Thursday, 31 December 2015

Bye Bye 2015...

That's your lot for 2015, you wonderful people. Excellent chaps, and chapesses, and trans- or bi-chaps, all of you.
See you next year. Or tomorrow, as it is also known. 
We still don't know when Doctor Who will return, or even how many episodes there will be. Might be a split season again. And we are still waiting to hear who the new companion is going to be.
At least there will be the Class Coal Hill School spin-off series on BBC3 in 2016 if we do get less proper Who. Might this be from whence the new companion arises...? Will I use less archaic language in 2016? Nay, and verrily nay, I thinketh not forsooth...
Have a peaceful and prosperous New Year folks. 
Happy Hogmanay!!!

TARDIS Travels No.36

TARDIS Travels comes right up to date with Series 9 and the 2015 Christmas Special. Last time, the Doctor and Clara left London at Christmas, 2014. Who knows how many unseen journeys there have been, but when we next catch up with the Doctor he is all alone...

Journey 786: Location and date unknown to Skaro, date unknown.
The TARDIS returns to Skaro, and once again the Doctor is not alerted to this fact. The Thal - Kaled war is in progress, and the Doctor comes across a frightened boy in the middle of a mine-field. On learning that this is the young Davros, the Doctor abandons him. How could the Doctor not know that he was on Skaro? Some sort of enemy-homeworld-alarm is surely called for.

Journey 787: Skaro, date unknown, to Karn, date unknown.
Feeling guilty, and that his end might be nigh, the Doctor goes to Karn and passes his Confession Dial to Ohila, leader of the Sisterhood. She is to give it to Missy.

Journey 788: Karn, date unknown, to Essex, England, 1138.
The Doctor takes himself off to medieval England to meditate. He stays in a castle for a month or so and becomes very friendly with the natives. A man named Bors becomes his squire, after he saves him from choking on a marble. Clara and Missy arrive - but so too does Colony Sarff, who has come to fetch the Doctor to meet Davros.

We don't see how the Daleks transport the TARDIS to Skaro. Some form of teleportation it would seem. The Daleks have a weapon that appears to destroy the ship. However, the HADS is in operation. The "D" now stands for Dispersal, rather than Displacement or Defence. The Doctor uses his sonic shades to reconstitute the ship.

Journey 789: Skaro - Dalek city to environs.
The Doctor takes the ship to the desert outside the city and he and Clara watch it being destroyed.

Journey 790: Skaro - date unknown to several centuries earlier.
The Doctor goes back to the mine-field, and this time he rescues young Davros. No sign of Clara. He may have taken her home first, unseen, otherwise she might be waiting in the ship.

Journey 791: Skaro, date unknown, to Caithness, Scotland, 2119.
The TARDIS arrives in the underwater mining complex known as the Drum, which lies at the bottom of a drowned valley. The Doctor notices that something is wrong with the ship - the presence of temporal anomalies as it will transpire.

Journey 792: Caithness, Scotland, 2119, to same, 1980.
The Doctor goes back to the point when the alien spaceship first arrived. The flood has not yet happened, and in the valley is an army training camp, designed like a Soviet township. With the Doctor are Drum crew members Bennett and O'Donnell. The latter is killed by the Fisher King.

Journey 793: Caithness, 1980 to same, half an hour earlier.
The Doctor attempts to return to 2119, but the ship won't allow this. This is because it is caught up in the Doctor's own time-stream. Instead, it goes thirty minutes into the past. The Doctor and Bennett must avoid their earlier selves - and cannot save O'Donnell.

Journey 794: Caithness, Scotland, 1980, to same, 2119.
Bennett is alone in the ship when the emergency hologram takes it back to the Drum. The Doctor is already there - having been in hibernation for 159 years - the reason why the ship didn't like landing here in the first place.

Journey 795: Caithness, Scotland, to unknown region of space, date unknown.
Unseen, the Doctor has led some belligerent aliens on a wild goose chase across the cosmos in order to drain their engines and weapons. Clara has been left hanging in space in the middle of a mine-field, with a parasitic Love Sprite in her spacesuit. The Doctor materialises the TARDIS around her.

Journey 796: Unknown region of space, date unknown, to Scandinavia, 9th Century.
The ship arrives somewhere in Scandinavia. Somewhere with fjords. And Vikings. Fairly rubbish Vikings.

Journey 797: Scandinavia, 9th Century, to London, 2015.
After saving Ashildr, by making her immortal, the Doctor takes Clara back home.

