Wednesday, 22 March 2017

March Figurines

Two figurines this month - both from the John Nathan Turner era of the show. From his first season comes a rather fine Marshman, from Full Circle. They've certainly gone for a realistic modeling, as the skin looks like a costume with its noticeable wrinkles.
Joining the Marshman is the Silver Nemesis Cyber-Leader, from JNT's penultimate season.
Next month's release will include The Veil from Heaven Sent, and the Destroyer from Battlefield. May will see the release of the Cyber-Controller from Attack of the Cybermen.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Inspirations - The Aztecs

Another story that has always tended to be known by just the one title. In fact, the "naming controversy" is only really confined to the first two stories.
The writer is once again John Lucarotti. He lived for some time in Mexico, so would have become interested in the Aztecs and their culture during that time.
The last historical story had featured real people - Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Lucarotti could have gone down the same route and featured historical characters - Pizarro and Montezuma II - and shown the actual events surrounding the meeting of the Conquistadors and the Aztecs. The clash of cultures and resulting conflict would seem to have been a more obvious starting point.
Peter Shaffer had used this for his play about the meeting of the Spanish and the Incas - The Royal Hunt of the Sun - which opened in London after The Aztecs was commissioned, but before it was broadcast. The publicity for the play would have helped the Doctor Who story, even though they deal with the Spanish clashing with entirely different indigenous cultures.
Lucarotti instead decides to show us the Aztecs at their peak, before the coming of the Spanish. The arrival of the Europeans is talked about, as something that will happen soon and sweep all of this away.
The two aspects of Aztec culture we know best about - their knowledge and their use of human sacrifice - are embodied in the two main characters whom the time travellers meet. Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, is presented as a good, kind man, who is open minded. Tlotoxl - High Priest of Sacrifice - is presented as an evil person, an old fashioned villain who is unwilling to countenance that his religion is wrong in any way. For inspiration in his performance, John Ringham looks to Richard III - specifically as portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the 1955 film of Shakespeare's play.

Unusually, Tlotoxl does not get his comeuppance at the conclusion. Autloc wanders off into the wilderness to become a hermit, and Tlotoxl ends up stronger, with his own candidate for High Priest of Knowledge ready to take over.
Setting aside the performance, is Tlotoxl bad? One of the points which the Doctor strives to make in his debates with Barbara is that she cannot judge the Aztec culture by her 20th Century English viewpoint. He points out that in this city, it is Autloc who is the odd man out. Human sacrifice has a role in this society and is accepted. It honours the gods and benefits the society, making the crops grow and the rains fall. Tlotoxl believes this to be true, and so when he suspects that Barbara is a false god he seeks to undermine her by any means possible - including poisoning her. She poses a threat to their established order, so is he wrong for trying to do this? Of course not. We, the viewers, are also looking at the Aztecs filtered through those 20th Century western values.
Barbara wants to cherry pick the good things, as she sees them, of Aztec culture and eliminate the nasty ones - hoping that when Cortes gets here the civilisation will have an easier time. Naive thinking for someone who claims to have specialist knowledge of this period, as European illnesses alone will kill millions, and the Catholic Church will not tolerate any heathen religion, human sacrifice or not. At this point the Church is burning fellow Christians for even the slightest taint of unorthodoxy. The Conquistadors have come for gold and for souls, and that's it.
It should also be noted that the Aztecs weren't just defeated by the Spanish alone. Cortes was aided by thousands of other Mexican troops from neighbouring kingdoms, who wanted to smash Aztec dominance for their own reasons.

The Aztecs is the first story to look at the consequences of time travel. More recently, we have been introduced to the notion of Fixed Points in Time, but this wasn't the case back in 1964. Right from the earliest days of the series, viewers began questioning why it was okay to meddle in the affairs of Skaro, but not of Earth. Shouldn't the Doctor be an observer, who doesn't do anything to upset the order of things wherever he landed? Why was it okay to help the Thals and wipe out the Daleks, but not to save the Aztecs from near genocide?
Story Editor David Whitaker, responding to a letter from a viewer, claimed that History was like a road running across an undulating landscape. At times, the road dipped out of view, so anything could happen, but it had to resume its course after a while. He described History like Justice - not only being done but seen to be done. What we know to have happened always needs to be seen to happen just as the History books tell it. In the next season, Whitaker's successor will have his own ideas about History, and one story will have the time travellers actively trying to prevent something that is seen to have already happened - and they will succeed.
The Doctor has always had a special relationship with the Earth, and we know that one day the Universe will be populated by what look and sound like British people. Maybe this is why Earth history is protected so much - because humans will have such an impact on the cosmos further down the line. The Doctor may always have seen the Fixed Points in Time, just never mentioned them, and so knows that his actions on Skaro, or Vortis, or Peladon, were simply the right thing to do.

