Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Inspirations - The Space Museum

This story has never been known as anything other than The Space Museum. That's because it is set in a museum, which is in space. Or at least on another planet. Which is in space.
The fact that the travellers have arrived in a museum seems relevant in the first episode, but matters less as the story progresses.
It is really a conventional revolution / alien invasion plot. A planet - in this case Xeros - has been invaded by aliens - the Moroks - and the Xerons rise up and win their world back.
Now if you've listened to the DVD commentary you'll know that story editor Dennis Spooner rewrote large chunks of this script, which the credited writer - Glyn Jones - was not happy about. Unusually, Spooner actually removed some of the humour. He tended to add jokes.
Talking of jokes, there is an old one amongst fans regarding this story - namely that The Space Museum has three things wrong with it: episodes two, three and four...

The first episode is intriguing, and is certainly the better of the four. For the first time in the series, time travel plays a crucial part. For a series about a time machine, the mechanics of time travel are rarely used dramatically throughout the classic era of the show.
The TARDIS crew, at the end of the previous story, still dressed in their Crusading clothes, suddenly become frozen where they stand as the ship's lights dim. As this story opens, they wake to find themselves standing in their modern outfits. The historical gear is stowed away in the closet. Time has jumped forward. The Doctor shrugs this off - it's what happens when you travel through time - but the companions are obviously baffled. Vicki drops a glass of water, and it suddenly reconstitutes itself and jumps back into her hand. The ship then lands on the planet Xeros, where they see the museum on the scanner. Venturing outside they find it to be a dry, dusty world. The planet name derives from the Greek word for "dry". The travellers find that they are not making any footprints in the dust.
They go to the museum and find that the Morok guards, and later some of the young Xerons, cannot see or hear them. Nor can they hear what the Moroks or Xerons say. Vicki then finds that she can pass her hand through a solid museum display. Eventually the crew find a room in which they see themselves on show as exhibits - along with the TARDIS.
The Doctor realises that they have jumped a time track. They have arrived too early in their own time stream. They must wait for time to catch up with them, and when it does they will be seen and heard - leading to them ultimately being turned into exhibits.

That's all just the first episode, and it's wonderful stuff. We then get the boring and bored Moroks, led by Governor Lobos. Jones got the names from "morons" and "lobotomy". These guys are supposed to be stupid hulking brutes. The Xerons, meanwhile, are all trendy jazz-age teenage boys, dressed in cool black. There's a battle of the generations behind the battle to win back the planet. The hipsters want to kick out the boring trad old dads.
The concept of the teenager was a post-war phenomenon. Before the war, children went to bed one night and woke up the next day as young adults. The war led to a fracturing of family life, with many children growing up without an adult role model - mainly boys not having seen their fathers for many years, assuming they made it back at all. Youngsters had more disposable income once we got into the 1950's, and so lots of people wanted them to spend it on them. Venues opened that catered for younger people - such as the coffee bars - and new music was developed that was geared towards them. Young people themselves began to make the music.
Adults did not know how to react to this new phenomenon, and so there was much social conflict between them and the older generation. Church and State, and the Sunday papers, predicted the breakdown of society. Every time the oldies pushed, the teenagers just pushed back.
Observing the zombies today staring at their mobile phones, the oldies might have had a point...

One of the museum exhibits is a Dalek, of the type seen in their very first story. This gives Hartnell the chance to impersonate one, when he hides in the empty casing. Ian thinks it unlikely they will encounter them again - a production in-joke as the next story will see them return, and the closing sequence trails this.
If there is one Greek legend that Doctor Who has touched upon more than any other over the decades, it is that of the Minotaur. Ian decides to dismantle Barbara's cardigan and use the wool to guide them through the labyrinth of the museum.
The word "Museum" derives from a place sacred to the Muses. They were the nine daughters of Zeus. A couple of their names will be familiar to Doctor Who fans, as they were used for characters - e.g. Erato and Thalia (a big green blob and a Member of the High Council of Time Lords). They represented various artistic forms - different forms of poetry, dance, and so forth. A Macedonian king had nine daughters and decided to name them after the Muses. He thought them more gifted than the goddesses, and they were all turned into magpies. Fickle lot, the Greek pantheon.
There was a museum in Alexandria in the 3rd Century BC, but the modern concept of a museum begins with the Ashmolean in Oxford, which opened its doors in 1683. It was designed to house the bequest to the university from Elias Ashmole. Rome's Capitoline Museum was the first art collection to be owned by the public (1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection).

Back to the time mechanics. the idea of people coming across alternative versions of themselves is an old one. There's a 1963 Twilight Zone episode starring Jack Klugman called "Death Ship", where a group of astronauts arrive on a planet and find a crashed spaceship identical to their own - containing their own dead bodies. Space: 1999 did something similar much later.
Much of this Doctor Who story is taken up with the Doctor and friends debating predestination and free will. What do they have to do to stop themselves ending up as exhibits? Each action they take is debated - is it taking them closer to the glass cases, or away from them? The Doctor is sure that what they have seen is one possible future, and need not come to pass. Their interactions with the Xerons and the Moroks will have had an impact - throwing many variables into the mix. As it is, it is Vicki - the one who doesn't see the point in worrying about consequences - who helps with the rebellion, breaking into the armoury, and so leading to the downfall of Lobos and his men.
The explanation for the time track jump turns out to be a prosaic one. Jones had it that it was the Morok equipment which caused the problem, whereas Spooner makes it yet another TARDIS fault - another stuck switch (as with Edge of Destruction the year before).
Next time - a works outing for the Daleks. Ian dad-dances, Barbara loses another cardigan, Vicki discovers that the Beatles played classical music, and the Doctor beats himself up...

