Sunday, 30 March 2014
Very sorry to hear that Kate O'Mara has died, aged 74, after a short illness. Whilst the Rani stories were never among my favourites, I did like Kate and enjoyed her performances. She was no stranger to fantasy roles. I just happened to watch Hammer's The Vampire Lovers last night, in which she features.
The Rani is one of those characters that fans often clamour to see returning. Sadly, should it ever happen, it won't be with Kate.
This comes on the same day that it was announced that classic series director Derek Martinus (The Tenth Planet, The Ice Warriors, Spearhead From Space) passed away.
R.I.P. to both.
Monday, 24 March 2014
Today, the latest additions to the Doctor Who Figurine Collection arrived chez moi. Once again, please don't pay too much attention to the colour in the photos - it's the type of lighting in my house that tends to distort the colour. Figures are always more subtly hued in natural light.
The two regular releases are the Fourth Doctor as seen in Pyramids of Mars; and the skull-in-a-spacesuit Vashta Nerada from Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. According to the accompanying magazine, it is specifically Proper Dave.
Whilst I admire the attention to detail in the figurines, actual human likenesses don't always look quite right. I never thought Rassilon looked like Timothy Dalton, for instance. Tom Baker doesn't bear too close scrutiny. My model looks as though he has nasty duelling scars down both cheeks.
Alongside these regular items, we also get the second of the special (i.e. bigger and more expensive) releases - the last one being the TARDIS from The Eleventh Hour onwards. This time it is a rather impressive Slitheen - looking far better than they ever did on TV. The first big new monster of the revived series, they were ultimately deemed a bit of a failure - but did go on to find a more natural home with The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Next month we will be receiving a Judoon and one of the original 1963 Daleks.
According to a list I found on-line - possibly subject to change - these are the forthcoming pairings that take us through to 2015:
- Sycorax & Invasion Cyberman
- Ninth Doctor & Heavenly Host
- Morbius Monster & Zygon (2013 version)
- Special Weapons Dalek & Twelfth Doctor
- Sea Devil (original one) and the Gunslinger
- Earthshock Cyberman & Madam Vastra
- John Hurt's War Doctor & Ironside Dalek
- Draconian & the Master (John Simm incarnation)
- Scarecrow & Fifth Doctor
- Catkind & Clockwork Man
As well as this little lot, there will be other special releases - and there are still five more not-in-the-shops Daleks to come.
Friday, 21 March 2014
In which the Doctor and Romana begin their search for the second segment of the Key to Time. The location is the cold and lifeless world of Calufrax. The TARDIS landing has to be aborted when it encounters a powerful disruptive force. Romana blames the Doctor's failure to follow the instructions in the TARDIS manual. When she tries, following the instructions exactly, the ship materialises normally. Outside is not the freezing inhospitable world the Doctor expects - and he accuses her of getting the co-ordinates wrong. They are in a city. However, this temperate planet is at the precise co-ordinates where Calufrax is supposed to be. The Key tracer seems to offer no clear direction for them to follow. The signal is diffused over the entire area. The streets are littered with gemstones - some very rare and precious. One of them the Doctor recognises as being unique to a planet which vanished...
A citizen reveals that there has just been a new age of prosperity announced. These events are presaged by the changing of the stars in the skies. Romana is captured and taken to the Bridge - a huge complex which overlooks the city. This is home to the Captain, who now rules the planet after the death of the evil old Queen Xanxia. Everyone is terrified of the Captain has he has a dreadful temper. Parts of his body have been replaced by cybernetic implants. He has a pet robotic bird of prey - the Polyphase Avatron - which he uses to destroy those who fail him.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has encountered a group of people known as the Mentiads. They had come to the city to take a young man who has become like them - developing enhanced psychic abilities. At the times of new prosperity, sensitive individuals can become Mentiads. The Captain is determined to destroy them. The Doctor is reunited with Romana at the Bridge and they discover that the complex houses massive Time Jump engines. They escape back to the city and a young man named Kimus elects to show them the mine-working areas. These are fully automated and no-one is allowed to enter them. The caverns beneath the surface are cold and wet - just like the surface of Calufrax... The Doctor's suspicions become clearer. Guards attack but they are rescued by Mentiads and taken to their shelter. The Doctor tells them of his findings. This planet - Zanak - travels through space using the engines in the Bridge. It is a hollow world. It materialises around smaller worlds - smothering them and leaving the remains to be mined for minerals. Any life is extinguished. It is these mass extinctions which affect the people who become Mentiads. The Bridge must be destroyed to prevent this ever happening again.