A few final points. Lucarotti has done his homework, obviously, so Barbara gets to talk about their gods, and Susan is tutored in some of their ways. The Doctor has to fashion a wheel and pulley system, as the Aztecs did not exploit the wheel.
The Aztecs never used that name to describe themselves - they were the Mexica. It was the Spanish who called them Aztecs.
Cocoa beans were used for barter and as a form of currency. Vassal kingdoms were expected to provide cocoa beans by way of annual tribute. The oily layer which formed on chocolate beverages was also used as a form of sun block. Preparing a cocoa drink wasn't especially used as a form of marriage proposal, but it did form part of the marriage ceremony itself, so Cameca might be jumping the gun a bit here.
The programme came in for some criticism about the authenticity of the costumes. They were all properly researched. The location of this city is never specified, and might lie at a high altitude, and Mexico does have its seasons like everywhere else - so Tlotoxl and company might not necessarily be over-dressed.
The Aztecs inherited a great deal of astronomical knowledge from earlier Mesoamerican cultures, and so would have been able to predict a solar eclipse. Their cities were laid out on astronomical alignments.
Of the character names, Ixta could derive from the Mexican coastal town of Ixtapa, but it is also another name for Iztaccihuatl - the country's third highest mountain. Iztapalapa is a suburb of Mexico City, its most densely inhabited.
Next time, we head off into Space, in the 28th Century, and it looks like the TARDIS has never landed on a spaceship before...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Reviews - a word about future developments

Just a quick word about my on-going reviews of Doctor Who stories. Naturally, each week I will be letting you know my thoughts on the new stories that are going to be making up Series 10. These will probably be on the Saturday night, but might not see light until the day after. I often like to watch an episode twice before commenting on it, with a pause between.
As far as the on-going series reviews go - the ones that commence with "In which..." and conclude with "Things you might like to know...", I will be cutting back on these for the 12 weeks that the new series runs. As I have now reached Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, I will also be phasing in reviews of Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures stories - trying to ensure that they gel together and interrelate. My look at Series 3, for instance, will be interspersed with reviews of TW Series 1, as End of Days has to fit in with the start of Utopia; Rani can't have joined Sarah, Luke and Clyde until after Journeys End, and The Last Sontaran has to come after The Poison Sky - but before Journeys End, and so forth.
Confused? I hope you won't be.
The A-Z entries will carry on weekly, as I like the randomness of them, and the Inspirations ones will also carry on regardless, as I love revisiting the earlier stories - and they offer me a chance to delve into all sorts of weird and wonderful tangents.

Story 177 - Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

In which the Doctor and Rose return to the Powell Estate to visit Jackie. She tells Rose that her maternal grandfather is due to visit shortly - but he has been dead for some years. However, just as Jackie predicted, a shadowy figure materialises in the kitchen. The Doctor discovers that these apparitions are appearing a couple of times a day all over the planet, and are all over the media. People are presuming they are the ghosts of dead loved ones, but the Doctor suspects that something is trying to break through into this world from some other dimension. Returning to the TARDIS, with Jackie in tow, he sets up a device to monitor a ghost when it next materialises so he can trace the source. His actions are noticed by Torchwood, the organisation behind the "ghost shifts". They use CCTV to spot the TARDIS, and boss Yvonne Hartman realises that the Doctor will be on his way to them. A couple of her employees - Adeola and Gareth - sneak off for a romantic tryst in a section of their building which is closed for refurbishment. They are attacked, and return to their posts seemingly devoid of emotion. Adeola lures another colleague - Matt - to the same location, and he too returns changed.

The Doctor allows himself to be captured by Torchwood troops, along with Jackie, who has been brought along by accident. The Doctor pretends that she is Rose, prematurely aged. He sees that Torchwood have a lot of captured alien technology, which Yvonne claims is to be exploited in order to make Britain great again. She explains how the organisation detected a strange anomaly in the sky above East London, and so built a skyscraper around it so that it could be examined. Jackie identifies their location as the tower of Canary Wharf. Something came through the anomaly - a large bronze sphere which is impossible to analyse as it gives no readings whatsoever. Investigating it is Dr Rajesh Singh. At the same time, the ghosts began to appear. Torchwood are manipulating these, making them appear when they open the anomaly. They believe that it will act as a power source. The Doctor identifies the sphere as a Void Ship - designed to exist in the gap between universes. Rose emerges from the TARDIS and dons a lab coat to look around. Spotting a familiar figure, she follows him to the Sphere chamber where Dr Singh captures her. The person she was following is Mickey Smith, who is posing as one of Singh's assistants.

The Doctor convinces Yvonne to cancel the next "ghost shift" as every time the anomaly is opened it is destroying the fabric of this dimension. It is through the cracks forming that the ghosts have arrived. Adeola, Matt and Gareth carry on with the shift, however, under the control of someone else. The Doctor discovers that they have been converted, with alien implants in their skulls. The anomaly opens, and the ghosts start to become corporeal. They are Cybermen. At the same time, the Void Ship suddenly becomes active. Rose and Mickey see it begin to open. Mickey believes that it contains some sort of Cyberman leader, escaped from the parallel Earth he had settled on. However, it actually houses a quartet of Daleks, who have a Dalek-shaped machine with them. These Daleks, one of which has black livery, have names - Sec, Caan, Jast and Thay. They refer to the machine as the Genesis Ark. They demand information, and Singh volunteers to give this. The Daleks drain his mind, killing him in the process.

