Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Holiday

Will be away for the next week or so, which means that the next post won't be until Thursday 17th October. See you then.

Mission to the Unknown - The Remake Reviewed


Earlier this year it was announced that students from the University of Central Lancashire were going to recreate the lost Doctor Who episode Mission to the Unknown, as part of an academic exercise in TV production techniques. The project got the blessing of actors Edward de Souza, who played Space Security agent Marc Cory in the original 1965 production, and Peter Purves, who was travelling in the TARDIS at this point in time, although he did not feature in the episode itself. Voice of the Daleks Nicholas Briggs also agreed to join the team. News reports followed, along with some making-of material, and what every fan wanted to know was: when might we all get to see this? Might it turn up as an extra on a future Season 3 Blu-ray box set?
Well, earlier this evening - at 5.50pm on the 54th anniversary of the original broadcast - the episode was premiered on the official Doctor Who YouTube channel, and I've just watched it.
The version I have just watched begins with the trailer which we first saw last week, followed by an introduction from de Souza.
Normally, student drama would make me run to the hills, but this was a professionally accomplished piece of work. With no TARDIS crew featuring in the episode (which some class as a story in its own right, whereas others see it as simply the prologue to the 12 part The Daleks' Master Plan - its 13th episode, as it were) - the action centres primarily on just two actors, playing the characters of agent Marc Cory, and the spaceship captain Gordon Lowery. Here they are played by Marco Simioni and Dan Gilligan respectively. And very good they both are. Only one minor gripe - Gilligan is a young man, so it is rather odd to hear Lowery talk about working with colleague Garvey for the last 10 years. (Only other minor gripe - one of the Daleks has the bigger bumper at its base, a design which had been discontinued after The Dalek Invasion of Earth).
The episode is presented in good old Black & White, and the look of it certainly matches the original episodes we have in the archives from Master Plan. The jungle sound effects likewise.
The Daleks don't feature all that much, but they are joined by the assorted delegates of the Outer Planets who make up their alliance which plans to wage war against the Solar System in general, and Earth in particular. Paul Stenton's Malpha gets quite a lot of dialogue, and he captures the hoarse vocals of the original. Their costumes / make-up are reasonably well done, when you compare to the photographs from the original production. Sets have also been lovingly recreated from the scant visual references we have. The late Ray Cusick gets a credit.


I am generally averse to missing episodes being recreated, preferring the DVD / Blu-ray producers to go down the animated route as that way we still get to savour the vocal performances of the original actors, even if we can no longer see them. However, as none of the regulars featured in this episode, it is the one and only time that I will welcome it.
The students of UCL can get a 9.5 out of 10 from me. Do check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW8yk-m5Ig8

Monday, 7 October 2019

Season 23 Blu-ray Box Set - Reviewed


Have just spent the weekend watching the Season 23 Blu-ray box set - the Trial of a Time Lord season - which arrived Saturday morning.
Beautiful packaging as always with these box sets, looking better than the episodes themselves at times.
For what was at the time the shortest ever season of Doctor Who, the DVD release of Trial of a Time Lord had an abundance of Value Added Material with making-of documentaries for each of the sub-stories which make up the season, an in-depth look at Colin Baker's tenure as the Doctor, with specific weight given to the hiatus and then the resignation / sacking crisis, plus numerous excerpts from publicity appearances on various TV shows to promote the season.
All of these items are present and correct on the Blu-ray set as well, plus a whole load of new stuff - resulting in a 6 disc set for a grand total of 14 episodes screen time.
Before we look at the Extras, a word or two about the story itself, and how it is presented here.
Discs 1 - 4 feature the individual "stories" that comprise the trial, with 5 & 6 containing only bonus material. Disc 5 features the first 8 episodes, back to back, in extended edits. Some episodes have new material inserted which had been cut for timing, whilst other sequences derive from alternative takes - so not every episode is necessarily longer. The very first episode clearly has more trial room material, and you can see why it was excised. You'll recall that the Valeyard states that the Matrix contains all known knowledge, just before he starts showing his evidence for the prosecution. In its extended version, the Doctor challenges this assertion, pointing out that the Matrix only contains all known knowledge as known to the Time Lords, and they have a bit of an argument about semantics, before the Inquisitor shuts them up and tells them to get on with it.
The remaining 6 extended episodes are on Disc 6. The final episode clocks in at 34 minutes long.
I'm afraid to say that the inclusion of additional scenes has led to us being subjected to one of the worst VFX shots ever (not) seen on Doctor Who. Once we have the opening trial room sequence at the start of Part 9, we then see a model shot of the Hyperion in orbit above Mogar. A number of shuttle craft are seen flying around it, and the model work is truly appalling. They're recorded on video rather than film, as was the (bad) habit at this time and it all looks terrible. Blue Peter made better spaceships out of washing-up liquid bottles.
I had read in advance that this part of the story - the bit we usually call Terror of the Vervoids - was going to get updated CGI effects. I naturally assumed that these would go with the extended version of the story - but this is not the case. The updated version is an extra on Disc 3, alongside the broadcast version, and it has had all the trial scenes edited out, making it a supposedly stand alone version. This means that we actually have three different versions of what is hardly a great story to begin with on this one box set. The update involves a new set of opening titles, and just the shots of the spaceship (plus one shot of the TARDIS in space). Nothing else has been touched - including the Black Hole of Tartarus, which I assumed would get the CGI treatment. As it has now been divorced from the courtroom context, it is unlikely that I will ever revisit it. According to this version, genocide is just all in a day's work for the Doctor.
Has my opinion changed after re-watching Season 23 on Blu-ray? Actually it has - but only just. It's still my second least favourite season ever, but I did enjoy it better for having watched the Disc 5 - 6 extended version all in one sitting. I think this is the first time that I've ever watched it all in one go. It flows better, and the courtroom stuff builds in a more satisfying way.
On to the new Extras. I didn't think I'd like the Doctor Who Cookbook - Revisited piece, but it was actually very entertaining. Toby Hadoke visits Sarah Sutton (who has Janet Fielding as a house guest), Nicola Bryant (who has Colin Baker on hand), Fraser Hines and Terry Molloy, and gets them to recreate the recipes they contributed to Gary Downie's 1985 book. I wouldn't necessarily try their recipes myself - too much seafood for my liking, though I might have a go at Patrick Troughton's vegetable soup.
I thought that I might enjoy The Doctor's Table better - only to find that I didn't. There's some funny conversation, but watching other people enjoy themselves from the sidelines isn't good entertainment as far as I'm concerned. It was like going to the pub when you are on antibiotics and can't drink yourself.
The usually great Behind the Sofa sections were a little bit of a let down as well. The line-ups weren't so funny, and they didn't actually say all that much. There was too much clips and not enough comment. I complained before that Janet Fielding can usually be relied upon to dominate these, but we could have done with her here. Some of the other new material actually dates from the 2013 50th Anniversary period, but we do get a brand new interview with Bonnie Langford, conducted by Matthew Sweet. His interviews on each of these releases so far have been a highlight. Anyone who still sees Bonnie as the precocious child performer should watch this and see just how nice a person she really is, and she turned out to be a very good straight actor as well.
One thing which did alarm me, watching the newer items, is the state of Colin Baker's health. He was clearly showing the signs of Parkinson's Disease, or some similar condition, with very noticeable head shaking. Very sad to see him looking unwell.
Lastly, I do think it is a pity that they chose to release Season 23 before Season 22 (which we will have to wait at least a couple more years for at the rate they are releasing these). It's the lesser of Colin's two seasons and, even if what we see on screen has an upbeat ending, everything else about it was a bit of a downer.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Inspirations - Castrovalva