The Doctor returns to the Bridge and learns of the Captain's plans. He now has the necessary minerals to create a device which blocks the Mentiads' psychic abilities. The engines were damaged when the TARDIS first tried to materialise on the planet - they interfered with each other. To repair them he needs quartz, and Earth will provide this. They can make one more jump. The Doctor discovers that there is more to the Captain's schemes than greed. He has been harnessing the energies of all the destroyed planets - holding them in a condensed state in a secret chamber. The energy is keeping old Queen Xanxia alive - frozen behind Time Dams at the moment just before life expires. Xanxia had saved his life when his ship crashed here years ago. The Doctor deduces there is more still. The Captain intends to break through the Dams and kill her. He is constantly tended by a rather sombre young nurse. It transpires that she is Xanxia in a new, still unstable, body. Instead of being his servant, she controls him. K9 destroys the Polyphase Avatron. The Mentiads have just enough energy to sabotage the engines just as the Captain attempts to jump to Earth. The Bridge is wrecked. Xanxia kills the Captain when he openly revolts against her. her body then fails and she dies. The Doctor uses the husks of the dead planets to fill Zanak's hollow centre - first removing Calufrax, which he has realised is actually the second segment of the Key. The Bridge is blown up. Zanak will never more traverse the cosmos.
This four part story was written by Douglas Adams, and was broadcast between 30th September and 21st October, 1978.
When it came to writing, Adams had two main influences - his comedy heroes of the Cambridge Footlights, and science fiction. He had previously submitted a script for Doctor Who during Robert Holmes' tenure as Script Editor. This storyline involved an Ark in Space - which, of course, had already been done. I suspect this idea resurfaced in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - with the arks which contained the useful people - and the one with the useless ones, which turned out to be our ancestors. The Guide radio series was just being picked up when he was commissioned by Anthony Read to write The Pirate Planet.
Adams' main influence for this story is - you won't be surprised to learn - pirates. There's the Captain on his Bridge. He has a parrot like several pirate captains - in this case a robot laser-firing one. Its name references the traditional pet name for a parrot - Polly. Like Long John Silver, the Captain does not have his full complement of limbs. Instead of a crutch and wooden peg, or a hook for a hand, we have cybernetic additions. Instead of roaming the high seas plundering cargoes, Zanak roams space devouring whole planets.
The Captain is played by Bruce Purchase. Personally, I think he is wonderful. I love his bluster. I love his exclamations. Andrew Robinson's Uriah Heep-like Mr. Fibuli plays against him marvellously. They get some great scenes between them. Rosalind Lloyd has a bit of a thankless role as the nurse who turns out to be the reincarnation of Xanxia. She has to lurk silently in the background for most of the story. The only other performance of note is David Sibley who plays Pralix - the young man who becomes a Mentiad. Adams might be able to conjure great concepts, but some of the dialogue is atrocious.
Episode endings are:
- A group of Mentiads attack the Doctor with their mental energies. K9 fails to stop them. The Doctor is attacked again and slides to the floor...
- The Doctor, Romana and Kimus are being chased through the mines by the Captain's guards. They are then confronted by Mentiads...
- K9 has destroyed the Polyphase Avatron. In revenge, the Captain forces him to walk the plank - and he appears to fall to his death...
- The second segment has been retrieved, and Zanak will now have to settle in this location in space. The Mentiads use their powers to detonate explosives which blow up the Bridge.
Overall, a clever and witty script. Some wonderfully barmy ideas on show. A couple of terrible performances and some ropey dialogue. From this point on, Tom Baker's tendency towards less subtle humour becomes more pronounced.
