Friday, 31 January 2014

Rare William Hartnell pics

Twitter can be interesting on occasion. Just on occasion. I really don't care what some footballer's wife had for breakfast this morning (though apparently there are thousands out there who do). @DWArchive has (have) posted a couple of rare pictures of Hartnell in the TARDIS set - taken at the time of recording The Celestial Toymaker. (The middle image above is the one all the books, magazines etc. went with - so ignore that one). Nice to see that such rarities can still turn up after all these years. This particular Twitter account seems to mainly feature arguments about missing episodes - currently some controversy over just when exactly the Troughton episodes announced in October 2013 were actually found (3 whole years ago according to super-fan Ian Levine) and about the Marco Polo rumours (hoax apparently). Makes for interesting reading - though I'd much rather read something more substantial on these matters.

Story 93 - The Invisible Enemy

In which the TARDIS is invaded by an alien virus, which infects the Doctor. The ship had just passed through a strange cloud in space. The virus fails to have any affect on Leela. A few hours earlier, a space shuttle taking the relief crew to the base on Saturn's moon Titan had encountered the same phenomenon and they had all been infected. They are compelled to destroy the crew already on the base and prepare the complex for the spawning of the virus. They await the arrival of the Doctor, as he is now host to the Nucleus of the Swarm. The Doctor is as yet unaware of the malign influence he harbours, and he pilots the TARDIS to Titan base after the commander, Lowe, sends out a distress signal. Lowe is the only person there unaffected. Once the ship has materialised on the rocky moon, the influence of the Nucleus grows and the Doctor is compelled to kill Leela.

He struggles to keep the virus at bay. Lowe also becomes infected, but keeps this hidden from Leela. The Doctor puts himself into a comatose state, but first directs the TARDIS to the nearest medical facility - the Bi-Al Foundation. This is built inside an asteroid. The Doctor is put into the care of Professor Marius. Marius has a mobile computer in the shape of a dog, which he calls K9. (He hadn't been able to bring his real dog to the Foundation). Lowe begins infecting Foundation personnel. The Nucleus must be returned to Titan Base as soon as possible in order to spawn. Leela and K9, which is armed with a blaster built into its nose, hold the infected men at bay. The Doctor emerges from his coma to instruct Marius on a plan to dislodge the Nucleus. The Professor should prepare clones of the Doctor and Leela, miniaturise them, then inject them into his body. These clones will only live for a short time. After Marius has carried out these instructions, Lowe breaks into the lab and infects him too. Marius is ordered to repeat the cloning / miniaturisation process on Lowe, so he can stop the attack on the Nucleus.

The Doctor and Leela trace the Nucleus but fail to destroy it. The clone of Lowe is destroyed by anti-bodies, whilst those of the Doctor and Leela run out of time. Marius extracts the Nucleus from the Doctor and it grows to huge size. Lowe takes it to the Titan Base. The Doctor works out why Leela was immune to the virus and this leads to a cure. The Doctor borrows K9, and he and Leela rush to Titan in the TARDIS. Lowe is killed and the Doctor rigs up a booby-trap. When the Nucleus tries to break free from the cabinet where it has installed itself, a blaster will ignite flammable gas. The Doctor, Leela and K9 depart as the base is destroyed. Back at the Bi-Al Foundation, Marius announces that he is shortly to leave for Earth - and won't be able to take K9 with him. The Doctor is not so sure, but Leela is quite insistent that the robot dog joins them on their travels...

This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was broadcast between 1st and 22nd October, 1977. It is most significant for the introduction of K9. It is also the first flowering of producer Graham Williams' vision for the programme - a move away from Gothic Horror towards more conventional science fiction scenarios. (There are an awful lot of spaceships in the Williams era).
The programme hasn't stopped borrowing from cinematic sources. Episode 3's miniaturisation plot is lifted wholeheartedly from the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. In this a group of specialists are miniaturised, along with a submarine, to be injected into a comatose man - victim of an assassination attempt. They need to carry out a medical procedure. One of them is actually working with the killers, out to sabotage things. Anti-bodies attack people - killing the villain. In both this and the film, it is through the tear-duct that those on the outside will extract the miniscules. The TV programme (and film version) of Quatermass II influences the design for the Swarm's spawning tank. There is a lot of great SFX on show - particularly the model-work of Ian Scoones - with a little help from Matt Irvine. One design element that fails miserably is the prawn-like Nucleus. Inside is regular Dalek operator John Scott Martin. The voice is John Leeson's.

