Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Emperor of the Daleks - February Figurines

Received the latest two figurines today - plus the Emperor Dalek (Bad Wolf / Parting of the Ways version) at long last. And what a magnificent beast the latter is. Well worth the wait. Weighs a ton. Comes in two sections - the circular base with side panels forming one part, and the dome & mutant part has to be slotted into it. Metal ties fix this in place. Most impressive.
The newest version of the Cybermen and the original Omega are pictured, to give you the scale. Omega marks the first of the regular releases to come from the Classic Series.
The collection is building nicely!

Monday, 24 February 2014

In the Pink

News today of a new recurring character for Series 8. It was rumoured a while ago that there might be a new male companion - that teacher we saw in Day of the Doctor. It's not him, but another Coal Hill School employee by the name of Danny Pink. He's played by Samuel Anderson (The History Boys, Emmerdale etc). Quite what the nature of his role is, we shall have to wait and see.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Story 96 - Underworld

In which the TARDIS materialises in a storage area on a spacecraft, in a remote region of space. The crew hear the ship's materialisation - and recognise it. It is the sound of their gods... The Doctor and Leela discover that they are on a Minyan ship - the R1C from Minyos II. The Time Lords had tried to assist the development of the original Minyan society, causing them to be seen as deities. Their help went wrong, and the Minyans ended up destroying themselves in a dreadful civil war. By way of recompense, the Time Lords gave the survivors the ability to rejuvenate themselves and extend their lifespans. The crew of this craft has been travelling for centuries. It was after their interference on Minyos that the Time Lords adopted their law of non-intervention in the affairs of other races.

Captain Jackson and his crew are on a quest to locate a lost Minyan vessel - the P7E. It holds the genetic race banks which are essential for his people to rebuild their civilisation. Their search has brought them to this region of space, where a Black Hole is helping to create new planets out of the debris of others. The R1C almost becomes smothered in rocks, but K9 provides a power boost to break them free. The Doctor realises that the P7E now forms the core of a new planet nearby. The R1C lands there, but sinks into the ground - coming to rest in a labyrinth of caverns. The P7E crew have enslaved their own people - forcing them to mine the tunnels. This has been the situation for generations, and the superstitious slaves know of no other life. The crew, in turn, have come to see their computer - Oracle - as a god.

The Doctor must help to free the tunnel-dwellers and to assist Jackson and his crew with their quest to retrieve the gene banks. These are held by Oracle, which proves to have become quite mad. It is tended by two crewmen known as the Seers. They are now partly robotic. After a tense struggle, the Oracle appears to relent and offer up the race banks - small metal cylinders. This proves to be a ruse, as it has substituted them for powerful bombs. The Doctor spots the trick and swaps them back again. He leads all the slaves into Jackson's ship. K9 oversees a power boost from the TARDIS so that the R1C can break free from the planet. The Oracle and its Seers realise the deception too late and the P7E and its new planet are destroyed. Jackson and his crew can finally go home - their quest at an end.

This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was broadcast between 7th and 28th January, 1978. Anthony Read is credited as Script Editor for the first time, despite having worked on the last couple of stories. Whilst Robert Holmes had often looked to the cinema for inspiration, Read preferred to look to classic literature and to ancient legends. The impact of Star Wars - with its harder Sci-Fi and space opera - was still being felt.
Underworld's chief influence is the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. In order to win back his kingdom from a usurper, Jason embarked on a long quest to find the Golden Fleece - hanging on a tree at the end of the world and guarded by the Hydra (a sort of multi-headed dragon).
Jackson is a play on Jason. The Doctor actually misnames him as such at one point - just to reinforce to us the reference. His crew include Herrick (Heracles), Orfe (Orpheus. He uses a soothing sound to calm people down as Orpheus could charm with his music), and Tala (Atalanta). The P7E is a play on Persephone. The troglodytes believe the entry to the P7E to be guarded by a dragon, and the map of the labyrinth shows it to be in the form of a great tree.

The guest cast includes James Maxwell as Jackson, Alan Lake as Herrick, Jonathon Newth as Orfe and Imogen Beckford-Smith as Tala. Much of the pre-publicity centred on her, with images of her in aged make-up in all the newspapers. Of the others, only Norman Tipton as Idas - one of the Trogs - stands out. The P7E crowd are a bit rubbish. One of the Seers is voiced by Richard Shaw - who had played Governor Lobos in The Space Museum.
Director Norman Stewart was given the thankless task of making this story with very little money - which sadly shows on screen. He was able to reuse the R1C set for the P7E one - being ships from the same planet. There was no design money left to realise the cavern systems, which feature prominently throughout episodes 2 - 4, so the decision was made to realise these using model sets and a liberal dose of CSO. A brave attempt in the circumstances, but one that just didn't work.
Episode endings are:

  1. The R1C starts to become smothered in debris...
  2. The Doctor struggles to reverse the vents as the cavern fills with a fumigating gas...
  3. The Doctor and Leela are hiding in a hopper when the Trog pushing it trips - threatening to cast them into the rock crusher...
  4. The Doctor tells Leela the story of Jason and the Argonauts, and ponders if such tales might not all have some basis in fact.