Things you might like to know:
- Kimus is played by David Warwick. He has the distinction of being one of only a handful of people to have appeared in both the Classic and New Series. He's the police commissioner who appears in Army of Ghosts.
- This story has never been novelised - at least professionally. There is an Australian fan-produced version. Gareth Roberts has recently novelised Shada, and announced that he is about to tackle City of Death - so only a matter of time, one suspects, until this is finally novelised.
- Several lines of dialogue will reappear in Hitchhikers Guide... including "Don't Panic". The planet Bandraginus V is mentioned. Hitchhikers features a Santraginus V.
- The original story outline featured a Time Lord and temporal paradoxes.
- Romana operates the TARDIS "by the book" - i.e. following the TARDIS Operating Manual. The usual wheezing-groaning sound is heard. Has she also left the brakes on? The Doctor does rip a page out of the manual. Later, he will use it to prop a vent open. Later still, he will throw it into a supernova when he gets annoyed and disagrees with it.
- There is a little reference to this story in The Stolen Earth. One of the missing planets is called Calufrax Minor. A very unlucky planetary system, then.
Saturday, 15 March 2014
I decided to make the most of the lovely weather today by taking a leisurely walk along the Thames through Central London. It's a walk I've enjoyed many times, and have previously noted that it passes a number of locations that have been seen in Doctor Who. Here, then is my first DW locations walk. It follows the river eastwards from Pimlico. Why start there? Well, it's where I happen to live. The first location just happens to be right across the river from me and I see it every day:
Battersea Power Station. This was the first London landmark to appear in the programme - in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Ian notices it has lost two of its chimneys, and there is now an atomic power plant built next door. I can assure you there are no warehouses opposite the power station - though maybe there will be one in 2164. In 2006, the station featured in the programme once again - this time the location of John Lumic's Cyber-conversion factory in The Age of Steel. It also featured in early drafts of The Claws of Axos.
Continue eastwards along Grosvenor Road until you get to Vauxhall Bridge and cross over to the south bank. The remainder of the walk follows this side of the river. The next notable location we see is:
Millbank Tower - or the headquarters of International Electromatics. Tobias Vaughn's office is top floor right hand side. It is along this stretch of the Thames that the Skarasen emerges at the climax of Terror of the Zygons. As you approach Lambeth Bridge, you see the MI6 building opposite. This featured prominently in Torchwood: Children of Earth. It's where poor Ianto Jones pops his clogs. Pass through the underpass beneath the bridge.
Every time I walk past this spot, I imagine the sky full of Zeppelins. The TARDIS materialises just to the right of the snack bar - with Lambeth Palace in the background - in Rise of the Cybermen. Continue along the embankment and we are back in The Dalek Invasion of Earth territory.
Westminster Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament directly opposite. The latter are first seen in Doctor Who in the 1964 Dalek story as the pastry cutter saucer flies over them. Big Ben's biggest role is in Aliens of London, where the clock tower is smashed by the Slitheen spaceship. Those steps in the first image are the ones that Dortmun, Barbara and Jenny are seen mounting. A Dalek trundles along the stretch of embankment in the lower image and eyes the steps - wistfully, I thought. Ian and Barbara are also to be seen running along here at the conclusion of The Chase.
Go through the underpass beneath the bridge and you come to the old County Hall building.
Oh look - a Dalek! An advert for the Film & Television Museum which is in County Hall. This is one of the busiest spots in the whole of London, because it's where the Eye is located.
Used, of course, by the Nestene Consciousness to generate the Auton activation signal in Rose. Once you've fought your way through the crowds, you pass the Royal Festival Hall. Continue on towards Waterloo Bridge and you come to the South Bank complex, containing the National Theatre and the National Film Theatre.
It's looking a lot more colourful than it did when it featured in Frontier in Space. Katy Manning tells a lovely story about a group of homeless men getting the fright of their life when confronted by a squad of Ogrons when they filmed here. Make sure you check out the second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge before continuing your walk. You get some nice views of St Paul's Cathedral across the river - which features in The Invasion. More about that in a future walk. The next Doctor Who location is just past Tate Modern.