Which brings us to K9. Loved and loathed in equal measure, it was designed by Tony Harding. The first draft design was more like a Doberman. K9's problems are legion - interference with camera signals, Tom Baker's dislike for having to go down on his knees to get shots, the gears breaking and so forth. If you really want to know about K9, try and track down a copy of Steve Cambden's book The Doctor's Affect. Steve was assistant operator of the prop from Nightmare of Eden through to Full Circle. K9's pluses were its popularity with the public, and John Leeson.
There are two principle guest artists, and both have appeared in several Doctor Who stories over the years. Marius is played by Frederick Jaeger (The Savages and Planet of Evil). Lowe is Michael Sheard - (first appearance The Ark in 1966, final appearance Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988).
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor starts to change under the influence of the Nucleus. He is compelled to kill Leela - slowly sneaking up on her with a blaster in his hand...
  2. The miniature clones of the Doctor enter the Doctor's system...
  3. The Nucleus grows to enormous size once extracted from the Doctor...
  4. As the Doctor and Leela debate taking K9 with them, the robot dog trundles into the TARDIS...

Overall, not a bad story. Great special effects (apart from the Prawn). It will always be remembered most for the arrival of K9. He is still going strong - having appeared on the BBC Stargazing programme only a week or two ago (January 2014).
Things you might like to know:

  • The DVD for this story is one of those which has the option of new CGI effects. (Worth it for getting rid of that obvious pre-broken wall section). One big change is the realisation of Titan's atmosphere. The new shots show the more accurate thick orange atmosphere - mostly nitrogen with methane and ethane clouds. Only problem: some of the studio scenes feature windows - and the painted backdrops still show the clear starry skyline from the televised version.
  • Contact has been made...
  • There is a famous continuity error, where we see the Bi-Al asteroid already damaged before the shuttle crashes into it.
  • Baker and Martin use the "Gallifrey being in Ireland" joke for the second time (last outing The Hand of Fear). In both cases, it seems to be a misconception specific to hospital personnel...
  • Contact has been made...
  • The Doctor has changed his tune about Humanity's expansion in a relatively short time. In The Ark in Space, their spread across the Galaxy was something to be admired. Now, he likens them to a plague - fitting in with the alien virus theme, of course.
  • This story sees the return of the futuristic white TARDIS control room. The designer on this story is Barry Newbery - who had come up with the previous wood-panelled version.
  • Contact has been made...
  • Interesting phonetic spellings on the various signage on show - ISOLAYSHUN WARD, IMURJINSEE EGSIT etc.
  • My favourite John Leeson story. Attending his first US Convention, he took part in a K9 soundalike competition - the pre-internet audience not knowing what he looked like. He didn't win...
  • Contact has been made...

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

New costume - first outing...

Various newspapers have published pictures of Jenna and Peter filming on the streets of Cardiff, so we get the chance to see the new outfit in a bit more detail. The coat looked black in the publicity shot, rather than blue.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Capaldi Costume

The BBC have unveiled the look for the Twelfth Doctor. Definitely a touch of the Pertwee about it - the coat hinting at one of his cloaks. (The pose is reminiscent also). The basic shape of Smith's last costume is retained, but with a shorter coat. Gone is the bow-tie, but practical footwear remains.
Personally, I rather like it.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Jerome Willis (1923 - 2014)

Only just learned of the passing of actor Jerome Willis - Dr Stevens in the Pertwee classic The Green Death. He died on 11th January. This was his only appearance in Doctor Who - but what a bloody good one. A wonderful performance - a very human sort of villainy.
I loved Jerome's little revisit to the part in Mark Gatiss' Global Conspiracy? - the spoof documentary on the DVD release (one of the best DVD extras ever). In this it transpires Dr Stevens did not die at Llanfairfach - but instead became Director General of the BBC...

Story 92 - Horror of Fang Rock

In which the Doctor's attempts to educate Leela in the ways of her ancestors goes awry - again. Instead of a visit to the Brighton Pavilion, the TARDIS gets lost in the fog and materialises on the desolate Fang Rock, in the English Channel, whose only inhabitants are the three crewmen of its lighthouse. It is the first decade of the 20th Century. The lighthouse has recently been adapted to use electrical power for the lamp - a move derided by the superstitious old veteran Reuben. Chief Keeper Ben, and young Vince are more in favour of the modern changes. Just before the arrival of the TARDIS, Vince had seen a shooting star fall into the sea close by, followed by a strange glow beneath the waves. Reuben teases him with tales of the "Beast of Fang Rock" last seen some 80 years before.
The lamp suffers power failures and during one of these, Ben is attacked by a creature that is lurking in the shadows, and killed by a powerful electrical charge. His colleagues assume the generator is at fault. Soon after, however, Ben's corpse goes missing. It is found some time later floating in the sea, now horribly mutilated. The Doctor examines the body and spots the signs of an autopsy having been carried out.