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

World Enough And Time Images

The BBC have released a number of photographs for this week's forthcoming episode. Three different lots of Cybermen, and our first proper look at John Simm as the Master.

I believe "Squeeee!!!" would be an apposite epithet.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

June's Figurines

Three figurines this month, as we have the latest of the larger Special Editions released. Now before you wonder why Azal the Daemon is sporting a blue bracelet and finger ring, my figurine arrived in a damaged state. The right hand was off, and two of the fingers. I have had to make a temporary running repair with a bit of blu-tac, pending the purchase tomorrow of some super-glue. (Sending it back for a new one is just more hassle than it's worth). I have had other damaged figurines in the past - usually Daleks minus an eye-stalk or utility arm.
The two regular releases this month include the Roger Delgado Master, as seen in Terror of the Autons. The resemblance is a bit more caricature than realistic. He is posed brandishing his TCE weapon.
With him is a Tetrap, from Sylvester McCoy's debut Time and the Rani.

I'm not at all sure I like the Azal figure. The hair seems all wrong. I think they've used as a source an image of him where the hair has been cropped. The face should be rounder, with the hair shaggier. I dislike the colour difference between the chest / arms and the legs as well. Again, the source photographs may be to blame for this.
Next time - one of the alien Voord.

Eaters of Light - Review

Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudenim faciunt, pacem appellant.
So Tacitus claimed that a Caledonian chieftain - Calgacus - said of the Romans, but writer Rona Munro gave part of this quote to young Pict Kar in Eaters of Light. Roughly it means: to ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert they call it peace.
For those not in the know, Munro wrote the last ever story of the classic period of Doctor Who - 1989's Survival. This makes her the only person to have written for both eras of the show - and 12 years in, it's unlikely anyone else will be invited to do so, unless Chris Chibnall is busy trying to coax Terrance Dicks out of retirement.
The inspiration for this story is the mystery of the Roman 9th Legion - IX Hispana - which disappeared. The last record of them was in York in 108 AD, and it is believed that they met their doom fighting local tribes in Northern Scotland. Bill mentions reading "the book" - presumably Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth. It was adapted as a movie in 2011 - The Eagle.

Like her other story, Munro makes a group of young people her protagonists - in this case two rival bands. First we have the mostly young Picts, led by Gatekeeper Kar and her brother; then we have the young deserters from the 9th Legion, led by Lucius. Being Rona Munro, she has strong female characters - in Survival all of the stronger characters were the female ones, whilst the male characters included the easily manipulated Midge, the evil Master, and the bullying Paterson. I'm going to assume that the similarity in names with Kar and Kara (the principal Cheetah person in Survival) is just coincidence, to tie in with the crow motif. That was a nice touch - that the crows talked and were remembering these events.
In case you hadn't worked it out from her name, Munro is Scottish, so it was only natural that she might look to her homeland for a story idea. It allowed for a number of jokes at the expense of my native land - mainly weather-related. Of all the places a light-eating creature could have turned up. The Doctor only had to wait for the August Bank Holiday and the monster would have been done for. (The chief jokers about the Scottish weather are the Scots themselves).
Talking of the monster, it did look like it was a bit of a bolt on, like the series has to have a monster of the week. Munro clearly wanted the story to be about the two groups of young people coming together. I couldn't quite get the monster's MO. It fed on light, yet seemed to be most active at night.

The young cast acquitted themselves admirably - especially Rebecca Benson (Kar) and Brian Vernel (Lucius). Vernel is no stranger to Sci-Fi, having had a role in the last Star Wars movie. The regulars were all well served. I enjoyed the banter between the Doctor and Nardole. I'm glad that we've been getting to see a bit more of the latter, him having to take a back seat whilst Bill was being established. Now, just before the series began, it was stated that Bill was going to be an out and proud lesbian. Pearl Mackie and Steven Moffat were at great pains to say that this was no big deal. Indeed, it shouldn't be. So why is it being made such a big deal of? It's nice to see that the average Roman teenager was quite open minded about sexual mores, but did the story have to stop dead whilst Bill reminded us yet again that she prefers girls?
And so we come to one other strong female character - yet another appearance by Missy. There she was sitting in the TARDIS, which she now seems to have the run of. She's even been doing a bit of engine maintenance. The Doctor clearly feels that the time is coming to trust her, that they might actually become friends once more as they once were as children. From the trailer for the next episode - the first half of the series finale - we see the Doctor is sitting it out in the ship whilst Missy gets to be him, at least for a bit. Interesting that the Doctor calls them Mondasian Cybermen, rather than just Cybermen. All Cybermen originated on Mondas, apart from the parallel Earth ones. It will be interesting to see how they explain two Masters. From the latest issue of DWM we know that the spaceship is 400 miles long and is on the edge of a Black Hole, and that time runs differently at one end from the other. Might this temporal differential be the answer?
Expectations for the next two weeks are running high.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

B is for... Buckingham, Lady Jennifer

An aristocratic woman who joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1917. She went to France where she worked as an ambulance driver. She was one of thousands who were abducted from Earth and set down on an alien world, mentally conditioned to believe that she was still in the midst of the First World War. Finding herself in No Man's Land, she gave a lift to the Doctor and his companions - Jamie and Zoe. The ambulance was captured by German troops, then liberated by British soldiers under the command of Lt. Carstairs. At the British HQ, in a requisitioned chateau, Lady Buckingham was called upon to act as a witness at the court martial of the time travellers, who had been accused of being German spies. She and Carstairs were concerned at the way the tribunal was conducted, as their conditioning was starting to break down. Together they helped the Doctor and his friends escape and made off in the ambulance. They passed through a strange mist and found themselves confronted by Roman soldiers. Back at the chateau, Lady Buckingham and Carstairs learned the truth of where they were. They moved on to the American Civil War zone, where Lady Buckingham was captured first by Union soldiers, and then by a rebel group. She stayed on to help tend to the wounded.
She would have been returned to Earth after the Doctor had called upon the Time Lords for assistance. Carstairs was last seen hoping to find her again.