These beautiful old houses on Bankside feature in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Standing on the same spot and simply turning to the left you are confronted by:
Shakespeare's Globe. Its interior seen in The Shakespeare Code, naturally. David Tennant had his wedding reception in the bar next door, by the way. More Talons of Weng-Chiang coming up.
We're on Clink Street. Once the location for a notorious prison - and where we get that slang name for a jail from - there is now a "London Dungeon" style museum here. Many scenes from Talons were recorded along this short street, including the Doctor being narrowly missed by an axe - filmed just where the museum entrance is. Keep going towards London Bridge.
Two Doctor Who locations here - Southwark Cathedral in the foreground is where the Professor meets his doom in The Lazarus Experiment, and the Shard beyond featured as the base for Miss Kizlett and the Great Intelligence in The Bells of Saint John. Of course, the actual interiors of the cathedral were filmed at Wells Cathedral - much closer to Cardiff. Pass under London Bridge and along Tooley Street. You can rejoin the river walk by cutting through Hays Galleria. You'll see HMS Belfast, which happens to have a Doctor Who connection in that the independent video production Shakedown - which featured the Sontarans - was filmed onboard. Carry onto Tower Bridge - passing beneath it.
This is Shad Thames - location for Resurrection of the Daleks. The high walkways that once served the warehouses of Butler's Wharf are still there but the street has long been totally gentrified. Just before you pass under the first of them, on your left, is the short passage that leads to the river - where the TARDIS materialised.
You've now reached your furthest point east on this walk, so double back to Tower Bridge and cross over to the north bank. There is the Tower of London on your left - aka UNIT HQ since The Christmas Invasion - and St Katherine's Dock on the right. Go to the dock first.
You can see where the Doctor and Professor Litefoot boated to the sewer opening to rescue Leela from the giant rat in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. St Katherine's Dock also appears in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. A couple of Robomen are seen patrolling, with Butler's Wharf - where we have just come from - seen across the river. You can continue eastwards if you want to - taking in other Talons locations at Wapping and viewing Torchwood Tower at Canary Wharf. I elected to head for home - by tube from Tower Hill - so headed back towards UNIT HQ.
The Tower has been visited by the Doctor on several occasions. In a pre-An Unearthly Child story, the First Doctor got Henry VIIIth angry with him (by throwing a parson's nose at him) in order to get locked up there. That's because the TARDIS was in the Tower. During the reign of Elizabeth I, three Doctors were imprisoned there at the same time - Ten, Eleven and the War Doctor. During the reign of James I the Doctor was there and met Sir Walter Raleigh. Then, in Charles II's time, the Eleventh Doctor was locked up again - escaping by balloon, apparently.
If you want to cover the same ground, allow yourself a good three hours.
Friday, 14 March 2014
In which the Doctor's planned holiday is going to have to wait - after he is given an important mission by the White Guardian of Time. The Guardian diverts the TARDIS from its course. He appears as a white-haired old man, dressed like a Southern plantation owner. He informs the Doctor that the Universe is fast approaching a time of anarchy and chaos. Cosmic balance must be restored. To do this, he wants the Doctor to seek out the six disguised segments of the Key to Time. He reminds the Doctor that he has an equally powerful counterpart - the Black Guardian - who relishes chaos and will try to stop him.
To help him, he is given a new assistant - one of his own race. Back in the TARDIS he meets Romanadvoratrelundar - or Romana for short. She has been given a wand-like tracer which, when plugged into the console, takes them to the segments' location in Time and Space. It will also convert them from their disguised state and operate the completed Key - which is a crystal cube. Romana does not know of the Guardian's involvement. He had appeared to her on Gallifrey, where she worked in the Bureau of Ancient Records, in the guise of the President. The Doctor is not at all happy at having a new companion foist upon him - especially an aloof young Time Lady.