In looking for his new Doctor, producer John Nathan-Turner knew that he had to find someone who was very different from Tom Baker. Baker had been in the role for 7 years, and for many children he was the only Doctor, as they'd grown up with him. To go for a similar actor would look like copying. JNT therefore decided to go for the youngest Doctor yet and, as is often the case with JNT, he favoured someone he had already worked with. This was Peter Davison, who was best known for playing vet Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great And Small. He was working on a sit-com at the time, and when he was finally convinced to accept the role, his continuing work on the other series had to be agreed. A lucrative series of beer commercials Davison had signed up to had to be cancelled, as this would not be appropriate for someone who was about to become a children's hero.
For the costume of his new Doctor, JNT was inspired by a photograph in his office of a charity cricket match which Davison had participated in.
His commitments on other series led to there being a longer than usual gap between seasons 18 and 19. To remind the public that Baker wasn't the only actor to have filled the role, and as part of his efforts to keep fandom happy, JNT had included clips of companions and villains from Baker's era in the final episode of Logopolis - the Doctor's life passing before his eyes. JNT would then arrange for a whole series of repeats to be shown by the BBC, called The Five Faces of Doctor Who. This was the first time that archive stories had ever been repeated. Prior to this there had only ever been two repeats in the B&W period - a re-screening of An Unearthly Child immediately before The Cave of Skulls (because everyone had been distracted by the Kennedy assassination news), and the whole of Evil of the Daleks - to bridge the gap between seasons 5 and 6, and where the repeat was actually built into the stories either side of it in terms of narrative.
The 1970's had seen summer repeats (and the odd unscheduled one replacing rained-off cricket), but only of stories from the most recent season.
For The Five Faces... that first episode would get another airing, as the whole of the first story was shown, along with The Krotons, representing the Troughton era, The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters (representing Pertwee, as well as showing the first two Doctors in colour), and Logopolis - representing Baker, but also allowing Davison to be included as the Fifth Face thanks to the closing regeneration scene.


The first story for Davison was originally going to be the one which writers Andrew McCulloch and John Flanagan had prepared as the last story for Tom Baker - the one known as "Project Zeta Sigma". This had been championed by outgoing script editor Chris Bidmead. Problems with it meant that it get being pushed back. As soon as Bidmead resigned, and JNT went off to the USA for a convention, interim script editor Anthony Root scrapped it, with the blessing of Barry Letts, who was about to step down from his watching brief over the series. Root joined the series on a short term secondment only, and never actually commissioned any new stories - only working on submissions which had already been accepted.
With the decision having been made to bridge the regeneration with a trilogy reintroducing the Master, and with Bidmead himself stepping in to write Baker's last story, he was then asked to also write Davison's debut, to more seamlessly tie up the arc.
Terence Dudley's "Day of Wrath" (soon to be renamed Four to Doomsday) was quite well advanced, it was decided that this would be the first story which Davison would actually record. His debut would be recorded fourth in production order, to give the actor time to get comfortable in the role before the viewing public would see him for the first time. This out of order production schedule was becoming commonplace, but did lead to continuity problems with Davison's hair, which had to be shorter for his sit-com role. By the time Castrovalva was made, Root had already moved on and Eric Saward had been appointed new script editor, on the strength of his Season 19 story The Visitation.


Castrovalva is the name of a hill town in the Abruzzo region of Italy. It had inspired a lithograph by the Dutch artist M.C. Escher in 1930:


This image inspired the idea of the story's Castrovalva been perched on a cliff-top. Bidmead had already decided to use Escher owing to a picture which JNT's boss had on his office wall. It was the one with the weird perspective of people going up and down seemingly impossible stairs:


Bidmead had decided to use the concept of recursion in his story. This derives from mathematics and from computer science - and we all know how obsessed Bidmead was with computing. At its simplest, recursion is when a thing is defined by itself. In order to understand recursion, you must understand recursion. That's an example of recursion. An example from Doctor Who might be the exchange between the Doctor and Jo in The Time Monster, where the Doctor tells a story involving a "thraskin". He says that this word was replaced later by "plinge". Jo asks what a "thraskin" is, and the Doctor says he's already told her - it means the same as "plinge". Their argument could have gone round and round in an infinite loop.
Bidmead chose to have the new Doctor trapped in a recursion, created by the Master using Block Transfer Computations and the captured Adric's mathematical abilities, which you'll recall we mentioned under Logopolis as being another computing reference.
Director Fiona Cumming also looked to Escher's work for the visuals, having the interior of Catrovalva look like other pieces of his work.
Escher was very popular in the 1980's as this was the era of the "executive toy" - most famous of which was the hanging metal spheres which hit each other back and forth seemingly forever once started. Escher's prints were the visual equivalent of these toys.
We don't know what JNT's opinion was on executive toys, but we do know that he really didn't like the Escher print in his boss' office. He found it's surrealist trompe l'oeil imagery irritating.