Journey 798: London, 2015, to Hounslow, Middlesex, England, 1651.
The Doctor traces an alien artefact to the countryside just west of London, where he meets Ashildr again. She's now Lady Me, and lives a double life as a Highwayman.

Journey 799: Hounslow, 1651, to London, 2015.
The Doctor goes to see Clara. She shows him a photo of one of her pupils, and he spots Ashildr loitering in the background. (Unseen, the Doctor has at some point taken the pupil to visit Winston Churchill).
The Doctor claims to have kept an eye on Ashildr / Me over the years when we next see her on screen, so lots of unseen journeys which appear to have been made without Clara being present - as Clara looks like she's seeing her for the first time since the Mire business in the Trap Street later on. Clara mentions then that the Doctor has a whole room in the ship catalogueing what she gets up to, which Clara isn't supposed to know about.

Journey 800: London 2015 to same.
The TARDIS travels to Brockwell Park, South London, arriving beside a children's play park. En route, the Doctor has received a warning from Osgood that the truce between the Zygon refugees and the humans might be about to break down - referring to the events seen in The Day of the Doctor. Lots of globe-trotting in this two-parter, but all by conventional transport. The ship is still in the park at the conclusion.

Journey 801: London, 2015, to the Le Verrier space station, 38th Century.
This station is in orbit around the planet Neptune. Not everything that happens here is necessarily true.

Journey 802: Le Verrier space station, 38th Century, to the second most beautiful garden in the universe, date unknown.
We don't get to see it, but the Doctor has almost married a sentient plant form, which almost ate Clara. An amorous Krynoid perhaps? Or maybe Meglos wasn't the last of the Zolfa-Thurans after all...

Journey 803: Second most yadda-yadda..., to London, 2015.
The TARDIS returns to London after Clara gets a call from Rigsy. It materialises in the living room of his flat.

Journey 804: London, 2015 to same.
In order to track down some town plans and maps, the Doctor moves the ship to the city centre.

Journey 805: London, 2015 - street level to mid-air.
With Clara hanging out of the open door scanning the streets below, the Doctor hovers the TARDIS over the city. This is so she can scan for the alien Trap Street.

Journey 806: London, 2015 - mid-air back to street level.
The Doctor takes the ship to the district where the Trap Street is situated. After Clara's death, and the Doctor's disappearance, Rigsy graffiti paints the exterior in her memory, with a portrait and flowers.

Journey 807: London, 2015, to Nevada, USA, 2015.
Presumably Clara and Ashildr bring the TARDIS here using their own TARDIS, which gets stuck in the shape of a diner. It's the same diner that the Eleventh Doctor visited with Amy, River and Rory - near Lake Silencio. Does it just look like it, or was that actually Clara's TARDIS back then? The real diner is in Cardiff Bay. I've breakfasted there a few times. Or have I actually been in Clara's TARDIS...?
On dematerialising, the graffiti peels off.

Journey 808: Nevada, USA, 2015, to Mendorax Dellora, Christmas 5343.
An Earth colony. The TARDIS tries to cheer the Doctor up by giving him holographic antlers. He is not amused, and is threatening to criticise carol singers. He does not notice, or at least comment upon the fact, that the street where the ship has landed looks suspiciously like a Trap Street in central London. (You'd think he would, considering what happened there...).

Journey 809: Mendorax Dellora, 5343, to starliner Harmony and Redemption, date unknown.
Not necessarily still 5343. The vessel is heading towards the Andromeda galaxy. The Doctor gets to do the "it's bigger on the inside!" bit - very badly. At first the ship won't budge, as King Hydroflax is both inside and outside the ship at the same time. The head's inside, and the robotic body is outside. River reveals that she has stolen the ship on many occasions - always returning it to the same place so the Doctor didn't notice. She has installed a drinks cabinet behind one of the lower level roundels, which he never knew about. One of the buttons which the Doctor always presses on dematerialisation actually vents the waste on Deck 7. The Doctor obviously hasn't been on Deck 7 for a very long time, and doesn't plan on going there anytime soon.

Journey 810: Starliner Harmony and Redemption - hold to bridge, date unknown.
Christmas Day, so of course the Doctor is on a spaceship that is about to crash onto a planet. Where else would he be? He's emergency teleported River back to the TARDIS and she materialises the ship around him. In this instance, the spaceship and its occupants (guests and crew) ain't worth saving.
The ship crashes onto the surface of the planet - Derrilium. The impact is felt within the ship.