Their first destination is the planet Ribos in the Cyrrenhic Alliance. The Doctor notes that the signal moved prior to their arrival. The people of Ribos are not technologically advanced. They know nothing of space travel, and don't understand astronomy. Seasons on Ribos last for a generation and it is believed that there is an eternal battle between the Sun Gods and Ice Gods. Ribos is currently in its 30 year winter - Ice Time. The tracer leads the Doctor and Romana to the chamber containing the crown jewels. Here, they witness a confidence trick in progress. A man named Garron, and his young accomplice Unstoffe, appear to be trying to sell Ribos to a visiting noble - the Graff Vynda-K. Whilst on one of his many military campaigns, the Graff was deposed and replaced by his brother. He needs a base from which to launch an attack to reclaim his throne. Romana assumes that one of the crown jewels is the key segment, but the Doctor is not so sure. Unstoffe appears to be attracting the Graff's attention towards a large blue gemstone - a piece of jethrik. This is very rare. If there is jethrik on Ribos, he will be more eager to buy.
Garron's plan is discovered, and the Doctor and Romana find themselves accused of being his accessories. The jethrik had been planted in the jewel chamber by Unstoffe. He steals it back and goes on the run. The tracer shows that this is the disguised segment. K9 is summoned from the TARDIS and helps the Doctor, Romana and Garron escape. They take refuge in the ancient catacombs beneath the city. These are also home to savage reptilian creatures called Shrivenzales. The Graff employs an old witch known as the Seeker to help hunt them. The Captain of the City Militia - the Shrieves - has them all sealed into the catacombs, glad to see the back of these troublesome strangers. The Doctor manages to get the jethrik off of Garron, and the Graff is killed in an explosion intended for the Doctor and his friends. Garron and Unstoffe will have to console themselves with the Graff's loot-laden spacecraft/ Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Romana use the tracer to convert the blue gemstone into the first segment of the Key to Time...
This four part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and was broadcast between September 2nd and 23rd, 1978. It marks the beginning of Season 16 - the Key to Time season.
The idea of a season of linked stories - with an overarching plot - had been on producer Graham Williams' mind almost from his first day in the job. Stories for his first season were already too far advanced for him to do anything about that idea. Now, he and Script Editor Anthony Read envisaged six stories that could be enjoyed perfectly well in their own right by the casual viewer, but that would also reward the loyal viewer with the overarching storyline of a quest, or treasure hunt, that would pay off in the final adventure.
The Guardians of Time, who exist above and beyond the Time Lords, are introduced and there is a cosmic threat. The Doctor has to visit six locations throughout Time and Space and find six objects that will make up the Key. The set up allows for the introduction of the new companion - being specifically given Romana to help in the quest, instead of picking her up in the course of his travels as was usually the case for new companions. The Gallifreyan ice maiden is played by Mary Tamm. Romana becomes the first companion in the history of the programme not to have any connection with Earth - unless you count K9 Mark II. It is built in the TARDIS by the Doctor during the gap between the previous season and this story. Williams only brought in the new model when he was assured that the prop would perform better than it had in Season 15. Once again, K9 is voiced by John Leeson.
The design work (Ken Ledsham) and costumes (June Hudson) are obviously inspired by medieval Russia and the Byzantine church. There is a definite feel of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible about it. Furs and icons. There is no single obvious story reference - unusual for the cine-literate Bob Holmes.
The White Guardian is portrayed by the veteran stage and screen actor Cyril Luckham. Garron is Scots actor Iain Cuthbertson - no stranger to playing villainous characters who have a comedic edge. The Graff Vynda-K is played by Paul Seed, who is better known today as a director. He directed the original BBC version of House of Cards.
Unstoffe is Nigel Plaskitt. He has a wonderful scene with an old man named Binro. Played by Timothy Bateson, Binro was a scientist who challenged the beliefs of his people regarding the stars. He has become an outcast and heretic. Unstoffe is able to tell him that his own beliefs are true. The Captain of the Shrieves is Prentis Hancock, in his fourth and final Doctor Who appearance. The old Seeker is played by Ann Tirard. She had played the court poisoner, Locusta, in The Romans, back in 1965.