Played by: Jane Sherwin. Appearances: The War Games (1969).

  • Sherwin was the wife of the then current producer of Doctor Who, Derrick Sherwin.
  • It would be nice to think that Lady Buckingham and Lt Carstairs found each other and lived happily ever after. However, the Time Lords would certainly have wiped their memories when they sent them home. Then again - both had an aptitude for overcoming mental conditioning.

B is for... Bucket, Lorna

A young woman who was a Cleric in the army of the Papal Mainframe. She came from the Gamma Forests, and had met the Doctor when she was a child. Her colleagues were convinced she only joined the army in order to meet him again. Stationed on the asteroid Demons Run, she tried to be friendly to Amy Pond, who was held captive there after giving birth to her daughter Melody. Lorna gave Amy a prayer leaf - a piece of cloth embroidered with the baby's name. When the Doctor and his friends turned up to rescue Amy, Lorna elected to join them. She was able to warn the Doctor that a trap had been set for him. She was fatally wounded in the subsequent battle. The Doctor told her he remembered her, but then admitted this was not the case after she had passed away. River Song's true identity was revealed when the TARDIS tried to translate the name on the prayer leaf.

Played by: Christina Chong. Appearances: A Good Man Goes To War (2011).

B is for... Buchanan, Joe

When the TARDIS materialised in what appeared to be a hotel, circa 1980's, the Doctor, Amy and Rory encountered a party of people who were trapped there. Behind each door in the complex lay someone's darkest fear. Joe Buchanan had already encountered his - ventriloquist dummies. The Doctor found him in the dining room, which was full of dummies. He had been tied up by his friends for his own protection. He was in a manic, euphoric state. The Doctor noted from his tie-pin and cuff-links that he was a gambler. At first the Doctor thought that the Minotaur creature that was stalking them was feeding on their fear, but he later realised that it was their faith on which it fed. In Joe's case, his faith was in luck. Joe was killed by the Minotaur.

Played by: Daniel Pirrie. Appearances: The God Complex (2011).

B is for... Bruchner

A member of Professor Lasky's team who joined the Hyperion III on its voyage from the planet Mogar to Earth. Bruchner had helped Lasky develop a new plant-based lifeform - the Vervoids. They planned to exploit these creatures as a source of slave labour back on Earth. However, it was known that Vervoid pollen was incredibly dangerous - a single speck being enough to infect a human being. His conscience troubling him, Bruchner started to rebel against his colleagues. He became increasingly unhinged and decided to crash the spaceship into a nearby Black Hole, to stop the Vervoids reaching Earth. He seized the bridge and sealed himself in. The Vervoids could emit a toxic gas. Hidden in the ventilation system, they used the gas to kill Bruchner. The crew were able to retake the bridge with the help of the Mogarian passengers, who had their own breathing apparatus.

Played by: David Allister. Appearances: The Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 9 - 12) - AKA Terror of the Vervoids (1986).

B is for... Bruce, Donald

Donald Bruce was the Head of Security for the World Zones Authority in the early part of the 21st Century. His role meant that he worked closely with Salamander, who was building a power base for himself - blackmailing or disposing of his political rivals. Bruce came across the Doctor in the office of Giles Kent, after he investigated a number of deaths at Astrid Ferrier's home. She was a known associate of Kent's. The Doctor looked like the would-be dictator, and managed to fool him. He inadvertently allowed Salamander to realise that he might have a doppelganger. A bluff, no nonsense man, Bruce saw himself as impartial, and so was open to at least listening to the allegations that the Doctor and Kent made about Salamander's methods. His suspicions aroused, he discovered the full extent of Salamander's crimes. He gave Jamie and Victoria safe passage and then arrested Salamander's personal security chief, Benik. Salamander fled, only to die when he was sucked out of the TARDIS after trying to impersonate the Doctor.

Played by: Colin Douglas. Appearances: The Enemy of the World (1967 / 8).

  • Douglas announced to his co-stars that he felt acting in Doctor Who was beneath him, and he would never appear in the programme again...
  • Douglas played lighthouse keeper Reuben in Horror of Fang Rock, in which he also voiced the alien Rutan.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Inspirations - The Crusade

Often referred to as "The Crusaders", after the novelisation, or "The Lionheart", after its opening episode.
This is writer David Whitaker's first story where he wasn't being called upon to help with some structural aspect of the series. Up to now, he has written a pair of two-parters - one to bring the series up to 13 episodes, in case the programme was going to be cancelled, and to help bridge a gap until Marco Polo was ready to go before the cameras once the series knew it had a future; and the other to introduce the new companion. Here, he gets to write what he wants to write, and he chooses to go for a historical plot, based around an episode of the Third Crusade.
It's also the first full directing credit for the military-minded Douglas Camfield. He has been working on the series since the first story, where he got to direct the film sequences at Ealing. His first directing job on the series was the final, fourth, episode of Planet of Giants. Parts three and four ended up being edited together - but Camfield was allowed to get the on screen credit as most of the composite episode was his.
Time for the latest history lesson. In 1187, the city of Jerusalem fell to Saladin - Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub - who had unified the Saracen forces under his command. King Henry II of England buried the hatchet with old rival King Philip II of France, and together they planned a new Crusade with Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor - specifically to retake the Holy City.
Henry died, and so the English forces came under the command of his son, the new King Richard - Coeur de Lion. On the way to Palestine, Richard collected his sister - Joan - who was the widow of the King of Sicily, and who had been treated badly by the new monarch, Tancred. Richard sacked Messina, and forced a treaty with Tancred. The old Holy Roman Emperor died on his way to the Crusade - drowning whilst crossing a river in what is now Turkey. Many German troops decided to head for home, and those who remained came under the command of the new Emperor - Leopold V.