A luxury yacht crashes onto the rocks during a further power failure. The passengers take refuge in the lighthouse. They are Lord Palmerdale and his secretary Adelaide, MP Colonel James Skinsale. With them is a crewman named Harker. They were rushing back from Deauville on the Normandy coast. Skinsale has given Palmerdale some insider information, and the peer is determined to gain from it - hence their reckless speed in the treacherous conditions.
The Doctor deduces that what Vince saw was the arrival of an alien spacecraft. Its occupant killed Ben then investigated the corpse to learn more about human anatomy. The creature kills again - Palmerdale being electrocuted outside the lamp room after bribing Vince to try and send a message on his behalf. Harker is also killed, down in the generator room. To avoid scandal, Skinsale sabotages the telegraph device. Reuben's body is then discovered - despite everyone having just seen him...

The Doctor realises the reason for the autopsy. The creature is able to copy the human form. The Reuben now prowling the lighthouse is an alien duplicate. It kills Vince and Adelaide. The Doctor identifies it as a Rutan. These green amorphous blobs have been engaged in a centuries-long war with the Sontarans. This is a scout, come to investigate Earth's suitability as a base in that conflict. It reverts to its natural form. The Doctor fatally wounds it with a blast from the lighthouse's flare launcher, supplemented with assorted items as shrapnel. The Rutan has already summoned its mothership, and it will arrive soon. The lamp could be converted into a rudimentary laser if focused through something like a diamond. Skinsale points out that Palmerdale always carried a supply of these. He and the Doctor remove the gems from the dead man. The Doctor selects one and throws away the rest. The greedy Skinsale stops to snatch these up, but is killed by the dying Rutan. The laser plan works, and the crystalline mothership is destroyed. Leela fails to look away and is blinded. The effect proves to be temporary - but does result in her brown eyes turning blue. The Doctor and Leela depart. No-one is left alive to tell the tale of what happened here this night...

This four part adventure was written by Terrance Dicks, and broadcast between 3rd and 24th September, 1977. It is the opening story of Season 15, and marks the beginning of Graham William's tenure as producer.
The director is Paddy Russell, and Robert Holmes remains the Script Editor.
Philip Hinchcliffe had left to produce the gritty police drama Target - which had originally been set up by Williams. Part of Williams' remit was to tone down the horror and violence in Doctor Who, injecting more humour. He wanted more of Sci-Fi stories. It is somewhat ironic, then, to think that the first story of his era was almost a Vampire tale. Dicks had written the story that would eventually see the (twi)light of day as State of Decay - "The Vampire Mutations" - featuring, naturally enough, Vampires. The BBC were about to produce a lavish adaptation of Dracula, and word came down that Who was to steer clear of Nosferatu. A quick replacement was needed.
As told by Dicks, when he was Script Editor he had given Bob Holmes the task of writing a story set in Medieval England. When Holmes said he knew nothing about the period, Dicks had given him a "Boys Book of Castles" and told him to get on with it. Now, four years later and their roles reversed, Dicks protested that he knew nothing about lighthouses...

For the first time in the series' history, studio work moved out of London. This story was produced at Birmingham's Pebble Mill studios. The cast and crew were very impressed by their new location - the studios not being well known for drama production and keen to show what they could do.
The small guest cast includes Colin Douglas as Reuben. He had played Donald Bruce in Enemy of the World. He's an old curmudgeon when alive, and has a wonderfully sinister grin when playing the Rutan duplicate. He also voices the creature once it reverts to its blobby green natural state. Another Who veteran plays Skinsale - Alan Rowe. He had previously appeared in The Moonbase and The Time Warrior, and would return in Full Circle. Other cast members are John Abbott as Vince, Sean Caffrey as Palmerdale, Annette Woolett as Adelaide, Rio Fanning as Harker, and Ralph Watson (The Web of Fear and Monster of Peladon) as Ben.
Episode endings are:

  1. With the lamp suffering power failure, a flare illuminates a yacht crashing onto the rocks...
  2. Palmerdale is trying to calm Adelaide when they hear a terrible scream coming from the generator room where Reuben has just gone...
  3. On finding Reuben's corpse, the Doctor realises they have locked their enemy in with them...
  4. The TARDIS dematerialises. The Doctor's quotation from the poem Flannan Isle hangs in the air...