The Doctor recovers before River and notes that it is night outside, and the wreckage is still blazing.

Journey 811: Derillium, date unknown to same - next morning.
The Doctor nudges the TARDIS forward a few hours. At least that's what it seems. We will find out shortly that a night on this planet lasts 24 years, so it may be more than a few hours, though the wreckage is still being dealt with. Knowing that a restaurant will be situated here overlooking the twin singing towers, the Doctor causes it to be.

Journey 812: Derillium, date unknown to same - a few years later.
The Doctor nudges the TARDIS further forward in time, without changing the geographical location. The restaurant is now built. Trouble is they don't have a booking until Christmas Day in four year's time.

Journey 813: Derillium, date unknown to same - four years later.
The Doctor nudges the ship forward by the four years, so that he and River can finally have that dinner that he kept postponing. She thinks it is her last night, but she's really got up to 24 more years to go. I'm sure that he will have a word with her about nicking his ship, and will make use of that drinks cabinet himself...

So there you have it. A whole year to wait until I can do TARDIS Travels No.38. A bit TARDIS-lite Series 9 was. Before the Flood had a bit but it hardly featured otherwise until you got to The Husbands of River Song, when it was used magnificently.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Husbands of River Song - Review

Three of them seen on screen in this year's Christmas Special, plus Stephen Fry in an adventure yet to be seen, apparently... Interesting to note that River often pinches the TARDIS when the Doctor isn't looking - opens up all manner of further River adventures.
This year, the special was broadcast as part of the BBC's late afternoon entertainment, rather than forming a focus for the main viewing of the evening. This seems to be part of the BBC's playing about with the scheduling of the programme this year. Series 9 was broadcast far too late, and the ratings suffered accordingly. I've just read that The Husbands of River Song came in 7th most watched show of the day - which is actually quite good. Above it were the (it had better be) finale of Downton Abbey, the usual soaps, Call the Midwife and Strictly - which you all expect to do well. The only oddity was one of of those CGI kids' movies getting number 6 place.
So what of the programme itself. I liked it. I think Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston work very well together, and despite the "last date" aspect of the closing few minutes I hope they are paired together again in the future. It was an oddly paced episode. All rom-com and heist-caper for the first three quarters, then that rather elegiac ending.
Not quite as Christmassy as previous specials? Not at all. We started with an Earth colony that is celebrating the festive season, then go to a high class spaceship which is partying (something a lot of folk do at Christmas), then we go to the restaurant on Duralium or whatever it's called and a festive dinner date. That little sequence with the Doctor nudging the TARDIS forward hour by hour, year by year, setting up the whole restaurant business was lovely.

The actual plot was silly, and funny. Greg Davies was suitably villainous as King Hydroflax - or his head at least. Dim and ranting and cyborg, he is the natural successor to The Captain from The Pirate Planet. The other big guest star Matt Lucas simply did what he does best - playing the bumbling fool Nardole.
Not a single mention of Clara, thankfully. No Doctor pining-a-lost-love in this.
Funny that the TARDIS is trying to cheer him up - with holographic antlers. It was rather disarming to see the Twelfth Doctor laughing his head off (though not literally, thankfully). Best sequence of all, and one that we will all remember, is his over the top reaction to seeing the inside of the TARDIS and pretending (badly) that he is surprised. I hope to see more sarcastic humour, rather than just plain rudeness, when Capaldi returns for Series 10.
It won't be remembered as one of the greatest Christmas Specials ever (RTD was supremely gifted in the crowd-pleasing department), but it's currently my second favourite one since Moffat took over.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Complete Series 9

Apologies for the lack of updates over the last week or so. Don't worry, normal service will resume later this week when I review The Husbands of River Song on Friday night.
Am taking a little breather now that Series 9 is out of the way. Coming soon will be the latest of the TARDIS Travels (once Friday evening's episode has aired), The Trial of a Time Lord Part 4, plus another history blog crossover looking at the real Emperor Nero. I am also planning a Star Wars / Doctor Who crossover piece, to tie in with the current release of the 7th movie. Haven't done one of those for quite a while.
In the meantime, I'd just like to flag up the fact that they have finally announced the release of the Complete Series 9 on Blu-Ray & DVD. It is in the shops in the UK on March 7th, 2016.
Lots of interesting extras advertised - including documentaries on the Daleks and River Song. Also deleted scenes, plus Comic-Con panels and interviews.
One thing I'm very pleased to see is that it will include both the 2014 and the 2015 Christmas Specials, with their attendant "making of" featurettes.
Talking of "Complete" things, I was disappointed to see that there is a big problem with the recent volume of the "Complete History" that covers The Mind Robber, The Invasion and The Krotons. Some of the text runs out prematurely, as though there is a page missing. Add to this a wrongly captioned photo in the Pertwee volume, and this "complete history" is proving to be anything but.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Story 143c - The Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 9 - 12)