The Crusade got off to a good start, as the cities of Acre and Jaffa fell - bloodily - to the Europeans. The Doctor Who story joins the narrative at this point. It is late in 1191, and Richard is stuck in Jaffa. He goes hunting one day, and the time travellers arrive in the forest just as the Saracen forces, under the command of the fictional Emir El Akir, attempt to ambush and abduct the King. The ambush was based on a real incident, from November of 1191. It is companion Barbara who ends up kidnapped - threatened with being committed to the Emir's harem. All of the El Akir stuff is based on cliche about nasty Arab potentates - from movies like The Thief of Baghdad or the Sinbad films.
The story treats Saladin much more sympathetically. Parallels are drawn between him and Richard - two warriors who are stuck in an impasse. They are sick of bloodshed, and struggle for a peaceable resolution which protects their reputations.
This leads to the plot point of Richard considering a marriage of his sister to Saladin's brother - Saphadin (Sayf ad-Din). Again this is based on historical fact, but it actually preceded the ambush by a month or so. Joan - or Joanna here - did indeed rebel against this idea and invoked support from the Pope against it.
Whilst the two leaders are presented sympathetically, the English side has a villain to match El Akir - the Earl of Leicester. He isn't an out and out villain - he just thinks that soldiers should fight and not mess about with diplomacy. The Doctor is angered by his single-mindedness and lust for military glory, and so makes an enemy of him. Ian exits the historical aspects of the story to pursue Barbara in the fictional part of the story. On his way, he encounters Tutte Lemkow's devious bandit - another cliched character. He is balanced out by the Arab character whom Barbara has encountered - the honourable Haroun, who opposes El Akir as he killed his wife and son, and abducted his eldest daughter.

Ian and Haroun turn up at the Emir's palace in time to rescue Barbara, and El Akir is killed by Haroun who gets his daughter back. The Doctor has been accused by King Richard of giving away the marriage plot to Joanna, but the King later admits he knows it was Leicester. He suggests that the Doctor and Vicki get out of town, but on their way back to the TARDIS they get caught by the Earl and his men, accused of witchcraft. Ian turns up just in time and claims the right to execute them - having been made a Knight of Jaffa by the King before he set off to rescue Barbara. The Earl agrees - only for Ian to bundle his friends into the ship and so escape off to the next adventure. The Doctor has told Vicki that Richard will see Jerusalem, but never manage to take the city. Again this is based on fact. Richard believed that he might take the city, but would never be able to hold it. In 1192 he left Palestine, after signing a treaty with Saladin that permitted pilgrims and merchants to visit Jerusalem, provided they were unarmed.
David Whitaker was obviously inspired by Shakespeare in his writing of this story, and uses iambic pentameter for some of the dialogue - primarily for some of the guest artists such as Julian Glover's King Richard, Jean Marsh's Joanna, Bernard Kay's Saladin, and John Bay's Earl of Leicester. Simply put, iambic pentameter involves the stress that is made on syllables of speech - where the first syllable is unstressed, but the second one is, and there are five of these in a line. Whitaker also indulges in blank verse - where the lines sound like poetry but don't necessarily rhyme.
Had Julian Glover proved unavailable, Douglas Camfield had another young actor in mind - Nicholas Courtney. He would reuse Jean Marsh, who had been briefly married to future Doctor Jon Pertwee, in his forthcoming epic 12 part Dalek story. Courtney would get a role in this - as Marsh's brother. The Crusade almost saw the first pairing of Courtney and Marsh as brother and sister, and significantly Marsh's third and final appearance would also be alongside Courtney, as the Brigadier was brought back for the Sylvester McCoy story Battlefield. This was based on Arthurian legend. Marsh was Morgaine - based on Morgana Le Fey, who is supposed to have had an incestuous relationship with her brother.
Interestingly, Richard was reputedly incestuously involved with his sister - and this featured in Whitaker's original scripts. William Hartnell objected and this was cut. Glover and Marsh attempted to slip some of this back in during rehearsals. Producer Verity Lambert put her foot down - telling the actors: "Don't think I don't know what you're doing...".
Next time - Morons from Outer Space...

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Empress of Mars - Review

I always worry going into a new Mark Gatiss Doctor Who episode. After writing one of the best stories for the very first series - the spooky The Unquiet Dead - he followed up with a number of very weak entries. Just looking at the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, three of his stories lie in the bottom quarter - The Idiot's Lantern, Victory of the DaleksNight Terrors. Cold War, which brought the Ice Warriors back, fared a little better. Since then we have had Robot of Sherwood, which is very badly structured, and Sleep No More, which gained the bottom place in last season's polls. Victory was particularly awful, and it's significant that the Daleks themselves couldn't be bothered waiting for it to end - clearing off fifteen minutes before the finish.
I'm very pleased to say that his reputation has improved somewhat with Empress of Mars. It is a good old-fashioned sort of story, one that could have fitted into any previous era. Gatiss is known to be a big fan of the Pertwee era, and this had a certain Pertwee vibe. We even had a cameo appearance from Alpha Centauri from the 1970's Peladon stories, which proved to be the swan song for the Ice Warriors in the classic series. Centauri was even voiced by its original actor - Ysanne Churchman, still going strong at nearly 92 years of age.