Meanwhile, the Cybermen have invaded the entire Earth. The Doctor learns of the Daleks' arrival when a pair of Cybermen are despatched to investigate the Sphere chamber. They try to offer an alliance, but the Daleks refuse. Yvonne and Jackie are taken away to be converted. Two figures suddenly materialise in the control room - one of whom is Jake Simmonds. He destroys the Cyber-Leader and its troops, freeing the Doctor. He then uses a transportation device to take the Doctor back to the parallel Earth - arriving in their version of Torchwood. The Doctor is reunited with Pete Tyler. He learns that the Lumic Cybermen were defeated but not destroyed. One day they vanished, and it was realised that they had crossed over to the other universe. The parallel Torchwood had invented devices that could transport people across the dimensions. The Doctor insists that Pete and Jake return with him to help defeat the Cybermen. Pete is resistant, until the Doctor mentions Jackie is there. She, meanwhile, had been able to escape when the Cyber-Leader was destroyed - as her guard was upgraded automatically to become the new Leader. Yvonne was not so lucky, and has been converted.

The Doctor offers to help the Cybermen deal with the Daleks. He goes alone to the Sphere chamber and is reunited with Rose and Mickey. The Daleks are identified as the Cult of Skaro - a clique created by the Emperor during the Time War to think beyond normal Dalek logic and so defeat the Time Lords. They reveal that the Genesis Ark is not of their making. It is captured Time Lord technology, and needs a time traveller to activate it. The Cybermen attack, and in the confusion Mickey touches the machine - bringing it to life. The Daleks take it to the main storage room, whose roof opens. The Genesis Ark floats up into the sky. The Doctor and his friends rush upstairs to see what happens, and on the way Jackie gets to meet Pete when he saves her from some Cybermen. The Cybermen follow, but one of their number rebels and stops them - the converted Yvonne Hartman.

The Ark opens, and thousands of Daleks emerge. It was a Time Lord prison capsule, bigger on the inside. The Daleks and Cybermen begin fighting each other, massacring the humans who get in their way. The Doctor has been observing events using 3D spectacles, and finally has his friends ask him why. He has noticed that everyone who has passed through the Void has been soaked in a form of radiation. If he opens the anomaly fully, everything tainted will be sucked in - but that will include all of them. Everyone must retreat to Pete's World - including Rose. She refuses to leave the Doctor.
Once everyone has left - including Jackie - the Doctor and Rose open the Void. Daleks and Cybermen are all sucked in, along with the Ark. The Cult of Skaro escape by triggering an emergency temporal shift, transporting themselves through time. Rose loses her handhold and is pulled towards the breach, but at the last moment Pete appears and transports her to his world. The Void closes forever - trapping Rose on the parallel Earth.
Some weeks later, she starts to get dreams which call her to a beach in Norway. She travels there with her father, mother and Mickey. The Doctor appears - sending an image of himself through the last hole in the breach before it closes. It transpires that the location is known as Bad Wolf Bay. The Doctor is about to tell Rose how he feels about her when the connection is broken. He has little time to grieve, however, as a woman in a wedding dress has suddenly appeared in his TARDIS...

The two part finale to Series 2 was written by Russell T Davies, and was broadcast on the evenings of 1st and 8th July, 2006.
The Torchwood story arc finally plays out - though we already knew very early on that it was an organisation devoted to using alien technology in defence of Britain, and was antithetical to the Doctor. It is a direct sequel to the earlier two part Cyberman origins story, reintroducing the parallel Pete and Jake Simmonds. Graeme Harper directed all four episodes as one big recording block - so the finale was in the can long before earlier episodes.
Davies had to find a way of separating Rose from the Doctor without killing her, and so trapping her forever in a parallel universe seemed like a good option. Killing her off was out of the question, as too many young viewers identified with her and travelling in the TARDIS had to remain a positive experience. Davies makes sure that her mother is with her, and both her parents are reunited in a sense. The nice, down to earth Jackie gets to have a rich, successful Pete, and Rose has potential boyfriend material in Mickey.
This time round, the Cybermen have a Cyber-Leader - with black markings on the handle bars. We discover that when one is destroyed, leadership downloads into another unit. The Cybermen now have guns built into their forearms. When it comes to fighting against Daleks, they come off second best.
Terry nation had always fought against any kind of Dalek- Cyberman team up. It had been suggested back in 1968, but got vetoed, and we got The Wheel In Space instead. It came close in 1973, when the Cybermen were to have had the Ogron role in Frontier in Space.

As all of the Daleks had been wiped out in the previous series finale, we are introduced to the Cult of Skaro. They escaped destruction in the Time War by hiding in the Void Ship. Dalek Sec is the black one. Davies makes sure he doesn't paint himself into the corner this time round by having them transport themselves away through time - so available for a rematch.
As well as linking to previous stories, these two episodes set up a lot of what is going happen over the next two series.
Davies also elects to link the closing seconds into the forthcoming Christmas Special - rather than dwell on the grieving Doctor and Rose. This was intentional - to show that the adventure always continues.
A relatively small guest cast for a big two part finale, as most of the characters are returnees. Dr Singh is played by Raji James, and Yvonne Hartman is Tracy-Ann Oberman - best known for an Eastenders role, which gets referenced in Army of Ghosts.
Of note amongst the junior cast is Freema Agyeman as Adeole, since we are going to see a lot more of her soon. Matt is Oliver Mellor, who was in Coronation Street for a number of years, and Gareth is Hadley Fraser. There is another rare, at this stage, appearance by an actor who had appeared in the Classic Series. The chief of police is David Warwick, who had been Kimus in The Pirate Planet.
We have a number of "celebrity" cameos - I use the term loosely - in the sequence where the Doctor channel hops to learn more about the ghosts. There's Barbara Windsor banning the spectre of Den Watts from the Queen Vic pub, and medium Derek Acorah claims they are putting him out of business. The "Ghostwatch" programme is hosted by real TV presenter Alistair Appleton. We also have Trisha, with someone on her talk show claiming to be in love with a ghost. Note the explosion at the Burberry factory in her audience. Chav-tastic.
And introducing Catherine Tate as the bride...