Overall, a nice little atmospheric and claustrophobic tale - making good use of the lighthouse set and the foggy filmed exteriors. It very much has the feel of the previous Hinchcliffe era - the blackest of humour and death aplenty.
Things you might like to know:

  • No-one here gets out alive. One of the rare stories to have everyone other than the regulars bumped off. Indeed it is the last story of the classic series where this happens. (One of the characters in Warriors of the Deep disappears so only might be dead). Coincidentally, the last time there was a 100% death rate was Pyramids of Mars - also directed by Russell.
  • Originally Skinsale and Adelaide were supposed to survive. However, it was decided to kill everyone to make it resonate more with the poem Flannan Isle, Wilfred Wilson Gibson's 1912 poem is a major influence on the story. The Doctor quotes the following lines at the conclusion: "Aye, though we hunted high and low, And hunted everywhere, Of the three men's fate we found no trace, Of any kind in any place, But a door ajar and an untouch'd meal, And an overtoppled chair..." The poem relates to a real life mystery on the Flannan Isles in 1900, where three lighthouse men vanished without trace. 
  • Louise Jameson had found wearing red contact lenses - to make her blue eyes look brown - very uncomfortable. The blinding incident at the conclusion of this story was included to enable her to dispense with these. 
  • There was a sequence where Tom Baker was supposed to run into the crew room. The camera was to follow him in and show Leela at the door behind him. Tom repeatedly rushed in too fast - annoying both Paddy Russell and Louise Jameson. Jameson insisted the shot was retaken each time. Her firm stand impressed Baker, and the incident helped to improve their personal and professional relationship.
  • Despite the fact that they make for a very cheap monster, the Rutans have never returned to Doctor Who. They feature in books, audios, the unofficial spin-off video production Shakedown, and a recent computer game. When I say cheap, I mean they can be represented by their duplicates of humans. A CGI Rutan is long overdue. A good story to highlight Strax perhaps...
  • The name of the character Harker is a little in-joke to remind of the story that Dicks originally intended for this slot - Jonathon Harker being one of the main characters in Dracula.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

DVD Update 19.1.14

Apart from some location night filming on Episode 1 of the next series, things are a bit quiet at the moment. I'm being a bit lazy with updates this month, but I thought it might be time to remind of what there is still to come on the Classic DVD front - prompted by tomorrow's release of The Moonbase, with the missing episodes 1 & 3 covered by animation.
Back in 2012, we all assumed that the anniversary year would see the completion of the DVD releases. Then, this time last year, it was announced that the releases would continue into 2014. It looked as if a load of Special Editions would pad out the schedules, and to some extent they did. We had The Aztecs, The Green Death, The Visitation, The Ark in Space. There was also a Blu-ray version of Spearhead From Space and a release for The Scream of the Shalka. The Aztecs least gave us the Galaxy 4 found episode. That The Moonbase was going to be given its own release was known quite a while ago. Contributors had mentioned recording a commentary. It is known that two episodes of animation per story is economically viable. The finding of episode 2 of The Underwater Menace meant that that story only required two episodes of animation for its own release - and this is what is going to happen. No date for release has been set yet. The only confirmed release left for 2014 is The Web of Fear (UK date 24.2.14).
Which brings us to the newly discovered Troughton stories announced in October. Who would have thought that after The Ice Warriors, there would still be four full Troughton releases to come?
Once those Second Doctor stories are out there, what is there left to release? It was claimed there were no plans to bring out any more Special Editions for a while. This is contradicted by news of contributions to an Earthshock SE. (Also, as I've said before, where are they going to put Part 2 of the "Television Centre of the Universe" documentary - the one which began on The Visitation SE?).
And what of The Crusade? That story also only requires two episodes of animation for completion. There are very few historical stories available on DVD, and The Crusade is widely accepted as one of the best of them. I sincerely hope we get good news of it soon.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Will The Caves of Androzani Come Out Tops Again...?