Overall, a so-so story. Performances nothing to write home about. The ambition just can't be served by the budget. One very significant aspect of Time Lord mythology does get a mention - namely the reason why they don't like to interfere.
Things you might like to know:

  • The TARDIS materialisation sound is said to be caused by the relative dimensional stabiliser. So not the brakes then.
  • The Quest is the Quest! Once again, Baker and Martin feature a running catchphrase through their story. This will be the last, however.
  • Knowing Louise Jameson was on the point of leaving the programme, Beckford-Smith's agent was happy to perpetuate a story that she was to become the next companion - hence all that publicity material relating to her.
  • This was the first Doctor Who story broadcast after UK fans had had their first chance to see Star Wars, which opened a few days before Part One. British Sci-Fi fans would also have already had their first taste of the BBC's new offering - Blake's 7. This debuted just before Underworld Part One.
  • At one point it was thought that this story might be cut altogether, and its budget reallocated to The Invasion of Time. Producer Graham Williams was determined to deliver a full season in his first year and so the notion was quashed.
  • The Minyans are able to regenerate, using technological help. As they seem to retain the same appearance, memories and personality, it does seem to be more of a rejuvination process. It may have been this technology that the Kastrons stole and misused (Mawdryn Undead).

Friday, 14 February 2014

Location, location, location...

Interesting Who-related story on the web today. A couple of film & TV fans from Cardiff (Tila Ohman and Satu Walden) have been going round the country visiting the locations from various movies and TV shows. They capture the scene on their i-pads - juxtaposing the fictional scene with the real one. Some impressive research going on, to find the exact matches. Not just the locations themselves, but the correct angles and everything. As you can see below, they cover things other than Who. Being Wales-based, most pictures come from that part of the world - so we also have Torchwood and Sherlock.
There's a piece about them here:


Story 95 - The Sunmakers

In which the TARDIS materialises on the roof of Megropolis One, on the planet Pluto. Earth has been abandoned and humanity lives in these vast cities, where they work for an institution known simply as the Company. Several artificial suns are maintained by them. Every aspect of life - and death - is heavily taxed. A low grade worker named Cordo has discovered that his savings won't cover the cost of his father's funeral, and he cannot work the additional hours to meet the shortfall. He elects to go to the roof to throw himself off. He is stopped by the Doctor and Leela. The roof is forbidden to workers and as guards approach, Cordo leads the Doctor and Leela into the city. They must shelter in the lowermost levels. Gatherer Hade and his assistant Marn go to the roof and find the TARDIS. They suspect the Doctor and Leela to be Ajacks - a disruptive group who have appeared in other Megropolises. In the undercity, the Doctor and his companions are captured by a criminal gang led by Mandrel. To prove his loyalty, the Doctor must use a fake bank card to steal funds for the gang. He is captured by guards, however.

The Doctor wakes to find himself in the Correction Centre with a fellow captive named Bisham. He knows about the Company's use of an anxiety-inducing gas called PCM, which is pumped through the city to keep the population subservient. Hade has the Doctor released so that he can lead them to other Ajacks and uncover their plans. Unaware of his release, Leela and Cordo go to the Correction Centre to rescue him - along with K9. They free Bisham, but Leela is herself captured as they flee. The Collector, the Company's representative and therefore ruler of the planet, decides to have Leela executed. She will be steamed to death, live on public TV.

The Doctor succeeds in rescuing her and encourages Mandrel to lead a proper revolution. First of all, the PCM gas pumping station is captured. When Hade discovers rebellious workers on the roof, his objections are ignored and he is thrown off. Marn wisely elects to join the  rebels. The Doctor sabotages the Collector's computers. They are reprogrammed to show unsustainable losses. The Collector - really a disguised member of the Usurian race - cannot cope with these and reverts to his natural form - that of a small green blob, which can safely be bottled up. The citizens are free. The Doctor recommends that they try to resettle the Earth.