Terror of the Vervoids.
In which the Doctor gets the chance to present his defence - showing the court a Matrix segment from his own future. It is 2986, and the starliner Hyperion III is about to leave orbit around the planet Mogar. As the passengers come aboard, an old man named Kimber recognises another man as Mr Hallett, an investigator. The man denies this, and disappears soon after. The captain, Commodore Travers, is told by Security Chief Rudge that it looks as if he has been pushed into the waste disposal unit. The Doctor is traveling with a new companion - Melanie Bush, known as Mel. She is a computer programmer from 1980's Earth. The TARDIS picks up a message which brings it to the spaceship. The Doctor knows Travers from a previous encounter. He also knows Hallett, and assumes that the message came from him. The Doctor starts to investigate the other passengers, which include a team of agronomists. They are led by Professor Lasky, who is accompanied by fellow scientists Doland and Bruchner. They have another colleague named Ruth with them, who is being kept in isolation in her cabin. Also on board are a trio of Mogarians. They wear protective suits and masks, as they find the human atmosphere toxic. Many Mogarians are angry that their planet's resources are being plundered by Earth people. One of the Mogarians dies, and the Doctor reveals that it is the missing Hallett in disguise. He knew this as he had failed to use his translator device.

Mel is curious about the cargo of huge vegetable pods which Lasky's team have brought on board. An officer named Edwardes takes her to see them. When he touches the fence around them he is electrocuted. Mel runs off, and doesn't see the pods burst open and bipedal plant creatures emerge. They conceal themselves in the air ducts. Crew members begin to disappear. When the Doctor breaks into Ruth's cabin, he finds that she has been infected. She is starting to turn into one of the plant creatures. Mel is knocked out and almost ends up in the waste disposal system. Mr Kimber vanishes from his cabin. Bruchner goes mad, and takes over the bridge - intent on plunging the Hyperion III into the Black Hole of Tartarus. The creatures in the air ducts generate a poisonous gas akin to methane which kills the hijacker. The Mogarians are able to enter the bridge and get the ship back on its course. Soon after, they are murdered when someone throws water into their face plates.

The plant creatures are Vervoids. They were created by Lasky and her team, and she intends to use them as a slave labour force. Ruth became infected by one of their spores. Bruchner had feared that they will destroy all life on Earth should they have reached the planet, and so tried to destroy the spaceship. The Doctor agrees that they pose a threat to all mammalian life. It transpires that Rudge, about to be retired against his wishes, had been in league with the Mogarians to steal the valuable minerals stored on board. Rudge is killed by the Vervoids, who add his corpse to their human compost heap which they are building in the air ducts. Lasky is also killed. Doland is revealed as the murderer - intent on making his fortune from the Vervoids. The creatures kill him as well. One of the minerals held in cargo is vionesium, which burns with an intense light. The Doctor uses it to advance the Vervoids' photosynthesis processes - rapidly burning up their life span.
In the court, the Doctor points out that he was specifically called in by Hallett to investigate what was going on, and he saved Earth as the arrival of the Vervoids would have meant the destruction of all human and animal life. The Valeyard points out the the creatures were a unique species, which the Doctor destroyed totally. He suddenly finds himself accused of genocide, for which the penalty is death...