One literary inspiration for Castrovalva might well be Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in English translation in 1970. In this a man dreams of a city of mirrors which reflect the world around it -  a place called Macondo. A mirror plays a significant role in Castrovalva, as it reflects the discord away from the Doctor, shielding him for a time. The man decides to make it a reality by building it himself. The book then tells of the trials and tribulations of the city, and numerous generations of the man's family. The ideal city reflects the real world too much, and it becomes an increasingly bad place in which to live. Once the city has crumbled away to nothing, the last surviving descendant of the founder translates an old document, which gives the history of Macando up until the time of whoever is reading it. In Castrovalva, the Doctor discovers that the town's history volumes, although supposed to be ancient, run up to the present day.
Lastly, during the early stages of the Doctor's new regeneration, he revisits some of his previous incarnations. To find his way through the TARDIS corridors he unravels the Fourth Doctor's scarf to leave a trail for himself - unravelling his old persona as he searches for his new one. he picks up a recorder - synonymous with Troughton's Doctor, and speaks to Adric in the vocal tones of the Hartnell version. He also seems to be recalling an unseen adventure in which the Brigadier helped him against the Ice Warriors. He also calls Adric 'Jamie' at one point, whilst Tegan is called both 'Jo' and 'Vicki'.
Talking with the Portreeve, he ends a story by mentioning the Ogrons and the Daleks. We don't know if he has been telling him about Day of the Daleks, or Frontier in Space. It would be funny if it was the latter, as the Portreeve is, of course, the disguised Master - who was there at the time.
The Delgado incarnation of the Master sometimes wore disguises - even of his own face.
Next time: Frogs - In - Space!!!

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Fortean Who (Part 2)


Cryptids:
Last time, we talked about the Loch Ness Monster being the Skarasen - cyborg-dinosaur pet of the alien Zygons. Or maybe the Borad - mad Karfelon scientist. Nessie ranks amongst the most popular of creatures known as Cryptids. Cryptozoology is a genuine science, which seeks to identify hitherto unknown insects and animals. Much is talked about the number of species which are going extinct due to human encroachment into their territory, or the effects of pollution, global warming and so forth. However, every year a number of new species are discovered in the remoter parts of the globe - the Amazon rain forest (what's left of it), the jungles of Borneo, Norfolk.
This has in part been spurred on by developments in DNA research. Just this year, an already recorded variety of lemur was found to be a brand new species of the animal. It had been known about for a long time, and looked similar to other specimens, but DNA proved it was actually genetically different enough from the more common variety as to be a whole new species.
Under the banner of Crytpozoology we also have the search for creatures thought to be extinct - and those only known about through myth and legend but which people in modern times have claimed to have seen. Two prime examples of this are the large ape-like hominids known as Bigfoot in Northern America, and the Yeti in the areas around the Himalayas.
Doctor Who hasn't so far got round to covering Bigfoot, AKA Sasquatch, but it has done the Yeti.
The ones encountered by the Second Doctor in 1930's Tibet proved to be fur-covered robots - servants of a disembodied alien entity which liked to call itself the Great Intelligence. However, at the end of the story a real Yeti is spotted by explorer Travers, and he runs off after it - so the genuine article exists in the Doctor Who universe.
The word Yeti is Tibetan and means "rocky place bear". The term "Abominable Snowman" was coined in 1921 by a journalist reporting on a recent Everest expedition who mistranslated Tibetan. Another name for the Yeti was Metoh-Kangmi (ape-man snowman). The journalist translated Metoh as "filthy", which he thesaurused into "abominable".
Strangely, when the Great Intelligence launched a second invasion attempt in the late 1960's via the London Underground network, it didn't opt to use robot Tube drivers or ticket inspectors, but stuck with the Yeti.


Werewolves:
"Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night, can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the moon is shining bright".
Not so much a potential Cryptid, though there are legends that people have been able to transform themselves physically and mentally into animals from every continent. These days, Lycanthropy is regarded more as a mental illness, whereby people only come to believe that they have taken on animal attributes, and don't sprout fur and fangs and slaughter their best friends whilst hiking across the Yorkshire Moors. There was a famous case from Germany in 1589, when a man named Stubbe Peeter was executed at Bedburg, near Cologne, after committing a number of murders around the area - possibly up to 25. Victims included men, woman and children, and it was said that the killer partially ate them. Under torture he had confessed to the crimes, claiming he had committed them whilst transformed into a wolf. After execution, his head was left on display atop a 16-spoked wheel - one spoke for each of his confirmed victims. His wife and daughter were also executed, as they were accused of aiding and abetting him.
A more recent Werewolf tale also comes from Germany, and that it the Morbach Monster. In the 1980's the USA had an airforce base at Morbach, where the service personnel heard local tales of a wolf-like creature which stalked the surrounding forests. One night in 1988, a commotion at one of the fences led to a guard seeing a huge wolf watching from the woods. It got up on its hind legs and ran off. Near the base was a shrine in which a candle burned constantly, and it was said that the monster would return if it ever went out. A few nights before the sighting, some of the Americans had been on their way back to the base and had noticed that the candle was not burning.
We have had a couple of Werewolves in Doctor Who, and it is always some sort of alien. On the planet Segonax the Seventh Doctor met a young woman from the planet Vulpana, who transformed into a Werewolf at even the sight of a full moon. Just a picture of one would trigger the transformation. Not sure why she came from a planet named after foxes. Lupana might have been more appropriate.
More recently we had the Werewolf which stalked the remote Glen of Saint Catherine in Scotland. This proved to be a series of hosts for an alien lifeform which fell to Earth in the glen in 1540. The monks of the nearby monastery came to worship it and abducted young boys to act as the hosts for the entity.
That quote at the top comes from the 1941 Universal horror film The Wolfman, and its sequels. Almost everything you know about Werewolves comes from this movie - such as silver being lethal, and the taint being spread by a bite - in much the same way that much Vampire lore comes from Bram Stoker's Dracula, and its many movie adaptations. Talking of which...


Vampires:
I recently wrote a bit about Vampires when I covered State of Decay in my "Inspirations" series of posts, so I won't cover the same ground again.
All it needs to be said is that Vampire myths are also found on every continent, and most of the stories we have heard derive from legends coming out of Central and Eastern Europe. The fear of Vampires is still pretty strong in some parts of Romania, as a recent news item about the corpse of a villager being dug up to be staked, decapitated and burnt will testify. In 2017, a curfew was imposed in a part of Malawi following a number of "vampire murders". Earlier this year David Farrant died. He gained notoriety in 1970 for instigating the hunt for the Highgate Vampire - said to be stalking the atmospheric Highgate Cemetery in North London. (If you're a London-based Vampire, it's the only place to be seen. You wouldn't be seen undead anywhere else). Farrant was sent to jail over this, accused of vandalism and desecrating graves. The story actually began a couple of years previous to these events, and a couple of miles away. A grave in Tottenham Park Cemetery was disturbed at Hallowe'en, 1968 - the corpse having a crucifix-shaped iron rod staked through it.
Many have put the Highgate Vampire scare down to the popularity of the Hammer series of Dracula films, starring the late great Christopher Lee as the Count. 1970 saw the release of Taste the Blood of Dracula (a movie where you can really play spot the Doctor Who guest star). This is the film which brings the Count to London - with a lot of the location sequences filmed in Highgate Cemetery.
Once again, Vampires in Doctor Who have tended to be of alien origins. There was once a race of powerful Vampires who were around at the beginning of the universe, and who were hunted down by Rassilon and the Time Lords. The Saturnyns in 16th Century Venice only looked like Vampires, due to a perception filter. (The look is totally based on Hammer's The Brides of Dracula). A number of corpses were recently discovered in a medieval cemetery on one of the Venetian islands, which had been staked into their graves. There is a film called The Vampire of Venice - only one letter away from the 2010 Doctor Who story title - which starred Klaus Kinski. It was a sequel to the remake of Nosferatu. Sabalom Glitz called his spaceship the Nosferatu, though that story (Dragonfire) is full of cinema references and they were probably looking for something close to Nostromo.
The Plasmavores in Smith and Jones were alien, whilst the Haemovores from The Curse of Fenric were actually a degenerated form of humanity, from an alternate far future.