The episode was littered with movie references - some explicit, as Bill suggested viewing ideas for the Doctor. The original of one of these - The Thing - was itself an inspiration for the original Ice Warriors story. A mention of Disney's Frozen was inevitable. It's clear that Gatiss is a big fan of 1964's Zulu. We have a beleaguered squad of pith-helmeted red jackets on foreign soil, fighting against the superior numbers of the native population. It's significant that Ice Warrior "Friday" was found in South Africa. Much could have been made of Imperialism and colonialism - turning the Red Planet pink - and overt messaging could have killed the episode dead. The soldiers are more mercenary - more interested in promised mineral wealth than imposing Victorian values. Fortunately Gatiss decides to make the story one of trying to get two races to get along with each other, as the Doctor has previously tried to do with the humans and the Silurians / Sea Devils. The Pertwee era again.
I'm going to hazard a guess that Gatiss is also a fan of The First Men in the Moon - another 1964 movie, derived from the H G Wells story, which opens with present day space explorers discovering that the Victorians had got there first.

The soldiers were well served by the script, with some of the minor characters given some depth. Special mention must be made of Anthony Calf as the commander - Godsacre. He is looking for a fresh start after being almost executed for cowardice many years ago. His secret is known by Captain Catchlove - a splendidly villainous turn by Ferdinand Kingsley - son of Ben. Godsacre gets his moment of redemption, and it was only right that he was the one to plug Catchlove.
Nice to see more than a single Ice Warrior, and Iraxxa - the Ice Queen - is a great addition to the Ice Warrior race. Gatiss could have gone for a new Ice Lord, like Izlyr or Azaxyr. One slight quibble was the Ice Warrior method of despatch. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. The compression effect in this episode was supposed to look gruesome, but tended to appear slightly comical. Back in the day, deaths by Ice Warrior sonic disruptor were achieved by filming the victim in a flexible mirror substance - Mirrorlon - which was manipulated from behind by a stage-hand, so that the victim's body seemed to warp and buckle. It was actually more effective than the new effect.
Set in the late 19th Century, this is the earliest Ice Warrior story, chronologically speaking. They head off to a new home at the conclusion - explaining away some very old continuity problems where the creatures were noticeably absent from their own home planet. The humans are going with them, but aren't likely to last long if there aren't any women with them. I'd like to think that they get settled on Peladon - where we know the biology is compatible.
Finally, the story arc. There was no explanation as to why the TARDIS returned to Earth, or why Nardole couldn't get it to return to Mars. I am going to guess that this was the work of Missy, who is plotting to get her hands on the ship. Since the Master was brought back, it has been clear that he / she does not have a TARDIS, and presumably she no longer has her Vortex Manipulator, so if the character is to escape back into the cosmos she will have to obtain some wheels at some point. The latest issue of DWM declares that Michelle Gomez is leaving the series along with Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat, but I'm sure the character in a new incarnation will be left available for Chris Chibnall to bring back.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

B is for... Brown, Peri

Young American botany student who was companion to the Fifth and Sixth Doctors. Peri - short for Perpugilliam - was on holiday with her step-father Howard when she first met the Time Lord. Howard was engaged on an archaeological dive off the coast of Lanzarote. Peri was bored, and had an offer to go travelling with friends. Her step-father tricked her into getting stranded on his boat so that she would miss the flight. She attempted to swim ashore but got into difficulties, and had to be rescued by the Doctor's companion Turlough. He put her to bed in the TARDIS, but soon afterwards the android Kamelion fell under the malign influence of the Master, and took the ship to the planet Sarn. Peri saw the robot appear in the likeness of Howard, and then as the Master, as well as an intermediate stage where it looked like her step-father but with metallic skin. Peri helped the Doctor and Turlough fight against the Master and Kamelion. It was she who discovered that the evil Time Lord had been shrunk in height, which was why he had taken over Kamelion and brought them here.
Once the Master had been defeated, and Kamelion destroyed, Peri informed the Doctor that she was not in any rush to get back home. As Turlough was leaving to return to his own people, the Doctor agreed to let her travel with him.
At their first new destination, however, she was to see the Doctor sacrifice himself for her and be forced to regenerate. They had arrived on the planet Androzani Minor, where both became infected with a terminal disease - Spectrox Toxaemia. Peri came close to being killed by a firing squad, accused of being a gun-runner, but she was saved by Sharaz Jek and his androids. Jek was determined that Peri would remain with him. The Doctor was able to secure an antidote but there was only enough for Peri. She woke in the TARDIS in time to see him regenerate.

Whilst she liked the Fifth Doctor, she found his new incarnation to be vain, pompous and arrogant. His regeneration proved unstable, and at one point he tried to throttle her - suspecting she was an alien spy. He then decided that she must live with him as his acolyte on an uninhabited planetoid. Fortunately there was an alien presence nearby, and the Doctor decided to investigate. After defeating the Gastropod Mestor, Peri travelled with the Doctor to present day Earth, where they encountered the Cybermen, hiding in the London sewer network. The Cyber-Leader used Peri to force the Doctor to take them to Telos, where Peri met the indigenous Cryons.
Soon afterwards, the TARDIS broke down in space. The Doctor was prepared to sit out eternity, but Peri decided to dig out the ship's manual and insist that something could be done to repair it. This took them to the planet Varos. Here Peri met the slug-like Mentor Sil, who found her appearance revolting. Peri found herself being experimented upon, as a transmogrification beam started to transform her into the animal that she most identified with subconsciously - in her case a bird.