Episode endings are:
- Romana becomes trapped under a heavy door as the drugged Shrivenzale starts to wake up...
- The Doctor, Romana and Garron are surrounded by soldiers. The Graff orders their immediate execution, because no-one makes a fool of the Graff Vynda-K...
- Hiding in the catacombs, the Doctor knocks over a skull - attracting the attention of a prowling Shrivenzale...
- The tracer converts the blue gemstone into the geometric crystalline first segment of the Key to Time. One down, five to go...
Overall, a fairly low-key, studio-bound story to launch what is supposed to be an epic season. Bob Holmes creates another wonderful double act in Garron and Unstoffe. A clever and funny script. Some lovely performances. Shame they felt the need to include the rubbery Shrivenzales, which don't impress at all.
Things you might like to know:
- It was Paul Seed's pet terrier that bit Tom Baker very badly on the upper lip. This necessitated heavy make-up and the inclusion of an extra sequence at the beginning of the following story where the Doctor banged his lip on the TARDIS console. There are a number of publicity photographs where Tom has a prominent plaster on his face. Seed's dog had been trained to jump up and take a sausage from his mouth. Tom attempted the trick in the pub one lunchtime - and the dog bit off more than it could chew...
- The character of Binro the Heretic is clearly based on the astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642). He fell foul of Pope Paul V and the Roman Inquisition and was forced to recant his heliocentric views, spending the remainder of his life under house arrest.
- There is some debate about the nature of the Guardians. It is widely accepted these days that the Black and White Guardians are actually dual aspects of the same entity.
- The Doctor has a particularly long scarf from this story up until his costume gets its major redesign once JNT takes over. It was the result of stitching together the remains of the original scarf with the "stunt" version.
- At one point it was intended that Sarah Jane Smith would have rejoined the Doctor for this quest. Lis Sladen would be approached about returning to the programme again to help usher in the era of the Fifth Doctor.
- This is the last occasion in the Classic Series when a new companion will be introduced in a season opener. Lalla Ward is playing an already established character, and all the JNT companions will be introduced mid-season.
A slow drip of information about the new series. We know that they have moved onto the second block of filming. Keeley Hawes has been announced as playing a new villainous character - Ms Delphox - who is a banker on an alien planet. The story is being directed by Douglas Mackinnon.
Tuesday, 11 March 2014
First of all, apologies for the lack of posts over the last week. I have actually been celebrating my own half century, and so have been in various states of inebriation.
The week before, I was at a bit of a loose end as far as what to watch one evening. There was nothing on telly, and nothing in my relatively extensive DVD collection really grabbed my interest. Usually, under these circumstances, my default position is to stick a Doctor Who on. But which one? A B&W? Classic seventies? A Tennant?
As I perused the collection, I started to think about the extras - or Value Added Material as some folk term them these days ("Extras I calls 'em..."). Some of them I have only ever watched once, when the DVD was first bought. I realised that there were a lot of documentaries and features that I would really like to see again - the "Tomorrow's Times" features, the "Stripped For Action" ones, the big "Era Overview" docs, individual Making Of's, the wonderful tributes to Delgado, Courtney, Letts...
Again, which one to watch? One of the very best documentaries ever is "Genesis Of A Classic" - on Genesis of the Daleks. Tom Baker answering his mobile - a call from his first wife - whilst being filmed. Lis Sladen saying "arse" (you have to watch it until after the end credits...).
Bottom line (no pun intended) I decided to watch all of them - in order. It's the ultimate "Making of Doctor Who" documentary - especially now that there is only one final DVD release in the pipeline that we know about for certain.
Should you wish to follow me, start with the 55 minute "Origins" documentary on The Edge of Destruction. There are a couple of drawbacks. The missing stories are only fleetingly touched upon. Some stories don't have a "Making of" at all. You start to see where the same interview footage has been reused. Terrance Dicks tells the same stories. There is utter garbage such as the "Doctor's Strange Love" pieces.