Folk Horror:
Rather than look to the future, let's look to the past. Recently, Fortean Times has published a number of articles about a sub-genre known as Folk Horror. This sub-genre deals specifically with dark doings in the heart of rural England - usually to do with the maintenance of ancient pagan rites, such as human sacrifice. During the dying days of the Hippy era, some people looked to reject modern ways and concentrate on a more pastoral existence - seeking a golden age just like those nutters who wanted to turn back time in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Folk Horror said that such times weren't all that golden. There are three movies which you should see for an introduction to this sub-genre - 1968's Witchfinder General, its unofficial sequel Blood on Satan's Claw, and 1973's The Wicker Man. (God forbid you should watch the wrong the version of the latter - the abomination that is the 2013 Nicholas Cage one). The first two films are set around the time of the English Civil Wars of the mid-17th Century, and involve witchcraft (theme of the recent Doctor Who story The Witchfinders) and devil worship, whilst The Wicker Man shows how ancient pagan ceremonies can still survive in remote rural outposts, such as the fictional Summerisle.
The 1970's saw a slew of British TV dramas with Folk Horror themes - some of them even aimed at children. Prime example is Children of the Stones, but you can also count Sky (written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin) and Robin Redbreast. Anthology TV series abounded - such as Nigel Kneale's Beasts, some episodes of which touched on Folk Horror. (Check out if you can the episode entitled Baby - that one gave me nightmares back in 1976). Even those public safety information films they used to show on Saturday mornings have been co-opted. The one everybody remembers is The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, which was designed to stop children from playing too close to the water. It's like a mini-horror film, or a segment of an Amicus portmanteau horror movie. Kids are playing by rivers and ponds, and a cowled monk-like figure lurks behind them.


What really makes it is the narration - by Donald Pleasence no less. It's one of the spookiest 90 seconds you'll ever watch. For those of you who didn't watch TV in the 1970's, at least not in the UK, you should be able to find it on You Tube - do search it out. (Another one people remember is the one designed to stop you going near electricity pylons, the dangers of which one boy learns to his cost when he tries to retrieve his frisbee...).
Last time, we talked a lot about The Daemons (probably the most Fortean of all Doctor Who stories). That too can be said to be an example of Folk Horror, with its quiet country village setting, pagan archaeological sites, and the local vicar having his very own black magic coven. (OK, so it's the Master...).

I was going to do just two of these posts, but I'm rather enjoying them, and there are some other Fortean / Doctor Who crossovers still to be explored - so keep an eye out for Part 3.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

What's Wrong With... The Reign of Terror


First of all, we are missing two episodes - the fourth and fifth ones. As with Marco Polo, this is very annoying as everything around them still exists. It's bad to lose a whole story, but it seems even worse to lose just a bit of a story but keep the rest.
In the very first episode of Doctor Who, Susan is given a book about the French Revolution by her history teacher, Barbara. She has apparently specifically asked for it. She opens a page at random and immediately notices something which isn't correct. This all seems to imply that she has visited this period before. Add to that, she tells the two school teachers in this story's first episode that the Reign of Terror is the Doctor's "favourite period in history".
Quite why the Doctor would favour this time of bloodshed and chaos, with mass beheadings, governments falling ever other week, and everyone in France spying and reporting on their neighbours, who can guess? Why not the Belle Epoque, if he wants to favour a bit of French history?
If Susan really has visited this time before, she doesn't show any sign of it.
Once the TARDIS crew have been split up, Ian finds himself in a jail cell, separated from Susan and Barbara. Ian has a very brief talk with a fellow prisoner, who promptly dies after passing on a message. This relates to an inn called Le Chien Gris. All the people in this story are speaking French, but it is being translated into English for our benefit (later explained as a function of the TARDIS telepathic circuits, though that's a long way off). So why isn't Ian directed to an in called The Grey Dog? Later there is mention of another inn, where Ian and Barbara will get to see Napoleon. That's called The Sinking Ship. It isn't called Le Navire En Perdition.
Additionally, at one point the Doctor speaks to the boy who rescued him from the burning building in French. What would the boy have heard?
Susan is a total wuss in this story. She falls ill, but on the way to the guillotine she decides that she'd rather get her head chopped off than try to make an escape bid. Barbara rather stupidly decides to stay with her. Most people would have been off down one of those narrow alleyways in a second.
Both women get rescued anyway, by Jules Renan and his friend. Jules insists that his escape committee never use surnames - only to use surnames all the time. The two guys at the unsafe safe house were known only by their surnames.
Wouldn't it have been better if they only used first names as well? How many Jules were there in Paris at this time? Compare with the number of Renans. An unusual surname would have had the Revolutionaries knocking at your door in no time.
In conversation with the Doctor, Robespierre states the exact date. He says: "If this plot is successful, tomorrow, the 27th July 1794 will be a date for history". Not only is this clumsy dialogue - who speaks like that? - but Robespierre instigated a whole new calendar. He shouldn't have used July at all - but Thermidor. He should have said: "If this plot is successful, tomorrow, the 9th of Thermidor, Year VI, will be a date for history".
Before the Doctor got to Paris, he sat down on a road marker for a rest. It said "Paris 5 KM". The kilometre wasn't adopted in the Paris region until 1800.
Only one very slight fluff this time, but it is from Hartnell as usual - "I see you haven't heard the naa - news yet, my man".
Behind the scenes for this story, one major disaster. The director, Henric Hirsch, collapsed outside the production booth during the studio rehearsals for the third episode. He had been struggling with the logistics of making such a complex show, and things were hampered by his poor command of English. Producer Verity Lambert kept things going with the PA and AFM until John Gorrie, who had directed The Keys of Marinus, could be brought in to direct the episode that evening. Hirsch later recovered to take over the later episodes.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Story 213 - The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang


In which Vincent Van Gogh paints a disturbing picture. Decades later it is found by British soldiers and sent to the Cabinet War Rooms where Professor Edwin Bracewll shows it to Winston Churchill. He decides to call the Doctor, but gets redirected by the TARDIS to the Stormcage penal facility in the 51st Century, and the cell of River Song. On hearing of the painting she breaks out of jail and goes to find Starship UK, breaking into the royal gallery. She is confronted by Liz 10, but on seeing the painting she permits River to take it away with her. Meanwhile, the Doctor decides to take Amy to visit the oldest planet in the universe, which is said to have strange writing carved into a mountain. The TARDIS translates this as "Hello Sweetie", accompanied by a set of space-time co-ordinates.
The Doctor and Amy follow these and find themselves in the Britain of 102 AD. There is a Roman camp nearby, and one of the soldiers hails the Doctor as Caesar and invites him to come and meet Cleopatra. This proves to be River. She shows Van Gogh's painting to the Doctor. It depicts an exploding TARDIS, and is entitled "The Pandorica Opens"...
The Doctor has dismissed the Pandorica as a myth from his childhood, but River explains that it supposed to be buried near here. The Doctor realises that the location of such an object would be marked in some way. A short time later, he, River and Amy arrive at Stonehenge. As they explore the megalithic circle they fail to notice the severed head of a Cyberman lying nearby. A central stone proves to be the concealed entrance to the Underhenge - a huge chamber beneath the stones. The Pandorica is here - a large, ornately carved cube.


The Doctor tells his companions that the myths claim that it is an unbreakable prison which was designed to trap the most dangerous thing in the universe - something which would drop out of the sky and cause carnage around it. River discovers that the stones of the circle are actually transmitters - sending a message out across the universe that the Pandorica is about to open up. Spaceships from many different species are converging on their location - Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, Draconians and more. The Doctor will need an army to face them, and realises that he has one close by. River is sent back to the camp to enlist the help of the Roman soldiers. After she has gone, the Doctor discovers a Cyberman arm. He guesses that it was a sentry, which has fallen foul of the local Iron Age tribes people. It is still dangerous, as it begins firing at them. On picking it up, it issues an electric shock which stuns the Doctor. Amy is then attacked by the disembodied Cyberman head. It fires a tranquiliser dart into her, and attempts to take her body for itself. The rest of the Cyberman appears, and fits its head back onto its body. It is destroyed when a Roman officer arrives to save Amy. The recovered Doctor is shocked to discover that this is Rory Williams. He does not know how he came to become a Roman after being killed by the Silurian Restac. Amy wakes up, but does not recognise him. The Doctor goes outside and sees a huge fleet of alien spaceshps hovering in the skies above Stonehenge. he issues a challenge - demanding that if they want the Pandorica they will have to come and face him.


The Doctor returns to the Underhenge and calls for River to bring the TARDIS to him. However, she finds that the ship won't respond to her. It arrives in 2006, outside Amy's house in Leadworth instead of the underhenge. She sees signs of a recent landing by a spacecraft. Inside the house she explores Amy's bedroom and finds that one of her favourite books was story of Pandora's Box. Amy also loved ancient Rome, and River sees a picture of a Roman general which exacty matches the one from the camp in 102 AD. She then sees a photo of Rory and Amy at a fancy dress party, where he is dressed as a Roman soldier. As the Pandorica opens, River calls the Doctor and warns him that the whole situation is a trap, created form Amy's memories. The Roman soldiers are not real. The Doctor discovers that they are Auton replicas. Rory is also an Auton. Amy finally remembers who he is just as the Autons are activated. He warns her to get away from him as he cannot control himself. The Pandorica finally opens up and the Doctor sees that it is empty. He is captured by the Autons, and then finds himself confronted by a group of Daleks who have beamed down into the Underhenge. They are joined by Cybermen, Sontarans and a host of other aliens, including Sycorax and Silurians.


The Dalek Supreme explains that they created the Pandorica, in which to imprison the Doctor. The TARDIS is going to explode and destroy the entire universe, and the only way to prevent this is to lock the Doctor away. They have failed to realise that the Doctor is not the only person who can pilot it. When River tries to return to 102 AD, the TARDIS goes out of control and materialises within solid rock, trapping her inside. The ship then begins to break up, exploding around her. On the surface above, Rory loses control over his conditioning and shoots Amy, killing her. The Doctor is dragged into the Pandorica, which is then sealed up. The stars begin to go out...
Meanwhile, in Leadworth, 1996, young Amelia Pond is forced to see a child psychologist as she believes in stars -  and everyone knows they don't exist. One night she sees someone drop a flyer for a museum through her door, with the Pandorica exhibit marked and a note urging her to visit. She drags her aunt to the museum and makes for the Pandorica, and reads about how it passed through many countries over the centuries. There is a legend that it was constantly guarded by a solitary Roman soldier, who followed it wherever it went. He was last seen during the London BLitz, dragging the cube to safety from a burning building. Amelia spots a sticker on the Pandorica addressed to her, asking her to stick around. She hides away behind an exhibit of Nile penguins, close to two sinister looking stone objects, shaped rather like pepperpots. After everyone has left, she returns to the Pandorica. As soon as she touches it it opens up, to reveal Amy Pond sitting within.


Back in 102 AD, the Doctor has escaped the Pandorica by travelling back in time from a point after he has been released to give Rory the means to open it - his sonic screwdriver. The Pandorica is designed to keep its occupant alive indefinitely, even bringing them back from the dead, so he has Rory help him put Amy's body in the cube. He then uses River's vortex manipulator again to travel to 1996 to ensure that Amelia will go to see it and touch it. Having the same DNA will open it and release her future self. The Doctor travels forward to 1996, but Rory insists on staying with Amy - even it means centuries guarding her. The light from the Pandorica falls on one of the stone Daleks, bringing it back to life. It attacks the Doctor, Amy and Amelia, but they are resucued by one of the museum guards, who has a gun build into his plastic hand - Rory. Shortly afterwards, Amelia disappears. The Doctor explains that the whole of creation is unravelling. Earth will be the last to go as it was at the centre of the TARDIS explsion, but things are vanishing around them. The Doctor makes another temporal jump and reappears seconds later, apparently dying after being shot by the Dalek. Upstairs they find an earlier version of him, and they go to the roof where the Doctor explains that the sun they see in the sky is really his exploding ship. He uses his screwdriver to liste in, and they hear the TARDIS engines and River's cries for help.