Luckily the process was reversible, but she soon found herself about to be killed by a cellular disintegrator when held captive with the Governor of the colony. Both were saved by one of the guards. During a visit to England during the Industrial Revolution, Peri got to use her botanical skills - helping find plants to prepare a drug to calm the workers who had been left in an agitated state by the Rani's experiments. On her plant-finding expedition, she was almost turned into a plant herself but was saved by Luke Ward, who had been turned into a tree.
Her next journey took her eventually to present day Spain, and an encounter with the Second Doctor and his companion Jamie. The sadistic Androgum, Shockeye, at one point intended to eat her.
The TARDIS found itself on the planet Karfelon after coming into contact with a time tunnel. Peri was left behind whilst the Doctor set off to rescue a young Karfelon who had fallen into the tunnel with an important piece of equipment. As soon as the Doctor had gone, Peri found herself threatened by the guards. She sought refuge in a cave system where she encountered a group of rebels. They spared her as she was able to identify a photograph of Jo Grant in a locket - Jo and the Third Doctor having previously visited the planet. The Borad, mutated leader of the planet, decided that Peri would become his consort - after first being subjected to the same mutation. She was chained up with a cannister of mutagenic gas, about to be savaged by a Morlox reptile. The Doctor rescued her, and her revulsion at the Borad's appearance later caused him to be overcome and thrown into the time tunnel.

On the planet Necros, Peri met the DJ who played music and news to the people in hibernation in the funeral complex. She had heard his American accent but was disappointed to learn that it was faked. Peri was then captured by Davros and the Daleks.
Determined to go somewhere fun for a change, the Doctor was going to take her to Blackpool, but they next visited the planet Ravolox, which intrigued the Doctor. Peri realised that it was really the Earth, blasted by a fireball and then moved across space millions of years in her future. This was when she saw that a tunnel was really part of Marble Arch Underground station. Peri found herself welcome to join the Tribe of the Free, on the understanding that she would take on multiple husbands. Much of Peri's time on the TARDIS seemed to involve someone wanting to mate with her.
Her final journey led to another encounter with the alien Sil, this time on his home planet. The Doctor had his mind scrambled, which caused him to treat Peri in a cruel fashion - at one point chaining her to rocks as the tide came in. The Krontep King Yrcanos found himself enamoured of Peri, due to her bravery and ability to stand up to his bluster.
Scientist Crozier, needing to save the life of the Mentor ruler Kiv, decided to transplant his mind rather than his brain, and Peri was chosen as the host. As the Doctor raced to save her, the Time Lords removed him in order that he could face his trial. Yrcanos was going to be used as an assassin to destroy Crozier and his work. In the trial room, the Doctor saw Peri killed on the Matrix screen. Her head had been shaved, and her mind was gone - replaced with that of Kiv.

Later, it transpired that the Matrix had been tampered with, as the Doctor had suspected. The Inquisitor revealed that Peri had survived, and was living with Yrcanos as his queen.

Played by: Nicola Bryant. Appearances: Planet of Fire (1984) to Trial of a Time Lord (1986).

  • Bryant did not know that her character had been saved until later on. When she came to do the commentaries for the DVD box set of the Trial season she saw the new end sequence for the first time. She hated the idea, preferring that the character had been killed off.
  • The novelisation of her final story has a postscript in which Peri is acting as manager to Yrcanos, who is a celebrated WWF-style wrestler.
  • Bryant, who is from Guildford, got her accent from an American room-mate, and during the early part of her tenure on the programme had to keep up a pretence of being American for the press.

B is for... Brotadac

Cruel, but rather dim-witted, second-in-command of the Gaztaks - a mercenary force led by General Grugger. They were tasked by Meglos, last of the Zolfa-Thurans, with abducting a human male from Earth. He was to act as a template so that Meglos could assume the appearance of the Doctor. This was so that he could retrieve the power source for a devastating weapon. The Gaztaks took Meglos to the neighbouring planet of Tigella in order to get the power source - the Dodecahedron - which ran the Tigellan underground city. Brotadac was envious of the Doctor's burgundy overcoat. Back on Zolfa-Thura, he got two of them - one from Meglos, and the other from the Doctor, who was impersonating the alien who was impersonating him. The Doctor sabotaged the weapon so that it backfired on itself - and Brotadac and the Gaztaks were killed along with Meglos.

Played by: Frederick Treves. Appearances: Meglos (1980).

  • Treves' great uncle was the physician, also Frederick, who discovered John Merrick, the Elephant Man - the character portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the David Lynch film.
  • The writers of Meglos admitted to Treves that his character's name was an anagram of "bad actor", as they had expected someone less distinguished to be given the role.

B is for... Brooke, Adelaide

Commander of the first manned settlement on the planet Mars - Bowie Base One. Captain Brooke headed an international team. She was a strict leader, showing little humour. She was particularly hard on her second-in-command - Ed Gold - but this was due to them previously having had a relationship.
The Doctor found himself visiting the base, and was horrified to find that the date was 21st November, 2059. He knew that this was the date when the base was destroyed in a nuclear blast, with the loss of all hands. The reason was never known, but Brooke must have activated the self-destruct sequence. The Doctor was determined to leave when it became clear that the crew were under attack from a water-borne parasitical organism. He admitted to Brooke that her grand-daughter would be inspired by her to become a space pioneer, and her descendants would have a significant role to play in intergalactic relations. Brooke told the Doctor of a childhood event - when she had witnessed the Dalek invasion after the Earth had been transported across space to the Medusa Cascade. Her father had gone out and left her, never to be seen again, but she had seen a Dalek outside her window. It had failed to kill her. The Doctor believed this might be because she formed a fixed point in time.
When he finally left the base, the Doctor decided that, as the last of the Time Lords, he no longer had to adhere to the Laws of Time. He would attempt to rescue as many of the crew as he could. Brooke was horrified, as this would mean the future he had described would never happen. She felt no-one should have the Doctor's powers. She went ahead and activated the self-destruct sequence to prevent the parasite from reaching the Earth. The Doctor took Adelaide back to her home on Earth. To keep history on track, however, she elected to shoot herself. History changed only in that she was recorded as having died on Earth, instead of on Mars.

Played by: Lindsay Duncan. Appearances: The Waters of Mars (2009).

  • Amongst her many, many roles, Duncan voiced the protocol droid TC-14, seen at the beginning of The Phantom Menace.