Episode endings:
  1. The ghosts start to move into formation and are revealed to be Cybermen, whilst Rose and Mickey watch as the Sphere opens and a group of Daleks emerge and float down towards them...
  2. The breach has been closed. The Doctor stands alone in the TARDIS, tears in his eyes. As he prepares to move on, he suddenly sees a figure standing in the ship, wearing a wedding dress. Cue "What?", "What?" "WHAT!?"
  1. A newspaper reporter tries to sell his editor a story about an organisation named Torchwood. The editor asks him to bring in some evidence . He does so some time later - such as Queen Victoria's involvement and the destruction of the Sycorax spaceship. The reporter is dragged away by a pair of mysterious men, and the story spiked. We then see the reporter in a strait-jacket, shouting that Torchwood exists, and that he knows about the ghosts...
  2. A news reader announces a state of emergency. Footage is shown of troops battling Cybermen. The newsreader then calls on people to flee for their lives, including her own family if they are watching. The studio comes under attack by Daleks...

Overall... It's a Russell T Davies series finale, so there's lots to love as well as a great big Deus ex Machina to sort things out at the end. Personally I think it is one of the better series finales. A fantastic cliffhanger to episode one, and pieces fit together as Rose and her family are sent off into a new life, with resolutions for Jackie and Pete - and potentially Rose and Mickey. It rates in the top 50 of the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, and the ending to Rose and the Doctor was judged the most emotional romantic farewell ever in a Channel 4 programme. Such a pity RTD went and spoiled the ending - though plans for Rose's return in Series 4 were already underway when this was first broadcast.
Things you might like to know:

  • Episode titles were initially considered as "Torchwood Rises", and "Torchwood Falls". 
  • The "Tardisodes" get discontinued after this, which is a shame. We will later get the odd prequel once Steven Moffat takes over.
  • We will see some of the aftermath of the Battle of Canary Wharf in Torchwood Series 1, when it is revealed that Ianto Jones was present and tried to save his partially converted girlfriend Lisa.
  • Harriet Jones is the President of the UK in Pete's World. She clearly doesn't get a chance to usher in a golden age in our universe, so perhaps the Doctor has experienced more of Pete's World than we have seen.
  • Producer Phil Collinson wanted it to be Mickey who saved Rose from being sucked into the Void at the conclusion - showing that he still loved her even if she no longer loved him. Exec-Producer Julie Gardner argued for it to be Pete, to show that he had accepted her as his daughter.
  • As mentioned, Tracy-Ann Oberman was well known for Eastenders. She had played the wife of "Dirty Den" Watts, and had been responsible for murdering him - hence the in-joke of his appearance in the Queen Vic as a ghost. What the Cyberman would have thought about being confronted by Barbara Windsor, lord only knows.
  • And yes, dialogue had already shown that Eastenders was a TV programme in the Doctor Who universe, but this puts the top hat on it. Dimensions In Time can definitely be written off from the canon. Hooray!
  • A few BBC spoilers before this was broadcast. The Radio Times had featured an article about Neil Gorton's team several weeks before - and in the background to a photo of him was a Cyberman head with black Cyber-Leader handle-bars - though none had appeared in the Rise of the Cybermen two-parter. A trailer for the second half of the season had also shown a clip of a Cyberman bursting through plastic sheeting - again absent from the earlier story. These let us know that the ghosts were going to be Cybermen, and not the Gelth as some fans had speculated.
  • The BAFTA ceremony that Spring had also featured an appearance by a Dalek on the red carpet - and it was a black one. The same trailer that had shown us the Cybermen were coming back also showed people being killed with the Dalek extermination effect.
  • It was widely believed that the Genesis Ark was going to contain Davros - partly because of its design but also due to that name.
  • Broadcast coincided with the World Cup latter stages, so the Radio Times had two cover variants to collect - a Cyber one and a Dalek one, with the monsters holding footballs.
  • The Ghostbusters bit is quite naff - but that was a thing you already knew.
  • The Eternals, from Enlightenment, get a mention. They have a name for the Void - the Howling.
  • The Doctor informs us of his liking for "Allons-y" for the first time. It will become a crucial plot point in a later story, and he will also get to meet an Alonso to say it to soon.
  • Watch out for the guy who gets on the bus behind Rose in the opening medley. The camera set up inside sees him sit immediately behind her, but the next shot from out on the street shows him seated further back.
  • And the alien planet with the manta rays was filmed on Bad Wolf Bay - that rock formation is going to become incredibly familiar - using stock CGI elements already created by The Mill.
  • The Egyptian sarcophagus at Torchwood is indeed supposed to be a reference to Pyramids of Mars
  • The spaceship found at the base of Mount Snowden will get another mention in David Tennant's final story, as it was from this that the Immortality Gate was salvaged. In the SJA story featuring Matt Smith's Doctor, UNIT have a base at the foot of the mountain.
  • The Fall of Arcadia is mentioned. We will later get to see that this is actually the second city of the Time Lords on Gallifrey, and we will get to witness it as well.
  • As mentioned above, this finale was filmed along with the other Cyberman story, so the last story filmed for Series 2 was the Impossible Planet two-parter. David Tennant had to be sneaked out of the wrap party to film the concluding sequence with Catherine Tate, who had been smuggled to the studio in Cardiff.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