The ship had protected her within a time loop  a few seconds before it blew apart. He uses the manipulator to fetch her to safety and bring her to the museum. The Dalek attacks agin, and this is when the Doctor is fatally shot. River destroys the Dalek. When she hears of the dying Doctor, she realises that he is tricking them. They go and find his body has vanished. He is found in the Pandorica. he plans to fly it into the heart of the explosion. The TARDIS will spread the cubes life-giving force throughout space and time - rebooting the entire universe. However, he is unlikely to survive. The Pandorica takes off and flies into the maelstrom. The Doctor discovers that he is still alive, but traveling back along his own recent timeline. He vists the artificial forest on the Byzantium and speaks with Amy when she is alone - urging her to remember what he told her as a child. He then finds himself back in her house when he first met her, again urging her to remember.


Amy wakes up on the day of her wedding, her mother and father in the hosue getting ready for the big day. At the reception after the ceremony, she is troubled by something being not quite right. Something is missing. She sees one of the gifts - a blue diary, left by a woman Rory didn't recongise.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Amy begins to remember the Doctor. Everyone present recalls her childhood imaginary friend - the "Raggedy Doctor" - but all are shocked when the TARDIS begins to materialise in the middle of the room. Rory also begins to remember him. The Doctor emerges, dressed in top hat and tails, and joins the celebrations. That night he slips away, but meets River ouside Amy's house. He returns her diary, but she refuses to tell him any more about who she is and what her role in the Doctor's life really is. That would be spoilers.
The Doctor is about to leave when Amy and Rory arrive, and they insist on going with him, now that they have only just got him back. The Doctor recieves a call from someone, telling him about an ancient Egyptian princess at loose on the Orient Express. In space.


The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 19th and 26th June, 2006. It marks the end of Moffat's first season as showrunner, and Matt Smith's as the Eleventh Doctor. The date of the final episode - 26/06/2006 - was the one which had been seeded through the season as the date on which the space / time crack was created.
It is very much a story of two halfs - one good, the other not quite so good.
The pre-credits sequence is a lengthy one, reintroducing a number of characters seen earlier in the season - Vincent Van Gogh, Churchill and Bracewell, and Liz 10. The series was premitted to film at the genuine Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire - a rare thing - though a "Foamhenge" was also built by the design team for additional shots as the time allowed at the monument was short.
Eerything builds nicely, as we hear of the different aliens converging on the Pandorica location, then we have one of the Eleventh Doctor's defining moments, as he makes his stirring challenge as the spacecraft swirl in the night sky overhead. Fans were particularly pleased to see a Cybership design last seen for The Invasion in 1968. The dismembered Cyberman sentinal is also very well done, especially the head scuttling around on its own.


To top the first episode we have a triple cliffhanger. The Doctor has discovered that a number of his enemies have entered into an alliance against him and lock him in the Pandorica, whilst River is trapped inside the exploding TARDIS. Rory has inexplicably returned from the dead as a Roman Centurion, who turns out to be an Auton replica but with all of his personality and memories. He is forced to shoot Amy. And then the universe begins to unravel. The only real criticism of this first episode is the alliance once we get to see it. Yes we get Daleks (the New Paradigm versions) and Cybermen, and Christopher Ryan even returns for a cameo as another Sontaran general, but the rest of the gang include rubbish like the Uvodni, the Hoix and the robots from The Runaway Bride. It's clear they have simply pulled out whatever costumes were lying around in the storeroom, and they come across as a great disappointment after we were promised Zygons and Terileptils. Even a Drahvin would have been nice.
Things rapidly go downhill as we go into the second half of the story, and it becomes readily apparent that Moffat really didn't know where to go with his finale. The whole of The Big Bang is just Moffat saying "I'm the timey-wimey guy - look how clever I can be with a whole episode of it". Except he isn't clever. The Doctor's escape from the Pandorica is a cheat. It can be opened by the sonic screwdriver. And the Doctor crosses his own timestream to do it - something every writer before this has always managed to avoid, because it is plain lazy and, I'll say it again, a cheat. Apart from a brief appearance by a Dalek, there isn't even any real jeopardy in The Big Bang - it's all running around and jumping through time.
The other big disappointment is that we never get any proper resolution to the story arc. We know that the cracks were caused by the exploding TARDIS, but we were told that back in Cold Blood. Who is responsible, and why, we are never told.
One suspects that Moffat decided on the whole rebooting of the universe plan so that he could simply side-step continuity problems.


For a big two part finale, the guest cast is surprisingly small. In fact, the whole two episodes are pretty much carried by the regulars, and Alex Kingston. We mentioned Christopher Ryan's brief appearance as a Sontaran, and Caitlin Blackwood is back as Amelia, but the only other performance of note is Simon Fisher Becker as Dorium Maldovar, the rotund blue-skinned man from whom River obtains a vortex manipulator, and who will return for a couple more stories - even after he has had his head chopped off.
Overall, as stated above, a game of two halfs. Best to leave the ground at half-time and get to the pub before the crowds arrive.
Things you might like to know:
  • That alliance in full. Guess which ones we only hear about and which ones we get to see: Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Atraxi, Blowfish, Weevils, Roboforms, Silurians, Slitheen, Hoix, Drahvins, Zygons, Terileptils, Chelonians, Draconians, Nestenes / Autons, Uvodni, Judoon, Haemogoths and Sycorax. For anyone who is infamilier with them, the Chelonians are turtle-like creatures from the New Adventures novels. Haemogoths come from the book range as well. Weevils and Blowfish hail from Torchwood, whilst the Uvodni appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  • Director Toby Haynes was inspired by the Indiana Jones movies. He played in some of John William's music over the Underhenge scenes prior to Murray Gold completing the finished score.
  • River Song's costume on the other hand was inspired by the Star Wars movies, designed to have a touch of both Princess Leia and Han Solo about it.
  • The damaged Cyberman sentinel was initially played by an actor who had lost an arm. The sequence was later reshot with a regular Cyberman performer with one arm covered in green material to be CGI's out. Look closely, however, and you'll see the missing arm casting a shadow on the Pandorica prop.
  • There are Greek letters carved on the cliff of Planet One alongside the "Hello Sweetie" and the co-ordinates. These letters spell out Theta Sigma - the Doctor's nickname at school according to The Armageddon Factor.
  • It had been hoped that Scots actor Gregor Fisher (most famous for his Rab C Nesbitt character) would play Amy's dad, but the role eventually went to Halcro Johnston.
  • The museum scenes in The Big Bang are supposed to be set in 1996, yet the Gherkin building (started in 2001 and completed in 2004) can be clearly seen on the city skyline.
  • Question: why isn't Rory's dad Brian at the wedding? When the character eventually appears in the series there is no mention of him missing the big day.
  • We won't see the Doctor visit the Orient Express in space until the Twelfth Doctor story Mummy on the Orient Express.