B is for... Broken Tooth

A member of the Tribe of the Free on the planet Ravolox. He acted as right hand man to Queen Katryca. He had lived in the underground domain ruled over by Drathro - the L3 robot. Drathro ordered periodic culls of the population to maintain numbers, but a Train Guard named Merdeen secretly sent those to be killed out onto the surface, where they joined the Tribe. This is how Broken Tooth came to be part of the Tribe.
As no-one had ever seen Drathro, he had the reputation of being an immortal god. When the L1 servo robot was sent out to recapture the Doctor, Broken Tooth and his warriors destroyed it. Believing that it was Drathro that they had destroyed, Katryca led the Tribe on an attack on the underground shelter. They found that the "Immortal" was still alive, and Drathro killed Katryca and Broken Tooth with a powerful electric shock.

Played by: David Rodigan. Appearances: The Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 1 - 4) - AKA The Mysterious Planet (1986).

  • Rodigan is best known as a DJ, specialising in reggae music.

B is for... Brockless, Tommy

Tommy Brockless was a young soldier who was hospitalised in Cardiff in 1918, suffering from shell-shock. Torchwood agents Carter and Derbyshire realised that he was at the centre of temporal disturbances. They had him removed from the hospital - St Teilo's - and had him placed in cryogenic suspension at the Hub. He was to be unfrozen one day per year, in order to undergo a medical check-up. Instructions were left that Tommy would one day be called upon to save the city. Toshiko Sato elected to look after him on the days he was unfrozen, and she became attached to him - looking forward to the annual event. St Teilo's was in the process of being demolished, and Captain Jack discovered that the temporal disturbances were increasing. The 1918 time zone was in danger of clashing with the 21st Century. It was realised that Tommy would need to be sent back in order to activate a Rift device that would seal the time breach. However, he was due to be executed for his shell-shock, branded a coward. Going back would mean his death. Tommy decided to go back, but his illness stopped him from activating the device. Tosh sent an image of herself back in order to help him.

Played by: Anthony Lewis. Appearances: TW: To The Last Man (2008).

Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Lie of the Land - Review

A great first half to last night's episode - the concluding part of the Monks trilogy - but I was left a bit disappointed with the latter section. Not for the first time this series I was looking at the clock and wondering how things would be tied up with so little time left to go. The resolution to the invasion seemed a bit too easy. The Monks never did reveal why they had invaded, and the fact there only seemed to be three or four of them made the logic for their plans even murkier. The Pyramid spaceship seemed to have been left pretty much undefended, especially the crucial central chamber from where the memory manipulation was being generated. And, as she was crucial to their plans, you would have thought that the Monks would have been keeping a closer eye on Bill. The Doctor wasn't very well guarded either.
It all started off promisingly enough, with shades of Last of the Time Lords as the populace is enslaved, overlooked by massive statues of their oppressor. Not only that, but the Doctor seemed to be in agreement with the invaders, helping to peddle their propaganda. I have to admit that the Monks seeding themselves throughout history was slightly reminiscent of the Silents, though this was fake memory rather than forgotten memory.

Bill is suing memories of her mother to keep her own memories alive, and she's soon reunited with Nardole. Together they set out to rescue the Doctor - except he doesn't appear to want to be saved. His behaviour finally drove Bill to grab a gun and shoot him - leading to that apparent regeneration glimpsed in the series trailer. Of course it was all a ruse, to make sure Bill was free of Monkish influence. Things picked up with the visit to Missy in the Vault. It's a great pity that we couldn't have seen her earlier in the series, with the Doctor seeking her advice on other matters, like Clarice Starling visiting Hannibal Lector. Seems Missy is going cold-turkey on being evil. We know that she will be travelling in the TARDIS as a companion later in the series, but presumably this change of hearts won't last long.
As I said, once the action moved to London, it all seemed a bit rushed - with the Monks plan looking very shaky. Earlier, Missy had claimed that the Monks had lost planets in the past when they lost the person who was the focus for their power. Again , this just showed up the illogicality of their scheme. It also seems very odd that the Doctor has never come across them before, if they have ruled planets for thousands of years.
Taking the trio of episodes as a whole, there was definitely a problem with structure and pacing. The first part was certainly the strongest of the three.

Friday, 2 June 2017

DWM - and Infinity

I read last night that the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine was going to have a choice of two covers, and would have a 1960's theme to tie in with the imminent return of two aliens who first appeared in that decade. I obviously thought that I would pick up the Mondasian Cybermen version, having a certain soft spot for Cybermen above all other Doctor Who monsters. I get to my local W H Smiths after work, and there is the Ice Warrior Empress one staring down at me off the shelf. I start leafing through the copies behind - and they're all bloomin' Ice Warrior ones.

Now I was going to pen a strongly worded e-mail to DWM about this - using analogies with Brexit and the forthcoming General Election about democratic choice etc, but then thought I would just have a moan here instead. The Ice Empress is quite a striking image after all.
Whilst in W H Smiths (other newsagents are available), I was reminded that next week sees the release of Issue No.2 of a new Sci-Fi magazine called Infinity.

You therefore only have a couple of days to get hold of this premier issue. It's from the publishers of Dark Side Magazine, who produce a fantastic 6-weekly publication covering horror film and TV, including some Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I've been buying DS for the last 18 months or so, and would thoroughly recommend it. Lots of Hammer and Universal material - my favourites - but they also have a notable penchant for Italian giallo such as that by Argento and Fulci. There's a comprehensive DVD / Blu-Ray review section each issue. The quality of the articles is on a par with Andrew Pixley's Doctor Who archive work - very in-depth, with lots of photographs I've not seen before - and I had all the Alan Frank horror movie books back in the day. When I read they were starting a purely Sci-Fi magazine, I knew I had to buy it. The first issue has a feature on the William Hartnell era, and the second promises a look at the Peter Cushing Dalek movies.
Get out and buy Issue No.1 this weekend - you won't be disappointed. Unlike me, with that Cyberman cover...
"Dear Doctor Who Magazine,
Imagine my surprise when..."