This four part segment of  Season 23 was written by Pip & Jane Baker, and was broadcast between 1st and 22nd November, 1986. It marks the debut of Bonnie Langford as new companion Mel.
Terror of the Vervoids is the most commonly accepted name for this section of The Trial of a Time Lord, but it has also been known under the title of "The Ultimate Foe". Others use this as the title for the concluding two episodes of the season.
As new writers dropped out of the plans for this season, and existing writers' work was also discarded, producer John Nathan-Turner turned to the veteran husband and wife team of the Bakers as he had become firm friends with them after the production of Mark of the Rani, and he felt they could write quickly with little need for rewrites. JNT's relationship with script editor Eric Saward was as good as dead by this point, following the death of Robert Holmes, and JNT's concerns about his final set of scripts.
The Bakers took their inspiration from whodunnit stories such as Agatha Christie's - especially Murder on the Orient Express (which Prof. Lasky is seen to be reading at one point), and Ten Little Indians. In keeping with the "Christmas Carol" set-up of the season, this would be the future storyline. The Doctor would already be traveling with the new companion, and it was felt that it did not have to be Mel's introductory story. She would simply be there - trying vainly to get the Sixth Doctor into shape with exercise bikes and carrot juice.
There was huge fan outrage at the time of Langford's casting - feeling that the producer's love of light entertainment (and publicity) had gone too far, and that she was not a good enough actress. The former can be said to be true - but certainly not the latter, as she has proved time again since.

There is a great guest cast assembled. Professor Lasky is former Avengers and Bond girl Honor Blackman. She had been considered for a number of roles in the show in the past. Commodore "Tonker" Travers is Michael Craig, who was best known for Triangle at the time. He's the ship's captain in that, and plays this almost exactly  the same. Doland is Malcolm Tierney, who had once shared digs with a certain Tom Baker. (Check out You Tube for Tom's This Is Your Life). He was best known for playing a villain in the C4 soap Brookside. Also from that programme was Tony Scoggo, as Hallett. Mr Kimber is played by Arthur Hewlett - last seen in the series in State of Decay.
Episode endings are:
  1. Mel and Edwardes are looking around the cargo hold. He touches the fence around the strange vegetable pods and is electrocuted. Mel screams...
  2. The Doctor and Mel are in Ruth's cabin. They peel back the sheet covering the bed and see that she is half-Vervoid. Mel screams...
  3. Travers informs the Doctor that Bruchner is steering them directly towards the Black Hole of Tartarus. Mel doesn't scream, but the Doctor looks a bit upset...
  4. The Valeyard accuses the Doctor of committing genocide, which means a death penalty. The Doctor looks even more upset...

Overall, the weakest part of the season. That great guest cast is mostly underused. As a whodunnit it doesn't quite work - as the spaceship is too sparsely populated. Dreadfully over-lit, apart from the air ducts where the Vervoids do their lurking. The "futuristic" space crew costumes look naff. There is some of the most dreadful dialogue ever heard in the programme.
Things you might like to know:
  • This and the concluding two-parter were treated as a single production under director Chris Clough. As all the filming took place in advance of the studio work, Bonnie Langford had already done all of the Matrix scenes for The Ultimate Foe before she got to record this. This story has no filming.
  • The character brief prepared by JNT has Mel a computer programmer from the village of Pease Pottage. Mel never really gets to do anything with computers for her entire tenure aboard the TARDIS. Pease Pottage gets barely a mention, although Bonnie Langford did pose for a publicity picture beside the town's road sign.
  • The brief claimed that Mel first met the Doctor when she helped him foil an attempt by the Master to destroy the UK economy.
  • Langford was appearing as Peter Pan in panto at the Aldwych Theatre at the time her casting was announced, so Colin Baker went along to get his photos taken with her, uncomfortably flying in theatrical harness.
  • Rumours of Langford's casting had got out in advance, and Saward asked JNT if they were true. He categorically denied them.
  • During the recording of this story, JNT was informed of an interview that was about to be published in Starburst magazine. Eric Saward was going to dish the dirt on their working relationship, and set out all the things he thought JNT was getting wrong. JNT considered legal action, but his BBC bosses thought that this might lend credence to what Saward was saying.
  • JNT resigned, and this was accepted. When the BBC found that they couldn't get anyone to replace him, his resignation was unaccepted. He would stay on, but his star would not. It was during transmission of this story that Colin Baker was told that he had been sacked.
  • For the first episode's cliffhanger, Bonnie Langford's scream blends seamlessly into the end music.
  • This is the last time we see Colin Baker in the TARDIS console room.
  • Just how can the Doctor view something from his own future? The Matrix is only supposed to be able to predict future events, not relay their specific incidents. Doesn't the fact he has a future undermine the Valeyard's efforts to have him killed here? If the Doctor has viewed this adventure, how did he react when he got to experience it for real? One answer is that this story was only a possible future - so might possibly never have even happened.
  • Mel's first meeting with the Doctor finally saw light in one of the Virgin novels - Business Unusual. It's by Gary Russell - so is stuffed with pointless continuity references.
  • During his stint as editor of DWM, Clayton Hickman put a Vervoid on the front cover of one issue - prompting some complaints as it looked vaguely gynecological...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