DWM has conducted two major polls during its long run - the last being the "Mighty 200" in 2009, coinciding with the broadcast of the 200th story (Planet of the Dead). Both times, The Caves of Androzani came out top. Might it be time for a change?
If you have bought the most recent issue of the magazine, you will know that we now have the chance to vote again. Readers are being invited - until April 1st - to vote marks out of 10 on all 241 stories to date. Now is the chance to put the whole Matt Smith era into some kind of context.
I am a little bit concerned about this - as young folk have the annoying habit of voting for the current or most recent of anything. DWM have a plan to get a better idea of how readers view the older stories - especially the lost ones - by asking voters to either go by what is known (soundtrack / images) or by leaving these scores blank.
I'm old enough to comfortably cast votes against all the stories. I've got all the lost story soundtracks, all the telesnaps, and (though you'd never guess from this blog sometimes) have a very good knowledge of the entire series from 1963 onwards. If you are a younger reader of this blog, I would urge you not to vote for any story you don't know that much about. Don't just go by previously published opinions by other people. Take a look at The Enemy of the World. Until October last year, that story was generally vilified - thanks to that one orphan episode. (I gave it a 5 in 2009 - it's now a 7). Now that we have had a chance to see the entire story, it has gone up in a lot of people's estimation. It works both ways, of course. Before 1991, Tomb of the Cybermen would have got a guaranteed 10 out of 10. (I've given it an 8).
I think it is time for people to acknowledge the Magma Beast in the room. I love Caves and think it is a brilliant story - but a 9 out of 10 at best. I just posted on The Talons of Weng-Chiang - and that is also a brilliant story, but with a dreadful giant rat costume (plus the racial stereotyping). Terror of the Zygons has the Emu-like glove-puppet Skarasen. For me, these things knock a point off the top score.
I've given only eight of the 241 stories a 10 mark. Caves isn't one of them. (No, I'm not going to say what the eight are. At least not at the moment.). I've given only four stories a 1 out of 10 score - but there are a heck of a lot of 2's and 3's.
That's the other thing about this poll - is The Twin Dilemma still the most reviled story? Seeing what people think are the worst stories I find more morbidly fascinating than the favourites.
The poll also invites you to vote for the top three Doctors and companions, and the three most significant contributions to the programme over the last 50 years. (They really ought to have just printed Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman in the top two slots and left the third one empty for your votes).
You need a hard copy of the magazine to vote, so if you are one of those annoying cheapskates who stand for three hours in the newsagent reading it for free, try putting your hand in your pocket for once...

Monday, 13 January 2014

Story 91 - The Talons of Weng-Chiang

In which the Doctor decides to educate Leela in the ways of her ancestors - starting with a trip to the theatre. The TARDIS has materialised in the East End of London, in the late Victorian period. At the Palace Theatre nearby, a cab driver named Buller accuses the stage magician Li H'sen Chang, who tops the bill, of being implicated in the disappearance of his wife. She is not the only young woman who has vanished recently. Buller is later attacked and killed by a group of Chinese men - the event witnessed by the Doctor and Leela, who are on their way to the Palace. Leela kills one of the assailants with a Janis Thorn, and another is captured by her. Buller's body is dragged into the sewers, and is later found floating in the Thames - horribly mutilated. At the police station, the Doctor meets Li H'sen Chang when he is brought in as an interpreter for the man Leela caught. From a tattoo, the Doctor recognises the prisoner as being a member of the Tong of the Black Scorpion. The man dies after Chang slips him a poison capsule. The Doctor and Leela go to the local mortuary where Professor Litefoot is puzzled by the recent corpses. Buller's body is covered in coarse black hairs, and the Doctor suspects these are from a rat. The Tong of the Black Scorpion venerate Weng-Chiang - a Chinese god of abundance.

Litefoot invites the Doctor and Leela to his home for supper, but the Doctor first of all wants to investigate the Palace Theatre, meeting its manager and Master of Ceremonies, Henry Gordon Jago. The theatre is reputed to be haunted. Stage-hand Casey has seen ghostly apparitions and heard strange sounds coming from the cellars. Litefoot has an ornate Chinese cabinet in his home, which no-one has ever been able to open. It was a gift to his mother from the Emperor. Leela and Litefoot are attacked by Tong members, who are accompanied by Li H'sen Chang's animated ventriloquist doll - Mr Sin. This is really a homicidal robot known as the Peking Homunculus. It comes from the future - where its murderous activities almost triggered a terrible war. The Doctor's investigations reveal that Chang is working for Magnus Greel - a war criminal from the 51st Century. He escaped justice by travelling back in time in an experimental time capsule. He was found, dying, by Li H'sen Chang in China. Chang took him to be the god Weng-Chiang. Greel gave him enhanced hypnotic abilities. The capsule was seized by the Emperor and Greel has been hunting for it ever since. It is actually the cabinet in Litefoot's home. Greel's experiment was a failure, and he has been left terribly disfigured. He keeps himself alive by draining the life-force of young women. Chang has been kidnapping them and taking them to a secret chamber beneath the Palace Theatre cellars. Leela substitutes herself for one of the victims and discovers the lair. She fails to kill Greel and escapes into the sewers. The Doctor is investigating these - and is just in time to save her from being devoured by a gigantic rat. Greel's experiments have grown several of these creatures to enormous size, and he now uses them as guards.