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Inspirations - The Web Planet

The Web Planet, as it has always been known, was the only story written by Australian scribe Bill Strutton.
He was quite candid in interviews about his inspirations for the story. One was the success of the Daleks - in particular the financial rewards which were heading towards Terry Nation. Strutton hoped to follow suit with the giant ant-like Zarbi, and butterfly-like Menoptra. Both sets of alien creatures did make it into merchandising, though nowhere near to the extent achieved by the Daleks. There were plastic badges of both races, and the Zarbi and Menoptra featured in the first Dr Who Annual and comic strips. But then the Sensorites and the Voord also made it into that first Annual. Like those earlier attempts to capture lightning twice, the residents of the planet Vortis were never invited back onto the programme. This was probably Strutton's own fault. The Menoptra are good guys rather than villains, whilst the Zarbi aren't exactly proactive. They are merely a drone race, who are only made menacing because they have fallen under the influence of the Animus. Once it is destroyed, they are merely cattle. We do see two other species on the planet - the Optera and the Venom Grubs (also referred to as Sting-Grubs or Sting-Guns). These weren't created by Strutton. Both were added to the story by Dennis Spooner and director Richard Martin, as the plot was felt to be dragging over six episodes. Many would argue that the plot drags even with their inclusion.

The main inspiration for the Zarbi as the monsters came from a painful childhood memory. Strutton grew up in rural Australia, his family moving around various Outback towns. One day he came across two bull ants fighting each other. He made the mistake of sticking his finger too close and received a nasty bite, which he described as one of the most painful things he had ever experienced.
The programme at this point in its history was still experimenting with what it could do with its format. One of the most experimental directors was Martin, so he was well up for creating a story set on an alien world in which there were to be no human-like characters, other than the TARDIS crew. The Zarbi would not speak, except in insect chirrups, whilst one of the Menoptra performers - Roslyn de Winter - was tasked with developing a unique style of movement and speech for her race. With their faces covered, the Menoptra players make much use of hand gestures and bizarre pronunciations of names - so Ian becomes Heron for instance, and it is the Animoose that lurks at the heart of the Carsinome. And let's not forget the Zarbeee-ee-ee!!!
To make his alien world look just that bit more other-worldly, Martin uses vaseline covered filters on some shots of the moon-like surface, to make it look like there is a thin atmosphere. Presumably some viewers at the time simply mistook this for their picture going out of focus.
The Doctor does not don a white Astrakhan hat just so that it matches his Atmospheric Density Jacket by the way. The ensemble was to stop the top of his head vanishing in those VFX scenes with the pyramid, where the actors had to be superimposed over a model shot from another part of the set, standing in front of black drapes.

As for the plot, this is basically a war movie. Think Dunkirk and D-Day. The Menoptra have been forced to retreat, and now they are about to launch an invasion and retake what was taken from them. Of course, the British Expeditionary Force wasn't native to mainland Europe, but you can see where Strutton is coming from. The Crater of Needles is a POW cum slave labour camp. (Strutton was captured by the Germans in Crete during WWII and spent much of the war in Stalag VII. As well as writing to stave off boredom, he also learned to swear in several languages).
The first Menoptra that the time travellers meet are agents, like the Special Operations Executive, sent in ahead to prepare for the invasion. In the Optera, we have a sort of resistance movement, though they need the Brits - sorry, Menoptra - to organise them. The Venom-Grubs are, of course, Tiger tanks. Maybe Panzer IVs.
Another obvious inspiration for some aspects of the story is cancer. The Animus sits at the heart of, and generates, a malignant growth which is slowly encircling the planet. Significantly, the lair is called the Carsinome, and it is a weapon called the Isop-tope that has been designed to destroy the parasite. Radiation treatment to combat a tumour.
The one thing Strutton didn't intend was for the story to be seen as a comment on Communism. He was surprised when Dennis Spooner claimed this in interviews, as this is what the Story Editor believed it was all about. Strutton was thinking about Normandy, whilst Spooner was thinking about Indochina.
Insect life, especially ants and bees, are seen as having strictly hierarchical social structures, with a uniformity of function. There's no room for non-conformity. As such, many commentators saw Communist regimes as insect-like, with everyone looking alike and acting alike, subservient like drones to a higher authority. Many Science-Fiction writers used insect analogies to describe repressed societies, but you can go back to Ancient Greek writers for similar views. Aesop seems to have been on the side of the ant against the grasshopper in his fable. The industrious ant has saved up food for the winter, whilst the grasshopper has been idle all summer. Right from the start, some people disagreed with the message, and felt the ant to be mean and miserly, and lacking in charity.
Were this story to be remade today, I don't think that the snooty aristocratic Menoptra would have been so easily able to put the Zarbi back under the yoke. Here's for a belated sequel in which the Zarbi have developed and kicked the Menoptra back to Pictos on their own. And take your stupid Optera with you.
We can see why Spooner might have thought that this story was some sort of political parable, but the author denied this was the case. Nor did he ever claim it as a piece about ecology, though it is clear that the planet's ecosystem has been put out of kilter by the arrival of the Animus. Where once there were flowers and forests there is now a barren moon-like world, and acid has replaced water.
One last thing to mention before we go, the film version of The First Men in the Moon came out in the summer of 1964, with creatures by Ray Harryhausen. The Moon is populated by various insect-based beings, primarily the indolence-free grasshopper-like Selenites.
Next time, back to Earth for some purely human villainy - in iambic pentameter.