B is for... Beyus

Leader of the people of the planet Lakertya. When the Rani arrived with her Tetrap soldiers, Beyus elected to co-operate with her. In this way he hoped to save lives. One young man - Ikona - saw his actions as capitulation and collaboration, and thought him weak. When the newly regenerated Doctor arrived on the planet, he too argued against Beyus' behaviour. Beyus saw his daughter, Sarn, killed by one of the Rani's deadly traps, and began to doubt what he had done, but persevered with his help for the Rani. He wanted her to complete her work then leave them alone. However, he discovered that her experiments would result in the destruction of Lakertya, and so finally made a stand. He sacrificed himself to blow up the Rani's Time Brain and delay the launch of her missile that was due to explode an asteroid composed of incredibly dense Strange Matter.

Played by: Donald Pickering. Appearances: Time and the Rani (1987).

  • This is Pickering's third and final appearance in Doctor Who. He first appeared as Eyesen in episodes 5 and 6 of The Keys of Marinus in 1964, then returned in 1967 as the Chameleon copy of Captain Blade in The Faceless Ones - when one of his co-stars, as in Time and the Rani, was Wanda Ventham.

B is for... Bevan (Nikki & Jonah)

The Rift in time and space which ran through Cardiff often left behind alien beings and artefacts, but occasionally it also took things - and people. A boy named Jonah Bevan went missing one night on his way home. CCTV showed him on the Cardiff Bay barrage, disappearing in a blaze of light. PC Andy Bell introduced Gwen Cooper to a support group for the relatives of missing people, run by Jonah's mother Nikki.
Gwen found that Jack was deliberately frustrating her efforts to investigate Jonah's disappearance. She discovered the existence of a complex hidden beneath one of the islands in the bay. It was a medical facility, set up by Jack to care for those who had been taken by the Rift and later returned. Jonah was here - but he was now a mature man. He had been badly burned, and driven insane. He had looked into the heart of a Dark Star, and would scream for 20 hours a day.

Gwen was determined that Nikki deserved the truth about her son - no matter how difficult that proved to be. She took her to the facility. At first Nikki could not believe that this was her son, but he remembered things from his childhood only Jonah would know. She then experienced his screaming. Later she told Gwen that she would rather have not known the truth, but promised not to tell anyone about the facility.

Played by: Ruth Jones (Nikki), Robert Pugh (adult Jonah), Oliver Ferriman (young Jonah). Appearances: Adrift (TW: 2.11 - 2008).

  • Ruth Jones MBE is best known as co-creator / writer (with James Corden) on Gavin & Stacey, and for the title role in Stella.
  • A little claim to fame here - I took part in a charity quiz once, and Robert Pugh was on an opposing team. We beat them.

B is for... Bettan

A young Thal woman whom the Doctor met in their city. He had just failed to stop the launch of the Thal missile which had destroyed the Kaled city, and the Doctor feared that Sarah and Harry had been killed in the explosion. The Doctor saved her when the Daleks arrived to begin exterminating her people. Escaping to the wilderness of Skaro, the Doctor tasked her with finding as many survivors of either side as she could, along with some of the Mutoes - to form an army against Davros and his creations. Bettan led them to the Kaled bunker, where they set about mining the entry - planning on entombing the Daleks. Sarah and Harry talked her into delaying blowing the charges until after the Doctor had a chance to escape with the Time Ring they needed to be reunited with the TARDIS

Played by: Harriet Philpin. Appearances: Genesis of the Daleks (1975).

B is for... Beth

Torchwood were called in after a house break-in went wrong. Both burglars were brutally killed, and Beth Halloran's husband left hospitalised. She had no recollection of events. Beth was taken to the Hub for questioning, and it was noted that a Weevil in its cell reacted strangely to her - bowing down in her presence. Under a mind probe, alien technology was found to be grafted under the skin of her right arm, which could transform into a sharp bladed weapon. Jack Harkness deduced that she was an alien sleeper agent, oblivious to her true nature until activated. The assault by the burglars had triggered her activation prematurely. Other agents were triggered, acting as suicide bombers to cripple the city. One of them went to a military base in order to detonate a nuclear missile, but was stopped just in time. Beth escaped and went to the hospital, where she was compelled to kill her husband. Back at the Hub, she refused to allow the Torchwood team to deprogramme her. She attacked Gwen Cooper - deliberately forcing the team to shoot and kill her.

Played by: Nikki Amuka-Bird. Appearances: Sleeper (TW: 2.2 - 2008).

B is for... Bert

Landlord of the "Cloven Hoof" pub in the village of Devil's End. He was a servant of the new vicar, Mr Magister - the latest alias of the Master. The Master sought to take over the psionic powers of the long dormant Daemon, Azal. Bert worked against the Doctor and UNIT, at first surreptitiously. He later tried to kill the Doctor by shooting him as he drove back to the village on a motorcycle. Donning a costume made of newspaper strips during the May Day festival, he acted as leader of the villagers when the Morris Dancers captured the Doctor - inciting them to burn him as a witch. The Doctor used Bessie's remote control to overpower him. When Bok emerged from the cavern beneath the village church to hold UNIT at bay, it refused to differentiate between friend and foe and Bert was vapourised.