Monday, 23 September 2019

H is for... Hardaker


Captain of the spaceship Titanic, which was visiting Earth orbit from the planet Sto at Christmas, 2008. Before the voyage, he had found out that he was dying. The ship's owner, Max Capricorn, was on the brink of being ousted from his firm and had planned an elaborate revenge on his fellow boardmembers. Hardaker was offered a large sum of money to go to his family if he allowed the Titanic to be wrecked - deliberately putting it in the path of some meteoroids with its protective shields down. He agreed on the condition that his fellow officers would be old men like himself, only to have the eager young Midshipman Frame assigned to his bridge crew. Hardaker arranged for everyone to leave hi alone on the bridge, but Frame pointed out that this was against regulations and insisted on staying. When Frame saw what his captain was up to he tried to stop him, and Hardaker pulled a gun on him - wounding him. Hardaker was then killed when the meteoroids struck.

Played by: Geoffrey Palmer. Appearances: Voyage of the Damned (2007).
  • Palmer had appeared in the programme on two previous occasions, both during the Jon Pertwee era - The Silurians, and The Mutants. In all three appearances his character gets killed.
  • His son, Charles, has directed a number of Doctor Who stories, from Smith and Jones in 2007 and The Eaters of Light in 2017.

H is for... Happiness Patrol


Predominantly female police squads who enforced happiness and jolity on the planet Terra Alpha, an Earth colony. The planet's ruler, Helen A, had outlawed sadness and depression. Anyone found even remotely miserable (known as a Killjoy) was either shot on sight, or sent to the Happiness Patrol auditions at the Forum. If they failed to amuse, they were executed. Prisoners could also be held in designated areas awaiting transportation to the Forum, where booby-trapped joke machines disposed of other morose citizens. A man named Silas P was an undercover Patrol member. He would pretend to be sad to entrap Killjoys. Ace befriended a Patrol member named Susan Q, who had become disillusioned with her duties. The Doctor duped Silas P into appearing to be unhappy, so that he was killed by his own colleagues. The Patrol found itself unable to act against anyone who appeared to be happy even, as in the Doctor's case, he was only pretending to get round their rules.
The Patrol would have been disbanded after the Doctor engineered Helen A's downfall.

Played by: Georgina Hale (Daisy K), Rachel Bell (Priscilla P), Lesley Dunlop (Susan Q), Jonathan Burn (Silas P). Appearances: The Happiness Patrol (1988).

H is for... Hanne


A blind girl encountered by the Doctor and her companions when they visited a remote part of Norway. They found her alone in her home, apparently under threat from some creature which lurked in the nearby forest. Her mother was dead, and her father, Erik, had left her to fend for herself, barricaded in their house. Erik had found a portal in their home which led to an alternative universe, where his wife was still alive. He had only pretended to Hanne that there was a creature in the woods so that she would remain safe in the house while he was gone, but then the temptation of the other dimension was keeping him from going back to her. Hanne was a resourceful, strong minded girl - easily tricking Ryan Sinclair to get away from him and follow the others through the portal. She was able to convince her father that this other universe was only an illusion, and his real life was back home with her.

Played by: Ellie Wallwork. Appearances: It Takes You Away (2018).

H is for... Handmines


A biological weapon developed by the Thals during their thousand year war with the Kaleds on Skaro. Alerted to proximity of their victims, they emerged from the ground, appearing like humanoid hands with a single eye in the centre of the palm. They would seize their victims by the foot and drag them into the earth, suffocating them. The Doctor saved a young Davros after he wandered into the middle of a field of handmines - clearing a path for the boy using a Dalek gun.

Appearances: The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar (2015).

H is for... Handles


"Handles" was the nickname given by the Doctor to the salvaged head of a damaged Cyberman. He used it as a mobile database whilst investigating increasing alien activity around an obscure planet. Spaceships from many civilisations were congregating here as a mysterious signal was being transmitted across the entire universe. Handles identified the planet as Trenzalore, where the Doctor believed his grave would ultimately lie, and later he used the Time Lord seal which had been taken from the Master in the Death Zone on Gallifrey to translate the message. It originated from the Time Lords, alerting the universe to the fact that they had not been destroyed in the Time War. It was intended for the Doctor, asking him to give his name so that they would know that it was safe for to re-emerge. With Clara stuck on Earth, the Doctor lived in the village of Christmas on Trenzalore for hundreds of years, defending it from the numerous aliens. He constantly repaired Handles, but eventually it wore out and stopped working.

Voiced by: Kayvan Novak. Appearances: The Time of the Doctor (2013).
  • Novak is best known for the comedy series Fonejacker, though more recently he has starred as the vampire lord Nandor in the TV version of What We Do In The Shadows.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Fortean Who (Part 1)


As well as Doctor Who Magazine, another publication I buy every month is Fortean Times. It occasionally features Doctor Who - such as the cover piece in June 2006 above. Throughout its long life, Doctor Who has often touched on matters of a Fortean nature. For those not in the know, Charles Fort (1874 - 1932) was an American writer who became quite obsessed with strange phenomena. He was an open minded sort of person, of a "more things in heaven and earth" philosophical bent. He studied odd happenings, and scoured libraries to find news items of bizarre events. He soon set up a network of correspondents, who sent him clippings from local papers all over the globe, compiling his studies in the form of four books - The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932). He was extremely cruitical of mainstream science, believing that scientists' minds were closed to their own prejudices rather than looking at evidence objectively, and that they ignored or discarded anything which didn't fit with their preconceived views.
Fort was the first person to claim that unexplained aerial phenomena might be visitors from another world - aliens travelling in spaceships - and he also coined the word teleportation.
Fortean Times was founded in 1973, and it covers many of the subjects which Fort was interested in. A typical issue these days has two regular UFO columns and a ghost one, as well as regular items on conspiracy theories, cryptozoology, and forteana from the classical world. There are book and film reviews, and the inside back page always covers bizarre deaths. The rest of the magazine covers a wide range of topics. The latest issue, for instance, has an article about myths surrounding the Beatles (e.g. the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory).
Here are a few instances when Doctor Who has delved into Fortean territory, starting with the most common subject coverd by the magazine...