December's Figurines

Three figurines arrived yesterday. The two regular ones are the Eighth Doctor and Chanto. With them is the latest of the subscriber-only special Daleks - the Imperial Guard from Parting of the Ways.
Chan-Chanto first-To. Hardly a must-have figure I would have thought. A perfectly nice model, but I don't see it being displayed anywhere near the front of my collection. A C-lister at best.
The Eighth Doctor, controversially, has him as he appeared in the 7 minute long on-line only minisode Night of the Doctor, rather than as he was in his traditional first (and only) TV appearance in The Movie. Bizarrely, the accompanying magazine covers the 1996 abomination and not the minisode as the featured story. I have to say that the likeness to Paul McGann is not terribly good, unless he has recently been diagnosed with acromegaly and I missed it.
The Dalek is one of the rarest examples of the creatures ever seen in the show. This only appeared very briefly in the one episode, floating about in the background behind the Emperor. It only existed in CGI form. Three of the guards were bronze with black domes, but this one had a black skirt as well. No, the sucker hasn't been bent by the packagers. It actually has a vertical buzz-saw attachment.
If you've read my "Know Your Daleks..." features of old, you'll know that I missed this fellow altogether.
Great news for next month - a Sensorite!!!!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Know Your Cybermen No.20

Hell Bent (2015)
At least two Cybermen are imprisoned in the Cloisters of Gallifrey. We see both of the post-2005 versions. The earlier RTD one was featured prominently in a photo published the week before transmission, but it is one of the newest versions which was seen in the finished programme. It attempts to grab hold of Clara. Owing to the entangling cables, it is impossible to see if the earlier Cyberman is a Cybus one.
The Doctor explains that these creatures are ones who attempted to break into the Matrix - either part of an invasion attempt or as spies. The presence of both types raises the question - did they come separately, or together? There is a theory, prompted by Nightmare In Silver, that the two versions overlapped and may have been contemporaneous for a time.
The alternative is that the Cybermen attempted to break into the Matrix on two separate occasions.
Anything to do with the Time War? The Cybermen have never been categorically stated to have taken part. Equally, it has never been stated that they did not take part at some point.
These captive Cybermen have now become part of the very thing they came to steal.

Story Notes:

  • Just before Series 9 premiered, the Radio Times mentioned that it would include Weeping Angels and Cybermen, and yet none of the story synopses seemed to fit their appearance. It transpired that these were simply cameos in the season finale.
  • The Cloister Wars are mentioned. These seem to have been a civil conflict that took place before the Doctor first left Gallifrey. 
  • Lots and lots of references to previous stories in Hell Bent. I'll be running through all the ones I've spotted shortly.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Hell Bent - Review

There is a lot of good things to be said about Hell Bent, the finale to Series 9. There are also quite a few bad things to say about it.
I think casual viewers will have been mostly bored with it, waiting for a bit of spectacle that never comes. Long-term fans will certainly have been pleased with the various references to past stories (such as The Deadly Assassin), and the sight of a classic era TARDIS interior. Clara fans got to see her saved from death, or at least death deferred.
Pre-publicity all focused on the Doctor's return to Gallifrey. The Time Lord President, played by Donald Sumpter in his third role in the programme since 1968, turned out to be Rassilon - last played by Timothy Dalton in David Tennant's swan-song. The Doctor returns to the barn where he slept as a boy, and where he went to activate the Moment at the end of the Time War. After having the entire episode to himself last week, Capaldi took a bit of a breather and didn't say a word for the first 10 minutes or so. If we thought the episode was going to be about Rassilon we were wrong. He gets beat fairly early on, and is exiled from Gallifrey, along with the rest of his High Council.
Clara then gets saved by an Extraction Chamber, lifted out of time in the last second of her life. She's supposed to go right back, but the Doctor has other ideas.
The rest of the episode is about the Doctor attempting to keep her alive. The trip to the Cloister was ultimately pointless. It was simply somewhere for the Doctor and Clara to pass through to get to somewhere else. Rather gratuitous cameos for a Dalek, Cybermen and Weeping Angels, posing no threat whatsoever. If you thought that Ohila was going to have some relevance this season, you'd be wrong. She turns up just to watch, and doesn't do anything.
The Doctor then steals another TARDIS. If you ever wanted to see the return of the old console room on a full-time basis, this should have gotten that out of your system. It is just too cold, white and clinical. The Doctor then pays a call on the end of the Universe - and there's Ashildr / Me waiting for him. From her we finally get to know what the Hybrid is - it's the pairing of the Doctor and Clara (I think).