Played by: Don McKillop. Appearances: The Daemons (1971).

  • McKillop's most famous role is that of the police inspector, who ultimately gets his head ripped off by An American Werewolf in London.

B is for... Berserkers

An ancient race of warriors. One of their pendants found its way to Earth where it affected a schoolboy named Jacob. It left a strange tattoo pattern on his hand, and caused him to change physically, with blue veins standing out on his skin. He found he could make people do whatever he told them. Sarah Jane Smith's young friend Rani got hold of the pendant and took it to her attic. Sarah was away from home at the time, and it fell into the hands of Clyde Langer's estranged father, Paul. He had turned up after years away, and Clyde took him to the attic to prove that he and his friends fought aliens. Intent on winning his son back, Paul made him forget about his friends and even his mother. He forced people to do anything he said - including making Rani's father do continuous press-ups, which almost killed him. He made a salesman hand over a sports car, and father and son ran off to the coast. Paul underwent the physical transformation - turning into a Berserker. He was going to turn Clyde into one of his soldiers. Sarah returned in time to force Paul into realising what he had become, and to remember who he really was. He relinquished the pendant, which was then thrown into the sea.

Played by: Gary Beadle (Paul), Perry Millward (Jacob). Appearances: Mark of the Berserker (SJA 2.7 / 2.8 - 2008).

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Inspirations - The Keys of Marinus

Another of those early stories that has always gone by just this one title. That's because this is a quest for a set of keys - on Marinus. Not down the back of the sofa these, however. These keys have been scattered across the planet, and the Doctor and his companions have been forced against their will to go and fetch them.
The writer is Terry Nation, fresh from his success with the Daleks. His next Doctor Who story was supposed to have been a historical - popularly referred to as "The Red Fort" and set during the Indian Mutiny. Instead he is given another futuristic story, and he decides on the Quest format.
One of the oldest forms of story-telling, the quest sees an individual, or maybe a group, embark on some hazardous journey in which life lessons are learned. There will be some kind of goal - a prize or treasure - but usually it is the journey itself which is the most important thing. Think of the rite of passage, in which a young person achieves recognition of adulthood.
One of the most famous quest tales is that of Parsifal and the Grail. In more modern times we have had Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' respective journeys through Middle Earth. With the Grail legends, no-one can even agree what the thing they're chasing is. The cup used in the Last Supper, or one used to catch Christ's blood when he was speared through the side whilst crucified? Or is it the Sangue Real, rather than the San Grail - the holy bloodline that has spawned thousands of dreadful conspiracy books.
In every case, there are a series of challenges to be overcome, as the questor(s) traverses alien terrains and meets strange and wonderful people and creatures. Nation had already used the trek through dangerous territory in order to pad out his Dalek story - with lakes full of monsters and deadly cave systems.

With this story, Nation has hit on an idea to make things simpler for himself. He doesn't need to fill six whole episodes with one set of characters in one location. That would be far too much hard work for what is basically an ideas man. Have the TARDIS crew go from place to place to find the keys, and Nation only needs to come up with a fairly slight plot for each - enough for 25 minutes. Six whole episodes of just Vasor, or just deadly plant pots, wouldn't work. He can raid memories of books he has read or movies he has seen. He would certainly have seen the Flash Gordon serials as a child, in which the hero and his friends visit the various realms of the planet Mongo over the course of a number of weeks.
We've already mentioned Shakespeare's The Tempest, in relation to the Doctor and Susan's exile on 20th Century Earth. This story gives us another version of Prospero and Miranda - Arbitan and his Daughter Sabetha on their island, surrounded by its acid sea. He's the scientist / magician, she the innocent young girl.
The first key location is the city of Morphoton. The name derives from Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Apt for a section of the story that deals with people being hypnotised whilst sleeping, then waking to believe that their dreams have come true. According to Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, Morpheus was the son of Hypnos.
The Morpho creatures are realised as brains in glass jars - as 1950's pulp Sci-Fi as you can get. There's a 1957 movie called The Brain From Planet Arous, in which the titular alien possesses people.
Another famous literary journey is that of Odysseus. His quest was to find his way home after the Trojan War. He happened upon the Lotus Eaters, who lived on an island and who were reduced to a sleepy, apathetic state due to their narcotic diet. Odysseus' men succumbed, and he had to snap them out of their lethargy otherwise they would have become equally enslaved.

The second key location takes us to a jungle. As this blog series progresses, you'll see that Nation has a thing about jungles. This one, like some future ones, has particularly deadly plants. They want to kill people. They also make a screaming noise - so we might still be travelling with Odysseus, who encountered the Sirens. Did Nation know about the new film that would go into production in May of 1964 at Pinewood? It was being made by the company who were going to make his first Dalek movie, and would star the cinema Doctor, and the cinema Ian Chesterton. Dr Terror's House of Horrors features an episode about a creeping plant vine that kills. A writer named Robert Gould had pitched a couple of ideas for Doctor Who - neither made, though he might have been put out to see both realised on screen after a fashion. One idea was for the Doctor and companions to be shrunk, and the other involved deadly plants. In 1964, Verity Lambert was hoping to get John Wyndham to write for the series, so everyone had to be careful not to tread on his Triffids' tendrils.
The old hermit who has caused the plants to run amok is named Darrius. Nation likes this name - or variations thereof. In one of the Dalek books of the Dalekmania period, a map of Skaro shows a continent called Darren.