Jago and Litefoot join the Doctor and Leela as they attempt to stop Greel from obtaining the cabinet. Were he to use it again, it would destroy half of London. When Chang fails to kill the Doctor during a performance, Greel abandons him - then moves his base to another location. Distraught, Chang allows himself to be attacked by one of the giant rats. The Doctor and Leela later find him in an opium den. He gives them a clue to Greel's new base before dying. Jago and Litefoot have already arrived at the lair (in a Chinese laundry) after following a Tong member. They are captured. The Doctor and Leela break in and free them. They are attacked by Mr Sin, who has control of a laser weapon built into an ornate dragon statue. Greel finds the murderous Homunculus is just as willing to kill him. The Doctor kills Greel when he pushes him into his own energy-draining machine. The Doctor then destroys Mr Sin - tearing out his control circuit. He then ensures that no-one will ever be able to open the cabinet by smashing its crystal key.

This six part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and broadcast between 26th February and 2nd April, 1977. It is the final story of Season 14 - and marks the end of Philip Hinchcliffe's tenure as producer. Holmes stepped in to write this widely acclaimed tale after a storyline from Robert Banks Stewart (The Foe From The Future) fell through. Stewart was having marital problems at the time. Holmes took a couple of elements from the abandoned storyline (there is a foe from the future after all) , then added a wide range of influences from popular culture. The principal influence would be Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera but also featuring strongly are the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu series, Jack the Ripper, Dracula and even the BBC's popular music hall variety programme The Good Old Days. The Doctor's desire to educate Leela derives from Pygmalion.
The Doctor adopts a deer stalker hat and Inverness cape -  and Litefoot takes on a Dr Watson role. (His housekeeper is also called Mrs Hudson). The villain appears to be a fiendish Oriental mastermind, controlling the Tongs. Women are going missing, and comedic Irish stage-hand Casey refers to Jack - placing this story's setting after late 1889. The Doctor at one point describes Greel as a vampire - feeding on his victims. The music hall sequences are like those seen in the long-running light entertainment programme MC'ed by the astoundingly, astonishingly alliterative Leonard Sachs. (The conductor in these scenes is regular series composer Dudley Simpson in a cameo role).

Like the Fu Manchu novels which influence it, this story has lost some favour in recent years due to its stereotypical representation of Victorian London's Chinese population, and the use of white actors in ethnic roles. Whilst unacceptable today, it should be viewed in the context of the 1970's television landscape.
These issues aside, it is a near flawless story. The one big problem is the realisation of the giant rats. The New Avengers story "Gnaws" was far more successful - keeping the giant rat to just shadows and a prosthetic tail. Talons' rat is too obviously a man in a furry costume (that man being stunt performer Stuart Fell).
Some superb guest performances on show. Litefoot is Trevor Baxter, and Jago is Christopher Benjamin (previously seen in Inferno and who will return in the new series' The Unicorn and the Wasp). They are indubitably one of the best of the Holmes double acts, and it is no wonder that their Big Finish audio spin-off series continues to go from strength to strength.
Magnus Greel is played by Michael Spice - who previously voiced The Brain of Morbius. Mr Sin is Deep Roy.
John Bennett, who had appeared as General Finch in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, gives a brilliant performance as Li H'sen Chang. You actually feel sorry for him when he is abandoned by his "god". There are very few Doctor Who villains who elicit such sympathy.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor and Leela are exploring the sewers when they see a gigantic rat...
  2. Litefoot goes to investigate a prowler outside his home. He is knocked out, and Leela is confronted by the knife-wielding Mr Sin...
  3. As Leela flees through the sewers, she falls and her leg is seized by one of the giant rats...
  4. Greel has got his cabinet back at last. He howls maniacally as his coach drives away from Litefoot's house, bearing his prize...
  5. Greel emerges from behind a curtain and tries to chloroform Leela. She breaks free and tears his mask off - to reveal his misshapen features...
  6. Jago and Litefoot are left highly impressed by the Police's new vanishing boxes...

Overall, if you can get past the stereotyping, and that bloody awful rat, an excellent story. Adult, horrific, atmospheric. Lovely period detail and location work. Great performances and some wonderful cliffhangers. Greel's mad howl at the end of Part 4 is one of my favourite moments.
Things you might like to know:

