smith tells Joan that his parents were called Sydney and Verity - name checking the show's creator and first producer.
  • Talking of Verity Lambert, this is the first Doctor Who story since Mission to the Unknown back in 1965 to be produced by a woman, as Phil Collinson has stepped aside temporarily in favour of Susie Liggat.
  • To Be A Pilgrim was written by John Bunyan in 1684. The version we hear in this is the 1906 version, the fourth line of which is "Follow the Master". Just a coincidence?
  • The Journal of Impossible Things was illustrated by Kellyanne Walker, with text by Cornell. It features the first on screen acknowledgement of the Paul McGann Doctor since the programme returned. Prior to becoming the showrunner, Davies had always claimed that the TV Movie wasn't canon - even including this in the final episode of Queer As Folk.
  • Most of David Tennant's speech on the video gets fast forwarded, but he still had to talk to camera, and so expresses his love for band The Housemartins amongst other things.
  • When Tim opens the fob watch he sees glimpses of earlier stories - all ones from the Tenth Doctor's era.
  • Joan asks Smith where he learned to draw and, the Doctor's character once again slipping out, he says Gallifrey. She asks if this is in Ireland. This is an old Bob Baker & Dave Martin joke, which they used in both The Hand of Fear and The Invisible Enemy.
  • The Doctor has encountered animated scarecrows once before - though not on TV. In the comic strip The Night Walkers (TV Comic, November 1969), the Second Doctor investigates walking scarecrows but finds that these have been sent by the Time Lords to force him to regenerate and begin his exile on Earth in his third incarnation.