On the whole, it is a very rewarding experience. Some of it has been quite moving - seeing the great and the good who are sadly no longer with us. When John Levene, on the "UNIT Family Part 2" doc, starts to lose it remembering Roger Delgado, I was losing it with him. We just lost the lovely Christopher Barry a couple of weeks ago. His love and pride for his work on the programme shines through in all the pieces he features on.
One of my favourite pieces (so far, having reached the earlier Tom Baker era) has little to do with Doctor Who at all. It is the interview with Philip Hinchliffe (the interview conducted by his daughter) discussing his remarkable career since he left the programme (on The Android Invasion DVD).
Personally, I have just been watching the extras on their own - leaving the actual adventures themselves to a future re-viewing.
It's an experience I am thoroughly enjoying - and would whole-heartedly recommend.
Sunday, 2 March 2014
In which the Doctor makes a mysterious rendezvous with a massive spacecraft. He leaves Leela in the TARDIS with K9, and disables the scanner to prevent her from seeing what he is up to. On his return, he refuses to tell her what he is up to, and sets the co-ordinates for Gallifrey. Arriving in the Panopticon, he announces his intention to take up the Presidency of the High Council of Time Lords. The post has lain vacant since his last visit. On that occasion, he had put himself forward as a candidate. His only opponent - Chancellor Goth - was revealed to be a traitor and was killed. Thus, the Doctor is now the President. Gallifrey has been governed by Cardinal Borusa, now Chancellor. He is vehemently opposed to the Doctor assuming power. The Doctor finds an ally in the new Castellan, Kelner - though both distrust each other. The Doctor orders Borusa to prepare his new quarters, specifying a specific industrial theme... At the induction ceremony, the Matrix appears to momentarily reject the Doctor. Borusa blames Leela for the attack. The Doctor orders that she be expelled from the Capitol. She goes on the run. The Doctor then instructs K9 to disable the protective Transduction Barriers. In a space traffic control station, Leela meets a technician named Rodan. She sees a spaceship enter Gallifreyan space and sounds the alarm. In the Panopticon, the Doctor invites the assembled Time Lords to meet their new masters. Shimmering beings appear. Gallifrey has been invaded.
The new arrivals are Vardans. They want the Doctor to completely dismantle the Transduction Barriers to allow their entire fleet to arrive. Kelner quickly allies himself with the aliens. The Doctor arranges to meet Borusa in his new quarters. The room is completely lined with reinforced lead. He informs his old tutor of recent events. The Vardans are able to travel via any form of wavelength - including thought. As such they can read his mind - though not in this room. The Doctor has a plan to identify the Vardan homeworld and send them back to it - trapping them there. Anyone hostile to the Vardans is expelled into the wastelands. Leela and Rodan go there and meet a group who have turned their backs on Time Lord society and now lead a simpler life. Leela informs them of the invasion, and they plan an attack. In the Capitol, the captain of the Chancellery Guard, Andred, enters into a plot to stop the invaders - by assassinating the Doctor. K9 links itself to the TARDIS to plot the Vardan homeworld. The Doctor manages to convince Andred of his innocence - giving him a lead-lined helmet to stop the Vardans reading his thoughts. The Vardans materialise fully - appearing as uniformed humanoid soldiers. As Leela and the outlers attack, the Doctor has K9 link to the Matrix. The Vardans are expelled from Gallifrey and their planet locked into a timeloop. Everyone celebrates in the Panopticon, but the jubilation is short-lived as a group of Sontarans appear...
The duplicitous Kelner joins forces with the new invaders. Borusa helps the Doctor and his allies escape and all take refuge in the TARDIS. The Doctor has the controls to the Transduction Barriers rerouted through his ship - to prevent the Sontaran forces landing en masse. Commander Stor has Kelner give him access to the ship. The Sontarans pursue the Doctor and his friends through the many rooms within the TARDIS, including the swimming pool, workshops, an infirmary and storerooms. The Doctor devises a plan - to build the powerful D-Mat weapon. He forces Borusa to hand over the Great Key - which powers the gun. When Stor's efforts fail, he decides to destroy the Capitol instead. The Doctor uses the D-Mat gun to obliterate him. He wakes up with no knowledge of having built the weapon. Gallifrey has been saved. The Doctor is about to depart when Leela announces that she plans on staying behind - having fallen in love with Andred. K9 will remain with her. The Doctor bids her farewell and travels on alone. He has a new project to keep him busy - K9 Mark II...