This four part story was written by Robert Holmes, and also marks his swansong as Story Editor. As with the previous adventure, incoming Story Editor Anthony Read also helped script edit uncredited. It was broadcast between 26th November and 17th December, 1977.
Louise Jameson has always cited it as her favourite story. She loved the darkly humorous writing, and enjoyed being reunited with director Pennant Roberts.
Apparently, Holmes' principal influence in writing this script was a heavy income tax demand. The Doctor is at his most anti-establishment / anti-capitalist in this. He engineers a revolution in a day (or so) - paraphrasing Marx and Engels at one point. The villains are greedy and enslave primarily through taxation. Lots of financial references peppering the script. The Collector proves to be a Usurian - a play on "usurers" (lenders of money who charge interest). His costume is based on a pin-stripe suit (once de rigueur for finance types). Hade's costume also has pin-stripe elements, coupled with the look of an eastern potentate. There is a corridor P45 (a tax document you get when you leave a job in the UK). The fake bank card given to the Doctor appears to be closely modelled on a well-known Credit Card design. The Collector's personal guards are known as the Internal Retinue.
Other story influences include Orwell's 1984, and other dystopian future visions such as THX-1138 and Brave New World.

A wonderful guest cast is on show. Richard Leech gets a lot of the best lines as Gatherer Hade. His scenes with Henry Woolf's Collector are a joy. Hade may be amoral, but he is not the worst villain we have ever encountered - so his rather brutal summary execution comes as quite a shock. I would have preferred to have seen him humbled - and impoverished - like his boss.
Mandrel is William Simons, who went on to appear for many years in the rural police drama Heartbeat. Amongst his gang is a character named Goudry, played by Michael Keating. He would shortly find fame as the cowardly thief Vila in Blake's 7.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor is attempting to use the fake bank card in a cash machine. The booth suddenly locks and floods with gas...
  2. Leela, K9, Bisham and Cordo find themselves trapped by guards...
  3. Leela is strapped helpless to a trolley inside the steam chamber...
  4. Leaving Pluto in the TARDIS, K9 is about to resume their game of chess when the Doctor deliberately jolts the ship - preventing K9 from beating him...

Overall, a great little story - one of Holmes' best. Lots of humour. Hade and the Collector are brilliant characters. Praise the Company!!!
Things you might like to know:

  • Marn, and a gang member named Veet, were originally written to be male characters. Director Roberts changed them to female roles to provide more of a balance.
  • Henry Woolf was most well known at the time for his role in a children's educational series called Words And Pictures. He was also a close collaborator of playwright Harold Pinter, as well as a renowned performer of the works of Samuel Beckett. He now lives in Canada.
  • This is the last time we will see Leela's original, darker, costume.
  • Usurians seem to know all about the Doctor (a history of economic subversion) and Gallifrey (of little commercial interest). The latter seems strange, the ability to travel in time being a fool-proof way of making money. Just look at the Meddling Monk's compound interest scam...
  • Poor old Pluto. Now relegated to the status of a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt.
  • There were two main filming locations. The undercity is Camden Town tube station - sections not open to the public. The Megropolis roof and those very long featureless corridors were recorded at the Wills tobacco factory in Bristol. In those pre-CGI days, an expansive roof-scape was needed that would not allow any other buildings, hills etc. to be seen in the background. Unfortunately, at one point you do see a car park sign.
  • At one point during scripting, this was going to be Leela's final story - the character actually being killed off in the scene where she enters the Collector's safe.

Monday, 10 February 2014

National Media Museum - 50 Years of Fandom

Just spent a wonderful weekend in Bradford, Yorkshire. On Saturday morning my brother showed me his "museum". His loft is packed with memorabilia primarily relating to the Soviet Union - uniforms, medals, banners, publications, statuettes. Every inch is covered. I mention this as, a few hours later, we were in the exhibition of Doctor Who fandom at the city's National Media Museum. It was the penultimate day, and still very busy. As I wandered round, I realised how many of the items on show I had once owned myself. Had I retained everything, I would have needed a "museum" like my brother's. Sadly, things were lost, given away, discarded, damaged over the years. There were two main elements to the exhibition - merchandising, and fan-made replica props. It was lovely to see an original item on show, however - the Servo Robot from the Patrick Troughton Cyberman story The Wheel in Space. Until I bought Marcus Hearn's The Vault book late last year, I had no idea this prop still existed.

There were a number of Daleks on show - excellent reproductions, though my favourite was the gold cardboard one you can see below. It is amazing how, despite its naivete, it is still indubitably recognisable as a Dalek.