  • This was the final story to be directed by the late David Maloney. One of the programme's finest directors in my view. He left to work on Blake's 7 - directing and then producing.
  • Born in Kenya as Mohinder Purba, Deep Roy has had a prolific acting career - a lot of it Sci-Fi related. As well as Doctor Who he has appeared in Star Trek (the recent reboots of the franchise), Star Wars, The X-Files, The New Avengers, Flash Gordon (the 1980 movie), Planet of the Apes (the Tim Burton one) and Transformers. In Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake, Roy played all of the Oompa-Lompas (all 165 of them). He made one further Doctor Who appearance - as the Possican delegate (in a reused Terileptil mask) in Mindwarp / Trial of a Time Lord Parts 5 - 8.
  • There were two main filming locations - London's Bankside and other river areas, and Northampton. The latter provided the theatre as well as some street scenes. Famously, someone failed to remove their car prior to filming a night sequence, and the crew had to disguise it under a huge pile of straw. Once you know the scene in question, you can't help notice it.
  • These days it is quite common for the Doctor to paint a wider picture of events with a throwaway line - referring to unseen adventures and events. Indeed, the Time War was only known about in this way. The First and Third Doctors were terrible name-droppers - usually historical figures like Napoleon, Nelson, Henry the Eighth and (erm) the Mountain Mauler of Montana... In this story, more than any other up to this point, we get a vivid picture of unseen events - Filipino armies in Iceland in the 51st Century and so forth. It's part of Bob Holmes' genius.
  • The final recording session was fraught due to a special effects problem. The table under which everyone hides to avoid the dragon-laser was set to split in two. However, it was given a late respray, and the paint prevented it breaking on cue as designed.
  • Nunchuka weapons were banned for a long time in the UK - and so certain cuts had to be made to a fight sequence when this story was first released on VHS.
  • A couple of unintended anachronisms to look out for - power points in Litefoot's lab covered with masking tape, and a copy of The Sun newspaper in his laundry basket.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Wot - no DWM?

Went to my usual newsagent today to buy the new issue of DWM - and it wasn't in stock yet. This has happened before, so will have to seek it out it tomorrow. What was in the shop, however, was the latest DWM Special edition - the second volume of the Troughton Missing Episodes telesnaps.This runs from The Evil of the Daleks through to The Wheel In Space. All yours for £6.99. Sadly. the final missing Troughton story - The Space Pirates - is not covered by telesnaps.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Scene 1, Episode 1?

"That's the exit over there, love. I'm having the robot dog back..."
Interesting to see that it looks as if Mr Capaldi might be filming his début story first (judging by the costume). This doesn't always happen, of course. Castrovalva was the fourth story which Peter Davison recorded. It was felt that the actor should settle into the role before tackling their début episode. Previous Doctors had to film their stories in order. It was only with Barry Letts' producership that stories began to be recorded out of sequence. Tom Baker had to record Robot first as it was actually made as part of Pertwee's final season.
Colin Baker had to make The Twin Dilemma as his first story due to it forming part of Davison's final season. Sylvester McCoy had to début in Time and the Rani only because of the dearth of scripts available. Christopher Eccleston, on the other hand, filmed scenes for his fourth episode (Aliens of London) on his first day as the Doctor - though Rose did form part of the first recording block. David Tennant filmed his first story first only because it happened to be the Christmas Special recorded prior to work commencing on Series 2.
Matt Smith also made his fourth episode first - with location work on The Time of Angels.
It isn't just Doctors who make their débuts out of sequence. The very first thing Adrienne Hill (Katarina) filmed on Doctor Who was her death scene from her second story. Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) recorded State of Decay before Full Circle. Karen Gillen, with Smith, started with her fourth episode. Bringing things up to date, Jenna Coleman filmed Hide as her first full story.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Capaldi is going to retain the Smith costume - but I doubt it.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Story 90 - The Robots of Death

In which the TARDIS materialises inside a metal structure in the middle of a desert on an alien world. The Doctor recognises this as a mineral trap used by Sandminers. These vast factory ships traverse desert regions, blasting material into these traps where valuable ores can be harvested. They must get out of here before the sand, travelling at high velocity, tears them apart - but a mechanical claw has removed the TARDIS. The trap is closed at the last minute, and they are rescued by elaborately designed robots. The Sandminer has a small human crew, but there are dozens of these robots on board to carry out various functions. The majority of the robots are green Voc-Class units, which can carry out a wide range of tasks and can speak. There are also a number of black Dum-Class units which cannot talk and carry out the more menial functions. Each Sandminer has a silver Super-Voc on board, which acts as a supervisor to the others and liaises with the humans. On this Sandminer  - Storm Mine 4 - this is SV7.  A murder has just been committed on the vessel, and Commander Uvanov naturally suspects the Doctor and Leela of the crime. Chief Mover Poul is not so sure.