It then looks as if they're going to repeat the conclusion to Donna Noble's travels, by having Clara forget the Doctor - except they put a tiny spin on it and it is the Doctor who forgets Clara. Except he doesn't. In the framing diner sequences he clearly remembers what they got up to together, and he then sees her portrait painted on his TARDIS - the same face as the girl he just talked to in the diner. That's the diner which dematerialised like a TARDIS. We know from previous stories that the TARDIS keeps records of its inhabitants. He's a bit thick if he can't piece this together.
Clara and Ashildr go flying off through the Universe in a TARDIS that's stuck looking like a diner.
She's been acting like a Doctor for a while, and now she really gets to be one. Or will she be the "companion" to Ashildr, who will have vastly more knowledge than her.
I've watched it twice now. It doesn't really feel like a series finale somehow. I've come to expect the companion's departure to come out of the adventure. The Doctor meets and defeats the series' menace, and the departure comes about as a consequence to this. Here, the whole story was just the companion's departure. Again. Everything else was window dressing.
It looked good and, as I have said, it was fan-pleasing - but it lacked incident and felt a little cold.
Am looking forward now to The Husbands of River Song for a bit of warmth and humour. And a plot.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Story 143b - The Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 5 - 9)

In which the inquiry into the Doctor's actions continues. The Valeyard shows the court the arrival of the Doctor and Peri on the planet Thoros Beta. The Doctor is investigating how high-tech weapons have fallen into the hands of a Thordon warlord. They enter a cave and find a control room, and are attacked by a creature called the Raak, which appears to be a modified aquatic species. They are captured by humanoid guards, but manage to escape into a labyrinth of tunnels. Here, Peri discovers that Thoros Beta is homeworld to the Mentors - the race to which Sil belongs. They are finally apprehended. The Doctor learns that a human scientist named Crozier is working here. He is concerned to hear that the Raak had attacked them, as it proves his current experiments are not working. He has a captured Krontep king in his laboratory - Yrcanos - and is trying to alter his mind to pacify him. This is not going to plan either. The Doctor learns that Crozier has been employed to save the life of the Mentor leader, Kiv. He processes all the Mentors' financial transactions through his head, and his brain has expanded dangerously within his skull. Crozier must transplant it into a new host. Sil is present, tasked with ensuring his leader's survival or else facing his own death.

To learn the truth about what happened with the Raak, Crozier uses his equipment on the Doctor. This has the effect of scrambling the Doctor's mind. Yrcanos escapes along with Peri. The king takes a shine to the young Earth woman. They find his equerry, Dorf, chained up in one of the tunnels. Crozier's experiments have transformed him into a wolf-man, which the guards have called the Lukoser. Yrcanos vows revenge. There are captives from Thoros Alpha here, and some of them have escaped and set up a resistance movement. Yrcanos must find them and lead them into battle. The Doctor appears to join forces with Sil, offering him future knowledge of galactic events in order that he can make money out of them. He also causes Peri to be recaptured. The Doctor supervises her interrogation personally, as she is chained to rocks as the tide comes in. The body of a maritime Mentor is found, and this looks as if it will be a suitable host for Kiv's brain. The Doctor assists with the surgery. It is successful, but Crozier claims that it can only ever be a temporary measure.

Crozier has another scheme in mind, and he decides that Peri might make the perfect host to take Kiv's mind, rather than his brain. The Doctor's mind clears and he joins Yrcanos in looking for the rebels. Unfortunately, the group has been discovered and most have been killed. Only a young man named Tuza is left to join the king and Dorf. They set off to rescue Peri and stop Crozier. Dorf is killed. Suddenly, the TARDIS appears in the corridor and the Doctor is placed in a trance - to be lifted away to face this inquiry. Yrcanos and Tuza are placed in a time bubble. In the laboratory, Peri is no more - her mind gone and replaced with that of Kiv.
In the courtroom, the Doctor is furious at the intervention of the Time Lords at this crucial stage. The Inquisitor explains that Crozier's mind transference experiments threaten the cosmos and must be stopped at any cost. Yrcanos is going to be used as an assassin. He is freed from the time bubble and enters the lab to find his new love dead. He opens fire - apparently killing everyone in the room.
Back in the court, the Doctor is horrified to learn that his companion is dead...