A couple of Cybermen as well - a superb copy of one from Tomb of the Cybermen, along with a Cybermat - and one from Silver Nemesis. A Revenge Cybermat was also to be seen. Most hilarious item was a full size Tom Baker model, which sadly would not have looked out of place atop a bonfire on November 5th.

The merchandise covered some Hartnell items - annuals and jigsaws, but most was post 1974. There were Weetabix figures, Typhoo Tea cards, the first Target "Monster Book". Lots of art work on display - some fan-made, others professional artwork from novels. One case had a collection of foreign language Target novelisations.

More recent items included BBC VHS and DVD covers, Character Options figures and micro-figures. As you walked round, you found yourself carrying out a mental inventory: got that, had that, had that, got that...
A few items had been autographed (such as a pair of Converse trainers (by David Tennant) and a mug (by Arthur Darvill).

A thoroughly enjoyable experience overall - one I'm very glad I was able to catch. I strongly suspect that it would have been we older fans who would have got the most out of it.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Bradford Bound

The Doctor Who exhibition at the Bradford National Media Museum ends this weekend (Sunday 9th February). I am off to Yorkshire tomorrow to pay a visit to the exhibition (which has a specific emphasis on fandom) on its penultimate day. (The brother and his wife live in Bradford - so killing two birds...)
I'm particularly looking forward to the donated props, but suspect the whole thing will be a nostalgic experience. Expect a report either on Sunday night, or sometime Monday.

Story 94 - Image of the Fendahl

In which the TARDIS gets drawn to Earth after encountering the effects of a Sonic Time Scanner. A group of scientists have taken over Fetch Priory in the heart of the English countryside. Here, they are investigating an ancient skull, which appears to predate Humankind by millions of years. The skull was discovered in Central Africa by palaeontologist Adam Colby. He is employed by Dr Fendleman, a millionaire who made his fortune in armaments. Their colleagues are Max Stael and Dr Thea Ransome. The latter finds herself strangely drawn to the skull. Fendleman is using the Time Scanner in his experiments. Each time it is used, the skull's influence over Thea grows. The Doctor and Leela are investigating the grounds of the Priory when they become separated. The Doctor finds himself hunted by some malevolent alien force, whilst Leela follows a mysterious black-robed figure to a lonely farmhouse. The man - a villager named Ted Moss - takes a shot at her but she manages to jump clear.

The Doctor also manages to evade the creature in the woods - but a hiker is not so fortunate. Leela meets the inhabitants of the farmhouse - Jack Tyler and his grandmother Martha. Moss had come here to get a charm from the old woman, who is well known for having magical gifts. The Doctor has detected a Time Fissure in this area, and assumes her gifts are the result of growing up beside it. The hiker's body is found by Adam next morning, drained of its life force. Later, a security guard dies in the same fashion - the only mark a tiny blister on the neck. Thea faints, and the Doctor and Adam observe a number of small serpentine slug creatures covering her body momentarily. The Doctor suspects some ancient evil is at work here - one going back millions of years. He and Leela return to the TARDIS to travel to the Fifth Planet.

Whilst the Doctor and Leela are away, Stael is unmasked as leader of a local coven, which meets in the cellars of the Priory. Thea is kidnapped, and Fendleman and Adam captured. The Fifth Planet proves to be obliterated and the remains held in a time loop - the work of the Time Lords. They had tried to destroy the Fendahl - but failed. This creature is a gestalt - an entity comprising a humanoid core with 12 Fendahleen - the slug-like creatures, which act as its feeding parts. The Fendahl devours life. When the Time Lords failed to destroy it, it must have reached Earth and been overwhelmed by a volcanic eruption. Its skull is still active. Indeed, it has influenced Humankind's development over the millennia in order that it might be resurrected.
It has influenced the village coven and now they enact a ceremony to bring it back to life. As his name implies, Fendleman's family has also been manipulated to bring about these events.

Thea is transformed into the Core - a golden being with glowing eyes which can paralyse and kill. The Doctor frees Adam, but Stael kills himself rather than be turned into a Fendahleen like his fellow coven members, including Ted Moss. Jack Tyler shoots and kills one of the creatures, and the Doctor learns that Martha had filled his shotgun cartridges with rock salt - an ancient remedy against evil. More salt is used against the creatures. The Doctor rigs the Time Scanner to create an implosion, then he seizes the skull and places in it a lead-lined container. Everyone flees the Priory before it - and the Fendahl - is destroyed. The Doctor will later dump the skull into a supernova to destroy it utterly.