Leela suspects there is more to Poul than meets the eye. The Doctor and Leela escape custody and other murders take place. The Doctor manages to convince Poul that the robots might not be benign. He and Leela have encountered a Dum-Class, D84, which can talk. It transpires that a criminal named Taren Capel is believed to be on this Sandminer. He is a brilliant scientist who was brought up in the company of robots and values them over humans. He is planning a robot revolution. Poul is really a government agent, placed onboard to identify him, and D84 is his robot partner - a disguised Super-Voc. The robot joins forces with the Doctor and Leela when Poul falls ill - a mental condition named Grimwade's Syndrome, or Robophobia. His mind has snapped at the prospect that the robots can kill.

It is revealed that crew member Dask is Capel. He has been altering the robots' circuits to override their prime directive. He uses voice control to direct them to kill. Soon only Uvanov, Poul and second-in-command Toos remain alive of the human crew. The Doctor devises a scheme to destroy the robots then goes to confront Capel. Uvanov and Toos go on the offensive with blasting packs. The Doctor hides Leela in a compartment in Capel's laboratory with a cannister of helium. The gas causes Capel's voice to change - and the robots no longer recognise or obey him. He is killed by SV7. D84 activates a device which the Doctor had built to destroy the robots - sacrificing itself. The Doctor and Leela decide to slip away before a rescue ship arrives.

This four part adventure was written by Chris Boucher, and was broadcast between 29th January and 19th February, 1977.
The main influence is obviously the works of Isaac Asimov and his Laws of Robotics, but Frank Herbert's Dune, and the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie are also evident. It is a shame that the rather lurid story title gives the game away from the start that it is the robots who are doing the killing. Perhaps they should have stuck with one of the working titles: "The Storm Mine Murders". That Dask is Capel is apparent too early on also (clue: trousers).
Capel's name is an homage to Karel Capek - the Czech writer whose play R.U.R. gave us the word "robot".
It is Asimov's First Law of Robotics: "A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to be injured" that Capel overrides. The story implies that Capel is half-robot in a biological sense (his father was a robot) but this seems a preposterous idea.
The design work on this story comes together like very few other stories of the classic era. Costumes (Elizabeth Waller), sets (Ken Sharp), and make-up (Ann Briggs) all evoke an Art Deco feel. The human costumes might be a little over the top (especially the head gear) but the robots are superb. To have the killers of the title look so beautiful, with slow graceful movements and mellifluous voices, is a stroke of genius. They talk of killing in such a matter-of-fact way.

There is a very good guest cast on show. Uvanov is played by Russell Hunter, best known for the crime drama Callan. He seems to be a rum 'un, having caused the death of the brother of one of the crew on a previous mission - but we find out he wasn't responsible, and actually tried to cover up the true nature of the death to protect the family. Toos is Pamela Salem (who had provided one of the Xoanon voices in the previous story). Poul is played by David Collings, last seen as Vorus in The Revenge of the Cybermen, from the same director - Michael E. Briant. Dask is David Bailie - most famous these days for his regular role in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He has also become the Big Finish Celestial Toymaker.
Special mention should be made for two artists we never get to see - Gregory de Polnay (D84) and Miles Fothergill (SV7).
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor finds a corpse in a mineral silo. He is trapped inside as it fills with sand.
  2. The Sandminer engines are running out of control. The vessel is about to explode.
  3. One of the robots reveals it has orders to kill the Doctor, and seizes him by the throat.
  4. The Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS and depart.

Overall, an excellent story. One of the best of the original series. Good production values (especially design) and a great cast. Even Tom Baker loved it, and he didn't usually like anything he did. Despite seeing only a handful of crew, we get a real sense of the society they come from - events in Kaldor City and the status of the Founding Families. This story helped launch both the VHS and DVD release schedules.
Things you might like to know:

  • Production Assistant (and future director and writer) Peter Grimwade gave his name to the Robophobia syndrome. He was always bemoaning the fact he got assigned stories with robots in them.
  • This is the second story running where the planet is not named. Kaldor City is the only place mentioned, but we don't even know if that is on this same planet.
  • This story marks the last occasion we get to see the TARDIS wooden control room.
  • The robot deactivation discs - known as "Corpse Markers" - are too obviously bicycle reflectors.
  • Poul's name is a reference to another great Sci-Fi writer - Poul Anderson. 
  • Crewman Borg is played by Brian Croucher, who would go on to take over the role of Commander Travis in Blake's 7. His name derives from the word "cyborg".
  • Some newspapers had touted Pamela Salem as the new companion prior to Louise Jameson's announcement - the work of her agent to drum up publicity for her.
  • As well as being revisited in books and BF audios, this story spawned its own independent (and hence unofficial) spin-off series - under the umbrella title "Kaldor City". Blake's 7 fans should also look out for these.
  • RTD is obviously a big fan of this story. You can clearly see the influence of the robots in both the Ood and the Heavenly Host.