This six part adventure marked the end of Season 15. It is credited to David Agnew, and was broadcast between 4th February and 11th March, 1978. The writers were actually Scrip Editor Anthony Read, and Producer Graham Williams.
The story which was to have filled this slot fell through late in the day. Written by David Weir, it would have involved a race of cat people. Williams and Read had to hurriedly come up with a replacement. Read followed Holmes' advice of splitting six parters into a connected four and a two parter. To give the finale an epic feel, it was decided to have Gallifrey itself threatened. A popular existing monster was brought back, in the Sontarans. Sets and costumes from The Deadly Assassin could be reused. Much of the latter part of the story would be set within the TARDIS. Unfortunately, industrial action at BBC TV Centre caused much of this to be filmed on location at an abandoned hospital - and it shows. At no point do you ever feel that you are seeing parts of the ship.
Some very good special effects on show with a number of impressive spaceship shots. The shimmering tin-foil Vardans fail to impress, however. They're even worse when finally seen - boring uniformed humanoids.
Principle guest artists include John Arnatt, who takes over the role of Borusa. Angus Mackay had been invited back but had proven unavailable. Kelner is played by the wonderful Milton Johns, making his third appearance in the programme. Andred is Christopher Tranchell - also making his third appearance. Gold Usher is Charles Morgan, who had played Songsten in The Abominable Snowmen. Feisty old Lord Gomer, who wants to stay and fight, is also played by a series veteran - Dennis Edwards having played the Centurion in The Romans. Regular series stunt performer Max Faulkner gets his biggest role in the series as Nesbin, leader of the outler group. The Sontaran commander, Stor, is played by Derek Deadman, who was best known for comedy roles as well as criminals of varying types. The mask and vocalisation are not very good.
Episode endings are:
- As the Coronet of Rassilon descends onto the Doctor's head, he collapses in agony...
- The Doctor orders the assembled Council members to welcome their new masters, as three shimmering figures materialise...
- Andred enters the TARDIS and points his gun at the Doctor - threatening to execute him as a traitor to Gallifrey...
- The Doctor wonders why his friends have stopped celebrating. He turns to look at what they are staring at - and sees a group of Sontarans on the Panopticon steps...
- Thanks to Kelner's sabotage, the TARDIS is about to be thrown into a black star...
- The Doctor pulls out a large box - with "K9 Mark II" written on the side...
Overall, an ambitious serial that suffers from some poor production values. It's a pity the Sontarans couldn't have turned up earlier, as the Vardans are rubbish. The Part Four cliffhanger is one of the best of the classic series. A very poor (and unrealistic) departure for Leela.
Things you might like to know:
- The further adventures of Leela and K9 Mark 1 can be heard on the long-running Big Finish series "Gallifrey".
- It's supposed to be K9 Mark 1 that appears in the recent Australian K-9 TV series.
- Nesbin's people have often been called Sheboogans. These unseen characters from The Deadly Assassin are obviously little more than vandals, so this cannot be the case.
- It seems odd that a new Time Lady companion was created for The Ribos Operation, when the Doctor could just have taken Rodan with him on his travels. Up to the last minute, they were trying to talk Louise Jameson into staying, mind you.
- Louise Jameson was approached about returning to the series to help bridge the Tom Baker / Peter Davison transition. She has subsequently stated that she felt turning it down was a mistake.
- The shock appearance of the Sontarans at the end of Part Four was a great surprise in these per-internet days. Or it would have been, if the continuity announcement at the conclusion of Underworld hadn't featured a photograph of Sontarans in the Panopticon...
- Both Clara Oswald and the Great Intelligence pass fleetingly through Gallifrey at this time, though unseen by the Fourth Doctor.