The second segment of The Trial of a Time Lord, four episodes collectively known as Mindwarp, was written by Philip Martin, and was broadcast between 4th and 25th October, 1986.
The character of Sil, as played by Nabil Shaban, had proved to be very popular, and Philip Martin was asked to write a follow up. As mentioned previously in my look at the lost Season 23, this would have been in an adventure with the Ice Warriors. When the various planned stories were dropped due to the series going on hiatus, Martin was one of those retained to contribute to the new Trial format.
This time we would visit Sil's home planet and see more of his kind.
Producer John Nathan-Turner asked Martin to include Peri's death. The writer did not have a happy experience on this story - being asked to link it to later episodes that were still to be finalised.
Colin Baker's big gripe was how to play some of the scenes where the Doctor appears to be acting nasty. Was this the Matrix lying, or the Doctor only pretending to fool the Mentors, or is it due to his brain being scrambled? He was not given any clue from the director or from script editor Eric Saward. Martin himself, watching it later, wasn't sure what was intended due to the acting in these scenes. He wasn't happy that a lot of the humour which he had put into the scripts had been removed.

The guest cast includes Patrick Ryecart as Crozier, who was apparently bemused by the entire experience. He hadn't understood any of it. Yrcanos is Brian Blessed, officially a National Treasure in Britain. Two actors will return in the new series - Christopher Ryan (Kiv) will be back as a couple of Sontarans, and Trevor Laird (guard commander Frax) played Martha Jones' dad. As Tuza is Gordon Warnecke, who had his big break in My Beautiful Launderette.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor has been strapped to an operating table with a metal helmet placed on his head. Sil orders Crozier to extract the truth about what happened to the Raak. The Doctor convulses in agony as the machine is switched on. The Doctor looks scrambled.
  2. Believing him to be working for the Mentors, Yrcanos levels his gun at the Doctor. The Doctor looks aghast.
  3. Peri, Yrcanos and Tuza are all shot down by Frax. In the court, the Doctor claims that he cannot be held responsible for this, but the Valeyard asserts that he should be. The Doctor looks troubled.
  4. Having seen his companion die, the Doctor rounds on the Time Lords and accuses them of being of responsible. The Doctor looks determined.

Overall, it is a more satisfying segment than those around it. Sil is very funny. On seeing it at the time, the death of Peri was obviously shocking - one of those "you had to be there" moments. Probably a big mistake having the Sixth Doctor appear to be nasty and unpleasant once again (even if this is part of the context of the plot). In her last story, Peri gets to do a lot of the Doctor-y stuff.
Things you might like to know:
  • It was during the studio rehearsals for this story that news reached the team that Robert Holmes had died.
  • Unusually, the OB filming took place after the studio recording. This was at a beach near Brighton, much frequented by nudists.
  • As mentioned, Eric Saward took a lot of Philip Martin's humour out of the scripts. When episodes under-ran, Saward had to add scenes - such as the whole sequence with the elderly Mentor complaining about how loud Yrcanos is, and the stuff about the Alphan rebels.
  • The huge circular steel vault door which appears prominently in the story got paid more than Nicola Bryant, as she has often said in interviews. She managed to see a receipt for its hire.
  • A small reptilian alien appears briefly as one of Kiv's guests in the second episode. The face looks familiar, as it is a reused Terileptil mask painted purple. Inside is actor Deep Roy, who had been Mr Sin in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. The alien is called a Posicarian. Jimmy Vee has got his gig these days, with Roy far too busy doing things like the new Star Trek movies now.
  • Due to staff shortages at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Dick Mills was suggested to do the music as well as the sound effects for this story. JNT said no, and Richard Hartley did the music instead - his only work on the programme.
  • Brian Blessed forgot the name of the aliens at one point and called them "F***ers" - necessitating a retake. As the principle guest artist, he wasn't reprimanded too harshly. Someone should do an edit of this story with the name "Mentors" replaced with "F***ers" throughout, voiced by BB.
  • The producer will go on to trash Peri's death scene by having her married off to King Yrcanos - the Matrix having lied about her death. This then begs the question about just how much of this story is actually real. Presumably Crozier is killed and his work destroyed, but we don't know what happens to Sil or to Kiv.
  • Philip Martin, in the novelisation of this tale, has Yrcanos going on to do very well on the US wrestling scene, with Peri as his manager.