From a hot and sultry jungle, we suddenly switch to a freezing, snow-capped mountain range. We go back to Parsifal / Wagnerian territory here, with Teutonic-looking Knights in armour guarding this week's Grail. Interestingly, Vasor - the name of the lusty fur trapper in this episode - happens now to be an acronym for a sex offender risk assessment. Very apt, considering he clearly attempts to molest Barbara. The idea of the lone fur trapper, or Mountain Man, is a very American / Canadian thing. In Europe it was more of a group or tribal way of life.
Hitler and the Nazis purloined the imagery of the Teutonic Knights, even though they had suppressed the real Order, who were a charitable foundation by the early 20th Century. They reformed in 1945.

And so on to the final segment of the story, before the denouement back on the island. We are in the city of Millennius. The name clearly harkens to the future. Nation rarely ever does much in the way of description in his plots - a favourite bugbear of designer Raymond Cusick - so having the three judges at Ian's trial dress like Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus will have been someone else's inspiration. He had become President of the island in 1960, and was in the news in 1964 as the political situation in Greece deteriorated. There would be a military coup in Athens in 1967, and Cyprus would be divided between Greece and Turkey, as anyone who watches the Eurovision Song Contest will realise when it comes to the voting.
We have the first instance in the programme of the Whodunnit, and of the Courtroom drama. Nation at least flips the first of these, as it is Ian who has dunnit, until he can prove he never dunnit.
The most famous proponent of the guess-the-identity-of-the-murderer (I'm dun with the whodunnit bit) genre is Agatha Christie. There will be a couple of future stories that are inspired by her - including the one that she actually appears in. One of these forms part of a wider courtroom drama  - the trial of the Doctor that takes up all of Season 23.
We are still not that far forward from the Kennedy assassination, so Aydan's shooting in the courtroom before he can finger his accomplices (cue Sid James-style fnaar fnaar...) smacks more than a little of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Forget magic bullets and grassy knolls, this one incident tells us that there was a conspiracy.
The Doctor talks of meeting Pyrrho. He's the Greek philosopher credited with founding the Skeptic school. That's where you reserve judgement. You don't simply believe what you're told but insist on proof.
So there you have it - dun and dusted. The Quest was the Quest. The Doctor and his friends have become closer and know and trust each other better. Altos and Sabetha head off together for a new life. There was a prize - the keys - but they get blown up at the end, so it was all about the journey.
Next time, more adventures in History, and you can't change anything - Not One Line...

News Update...

No doubt you have read in the news today of spy agencies being able to eavesdrop on us via android phones and smart TV sets. Seems one of the hack programs developed jointly by the CIA and MI5 has been named a "Weeping Angel". It affects some Samsung TVs. When you think the set is switched off, it isn't really - so it can listen in on your conversations. In other words, it does nothing when you are looking at it - but don't turn away... This has come from a bunch of wikileaked papers. No-one has confirmed, and the hack may have already been overcome in the last year or two, but Samsung say they are taking the claims seriously.

Meanwhile the BBC have released what looks like a very spoilery image for the conclusion to Series 10 - featuring Mondasian Cybermen. I will be extremely surprised if this is the big surprise for the closing episode(s) - it's just far too early for them to be releasing this if it is. Think of it more as a lure to get fans to watch - including those that may have drifted away from the programme of late. Apparently Capaldi loves this version of the Cybermen, so they may be a leaving gift from Mr Moffat.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Story 176 - Fear Her

In which the TARDIS materialises in East London, on the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games. In Dame Kelly Holmes Close, they see missing persons posters for a number of children, and the householders are suspicious of strangers. Cars driving down the road stall when they pass over a hole which the council are filling in. An old lady named Maeve claims to have seen one of the children vanish into thin air from his front lawn. The Doctor notices that it is unseasonably cold in the area. Rose sees the silhouette of a girl at a window, watching them. The girl's mother, Trish Webber, is reluctant to talk. The Doctor and Rose pose as police officers in order to investigate. They see a cat walk into a cardboard box and disappear. The Doctor detects a metallic odour in the air. Rose hears a noise coming from a garage. When she opens the door she is attacked by a swirling black mass. The Doctor's sonic screwdriver reduces it to a small inert ball. Back in the TARDIS, this is found to be simple graphite, of the kind used in pencils.

They decide to go and see Trish and her daughter, Chloe. Mr Webber died a year ago, and was a brutal man who terrorised his family - especially Chloe. The girl is an avid drawer. Her pictures depict the missing children, and the cat which vanished. The Doctor suspects that Chloe has become possessed by some alien entity which has been taking what she draws. Trish confirms that the pictures sometimes are seen to move. Rose discovers that Chloe has drawn a huge picture of her father in her wardrobe, and it appears to be alive. People are becoming pictures, and pictures are coming to life. The Doctor hypnotises Chloe and learns that she has become inhabited by an Isolus child. These plant-like creatures travel through space in vast family units, and thrive on the companionship of their siblings. One of their pods was knocked off course and came to land in the street. The Isolus was attracted to Chloe as she was also very lonely. Later, on returning to the TARDIS, Chloe draws the Doctor and his ship, and both vanish.