This four part adventure was written by Chris Boucher and broadcast between 29th October and 19th November, 1977. The supernatural trappings seem to be a bit of a throwback to the Philip Hinchcliffe era - or Barry Letts' The Daemons. Another village coven, another ancient alien influence which has been at work in Humankind's development. Another influence might be Quatermass And The Pit, with its alien interference. There is a definite Hammer Horror feel throughout.
This was the final story commissioned by Robert Holmes. When Chris Boucher was unable to complete rewrites (due to commitments on Blake's 7) the Story Editor-designate Anthony Read took over.
K9 is notable for his absence, being left in the TARDIS under repair. Boucher hadn't known until too late that it was going to be joining the TARDIS team.
The full grown Fendahleen make for quite an effective monster - courtesy of visual effects designer Colin Mapson. There is some nice spooky night-time filming in the woods around Fetch Priory - actually Mick Jagger's "Stargroves", which had featured in Pyramids of Mars.

There is a strong Only Fools And Horses connection in the guest cast. Dennis Lill (Fendleman) and Wanda Ventham (Thea) played Cassandra's parents -  Rodney Trotter's in-laws. Wanda is best known these days as Sherlock Holmes' mother - both on and off screen. She had previously appeared in The Faceless Ones and will return in Time And The Rani. Max is played by Scott Fredericks - previously Boaz in Day of the Daleks. Adam Colby is played by Edward Arthur, whom Tom Baker knew very well from working in theatre together. Jack Tyler is played by Geoffrey Hinsliff, who became a regular on Coronation Street in the 1980's, and who returns to Doctor Who in Nightmare of Eden.
The stand-out performance of this story belongs to Daphne Heard as old Martha Tyler. She's feisty and funny throughout.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor suddenly finds he is unable to move, as some unseen creature approaches him through the woods...
  2. The Doctor finds the skull in the lab. He feels compelled to place his hand on it and it begins to glow. He feels his life-force being drained from his body...
  3. The Doctor, Leela and the Tylers are exploring the Priory when they are confronted by a Fendahleen. They find they cannot move...
  4. The Doctor resumes repairs on K9, resuming an earlier conversation with Leela about referring to machines as he / she / it...

Overall, not a bad story. Nice Gothic trappings - foggy woods, old mansions and dark deeds in the cellars.Some of the dialogue is a bit ropey. Worth watching for Daphne Heard's performance.
Things you might like to know:

  • The initial Fendahleen costume did not have the cowl round the mouth section. This was added late in the day as the original design looked a bit phallic.
  • During the night filming at "Stargroves", one of the crew's electrical generators caught fire.
  • The DWAS fanzine "TARDIS" reported that this story had the working title The Island of Fandor - the editor having misheard the real title.
  • Fetch Priory and the village of Fetchborough - in folklore, a "Fetch" is a ghost that appears to those about to die. It often has the appearance of the doomed person.
  • The Fendahleen are affected by salt. It's an old tradition that if you spill salt, you should throw a pinch of it over your left shoulder. (The Devil is supposed to look over your left shoulder). Salt also kills garden slugs - which the creatures are based on.
  • The Priory dog is called "Leakey". This is a reference to the scientist (and now politician) Richard Leakey. His team discovered ancient hominid fossils in Africa in the 1960's. 
  • Either that, or the poor mutt had an incontinence problem...

Monday, 3 February 2014

January Figurines Update

Received the latest two Eaglemoss figurines yesterday - Ood Sigma as seen in Planet of the Ood (with his little glass of Ood Graft / hair tonic) and the red / gold Supreme Dalek from The Stolen Earth two-parter.
The flash on my camera has made Sigma look a bit bluer than the figure actually is - and the Supreme a bit redder. The colours are really more subtle.
Wit the Julian Bleach Davros, the Tenth Doctor, and a standard RTD bronze Dalek already released, I can now re-enact little scenes from that story...
The next two releases - assuming like me you subscribed immediately after Issue 1 - will be a Nightmare in Silver Cyberman and The Three Doctors version of Omega - making the latter the first regular figure to come from the Classic Series. (Subscribers already having received a Hartnell era Supreme Dalek).
Other Classic figures expected soon include the Fourth Doctor, an Invasion Cyberman, and one of the original 1963 Daleks.
Subscribers will all have received an e-mail regarding the delayed Emperor Dalek (Eccleston version). The trouble was not with the model itself, but with the packaging, apparently. Eaglemoss said that they would be receiving them in late January, and they would be sending them out over the next 28 days - so expect your Emperor alongside that new Cyberman and Omega round about February 27th.
I have recently read that the next special, larger scale, release, following last year's Matt Smith TARDIS, will be a Slitheen. What other specials might follow? I am hoping for a Yeti and the K1 Robot at least - maybe the Troughton Emperor Dalek.