The opening ceremony for the Games is about to begin, and Chloe decides to draw the stadium. The Isolus needs more companions. The BBC commentators are shocked to see everyone in the stadium vanish. This still isn't enough, and so Chloe begins to draw the entire planet Earth. Remembering that the Doctor had mentioned that the Isolus pod would have been drawn to heat, and that it first appeared at the time the hole in the road was being filled with hot tar, Rose breaks open the road surface. She finds the pod. It is attracted to the heat of the passing Olympic torch, and the Isolus leaves Chloe to return to it, launching itself back into space. The drawing of Mr Webber is still alive and threatening to emerge from the wardrobe. Trish helps her daughter overcome her fear of her father, and the drawing becomes inert. All the missing people are returned, and Rose sees the Doctor on TV lighting the Olympic flame. As everyone celebrates, the Doctor tells Rose that he feels a storm approaching...

Fear Her was written by Matthew Graham - best known for Life on Mars - and was first broadcast on June 24th, 2006.
It was originally being prepared for Series 3, but the eleventh episode of Series 2 had hit major problems. This was to have been an expensive episode, based around Arthurian legend, to be written by Stephen Fry. It needed extensive rewrites, and Fry was just too busy to devote more time to it. Graham's script was therefore brought forward, but to be made very cheaply - with the money being reallocated elsewhere in the series - The Impossible Planet two-parter being one of the main beneficiaries.
There is very little night filming, the locations being kept to one residential cul-de-sac and its environs. The cast is also small, and there is little CGI. All of these things will work against the story, and it has become the least liked of all the New Series episodes (at least up to the winter of 2013, when it ranked 240th place - of 241 - in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll).
The problem is, it just isn't scary. Creepy children really should be scary, but Chloe merely comes across as selfish and annoying. The absence of night filming doesn't help - it's all filmed with very flat lighting, on grey overcast days. The inclusion of dialogue about the temperature drop does not convince that the rest of London is in mid-summer. This has clearly been filmed in January / February.

The other big problem it has is the overly saccharine tone of the resolution. Real TV newsreader / commentator Huw Edwards is called upon to deliver some truly cringeworthy dialogue about the power of love, and the Doctor's lighting of the Olympic flame is clearly meant to be a punch-the-air moment, when all it does is make you want to punch the people responsible for making this instead.
I suspect that on paper this story might just stand up as okay, minus the aforementioned sweetness, but on TV it fails miserably. The best bit for me? The last 30 seconds - filmed at night - when the Doctor claims that a storm is approaching. The rest of the story should have had the feel of those closing seconds.
So, a good cast is wasted. Trish is played by Nina Sosanya, who had starred beside Tennant in RTD's Casanova. Maeve is Edna Dore, who had appeared in Eastenders for a number of years. Chloe is Abisola Agbaje. A good enough young actor but miscast - or misdirected - here.

Story Arc points: Even this is mishandled, as - inexplicably - a BBC newsman knows about Torchwood, and mentions them on air to billions of people watching across the planet. The Doctor once more invokes the Shadow Proclamation.

Tardisode: A segment from a TV police bulletin called "Crime Crackers", about the child disappearances in Dame Kelly Holmes Close, with the presenter inviting the public to call in if they have any information. We then see a wardrobe, inside which there is a pair of glowing red eyes, and a gruff voice says "I'm coming...".

Overall then? Terrance Dicks used to say that his main job as script editor on Doctor Who was to make sure that people weren't watching the Test Card on a Saturday evening. Fear Her isn't quite as bad as the Test Card, but not by much. The Test Card was certainly creepier.
Things you might like to know:

  • After references to Spock in the first series (The Empty Child), the Doctor here gets Chloe to make a Vulcan salute - reinforcing Star Trek as fictional in this universe.
  • The Doctor tells Rose about his family - stating that he was a father once.
  • It was hoped that Kelly Holmes would cameo as a torch bearer, but she was working on the Dancing on Ice series at the time. The street was named after her instead.
  • For the real 2012 Olympics, current Doctor Matt Smith really did carry the torch over a short stretch of Cardiff Bay. Unbelievably, a small section of fans wanted David Tennant to light the flame at the Olympic stadium - thus making the conclusion to Fear Her a reality.
  • Two possible story titles that went unused: "Chloe Webber Destroys The World", and "You're A Bad Girl, Chloe Webber".
  • This is one of those rare stories in which no-one dies.
  • Graham initially came up with the idea of an alien that removed all the beauty from the world, but it was Russell T Davies who suggested drawings and paintings coming to life.
  • Graham claimed that he had received a lot of positive comments about the story from children, and it was them he was aiming it at. He dismissed the negative views of the adults, saying it wasn't aimed at them. All well and good, but what happened to "the children's series that adults adore", eh? A good Doctor Who story pleases different age groups at different levels, and should be constructed as such.
  • When trying to come up with a name for his main character in Life On Mars, Graham asked his son - who came up with the surname Tyler, after Rose's name.
  • There's an advert on a wall for Shayne Ward's greatest hits album. Ward won the X-Factor in 2005, and had that year's Christmas No.1. At the time of writing, nearly 5 years on from the summer of 2012, he has yet to release a greatest hits package.
  • And Papua New Guinea did not surprise anyone in the shot put at London 2012.