UFOs:
The first flying suacer to appear in the porgramme was the one belonging to the Daleks, in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964). Doctor Who has never really gone down the X-Files route when it comes to aliens visiting our planet. No-one gets abducted for a good probing, and no cattle get mysteriously mutilated. As a science-fiction series, it is a given that the universe is chock full of aliens, many of whom have come to Earth (usually to invade). Star Trek is the same, although Star Wars is set a long time ago, in agalaxy far, far away.
As mentioned above, Fort was the first to hypothesise that the various sightings of strange objects in the sky - going back to Biblical times - might, at least in part, actually be extraterrestrial in nature. Modern Ufology began in 1947, when the USAAF said they had a bit of crashed spaceship, and then they said they didn't. Then the person who first said they did said it again when he retired. The modern conspiracy theory would appear to have started around the same time then. 1947 was also when a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing a strange spaceship which moved like a saucer flying through the sky. He never actually described the vessel itself as a flying saucer - he was describing its movement - but you know how jouranlists are.
As well as the abductions, probings and cattle mutilations, two elements of UFO lore which appear often in film, TV and literature are the Men in Black, and the aliens themselves are often described as being tall, thin and grey, with big black eyes - usually referred to as "Greys". The Men in Black are men, obviously, who dress in black suits and drive in black cars, and they turn up after people have reported a UFO sighting. They try to convince the witness that they were mistaken and are often described as passively threatening. It has also been claimed that they may be alien themselves, rather than secret service operatives, as they can exhibit strange hypnotic powers. Witnesses have later claimed they have been spied on and had their phones tapped after a visit from them.
Doctor Who finally got round to covering both the Greys and the Men in Black in Series 6, with the introduction of the Silents.


They are aliens, working very deep undercover, who have the power to make you forget ever having seen them, and they look a bit like the traditional image of a Grey. We also saw them haging around in Area 52 in The Wedding of River Song. As they have been influencing the human race for millennia, all conspiracies could probably be laid at their door.
Closely associated with UFOs are...


Ancient Astronauts:
There are two schools of thought when it comes to long-extinct civilisations who possessed seemingly advanced technology. One is that they were human, but who had super powers like telepathy and access to all sorts of science. They lived in Atlantis, so got wiped out when it sank. Except some of them might have gone underground and might be around still. Their subterranean cities can be accessed via openings at the North Pole, and this is where UFOs come from - not aliens at all. The Atlanteans come out every so often to abduct, prod and mutilate.
The other school of thought is that our ancestors were visited by aliens, who gave them the means to build pyramids etc. It must have been aliens, because, let's face it, early human beings wouldn't be able to group together and construct the pyramids or Stonehenge themselves, using mass labour, and ropes and pulleys, would they? (Actually, we all know that it was a renegade Time Lord who helped build Stonehenge, but we'll let that pass...).
The champion of the ancient astronaut theories is that well known convicted fraudster and embezzler Erich Von Daniken - so what he says must be true. Millions of people bought his Chariots of the Gods book and believed every word of it, and unfortunately it also found its way into Doctor Who in the first half of the 1970's. Azal, a Daemon from the planet Daemos, came to Earth in prehistoric times and mucked about with human evolution before nodding off for thousands of years. The Master wanted his powers and so woke him up. Turns out the Earth was merely an experiment, and Azal would have destroyed it if he deemed it a failure. Later, the Doctor thinks that the Exxilons might have been the ones who visited the Earth and gave us our fancy building skills.


They weren't our only visitors. As well as Silents and Exxilons, the whole of ancient Egyptian society was based on a visit by the Osirans. Horus was an alien, who came to Earth with a host of his animal headed kin to put a stop to Sutekh, who wanted to bring the gift of death to just about everybody and everything. (I've never understood those villains who want to destroy everything except for themselves and their followers. What do you do if you ever succeeded? It would be boring as hell).
Other aliens - parallel universe ones this time - gave Britain its King Arthur mythos.
We've mentioned it already, but let's take a closer look at...


Atlantis:
Until 2015, Doctor Who had a problem with Atlantis. It seems to have been destroyed three times, in three different ways. First up was The Underwater Menace, which is set in the modern day but sees the Doctor and his companions arrive on a volcanic island which conceals the remnants of Atlantis deep underground. There is no mention of alien intervention - simply that the city sank beneath the seas due to some natural catastrophe, just as Plato would have it. Jump forward to 1971 and The Daemons (again) and we find out that it was another experiment by Azal, and he was the one who destroyed it. This story was written by Barry Letts and Robert Sloman, as the final adventure of Season 8. The pair reunited for the Season 9 finale and came up with The Time Monster. One year later, and the same two writers come up with a totally different version of what happened to Atlantis. This time it was the Master's fault, as he unleashed the captive Chronovore Kronos and it took revenge on its captors by destroying the city by flapping its wings for a bit.
Steven Moffat finally tackled this discontinuity issue by having all three events be equally true. In searching for the missing Doctor in The Magician's Apprentice, UNIT uses a computer program to identify where and when in history the Doctor might be due to the impact he has on the timelines. Atlantis is shown to be very busy, with a triple paradox evident.
Another paradox might have been noticed - a double one this time - had they looked at a well known Scottish loch...


The Loch Ness Monster (and other aquatic mysteries):
It has recently been stated that the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie from now on) is really a number of big eels. Their DNA has been found, but there is no trace of any prehistoric marine creature. Nessie is far too smart to have survived in the loch for all these years to get caught out by some biologists. She'll have been paddling down the other end of the loch when they did their tests. The earliest sighting of a creature in the vicinity was recorded by a fan of St Columba, who wrote his biography. This claims that a monster had been terrorising the area for some time - eating sheep mostly. A boat Columba wanted to use to cross the River Ness had come adrift and one of his followers jumped in to swim out and retrieve it. he was attacked by the monster, but Columba had a really good pray, and the creature withdrew. Of course, this was the River Ness, and not the loch itself. Interest in the loch and its monster really began in the early 1930's, when a new road was built alongside it. There have been dozens of sightings of something large, serpentine and moving in the loch every year since, and I don't think they can all be put down to eels somehow.
We all know that what people have really been spotting is the Skarasen, cyborg dinosaur pet of the Zygons, whose spaceship crashed into the loch centuries ago.
Unless, of course, they are mistaking it for the Borad. He was a scientist from the planet Karfel who turned himself into a half-man / half reptile following an experiment. he fell into a time tunnel and ended up in the Loch Ness area in Victorian times.
Personally, I don't think he would have survived. If the weather and the midgies didn't get him, he would probably have been eaten by the Skarasen.


For those who believe in Nessie, the popular thought is that it is some kind of plesiosaur. One of these turned up in the Indian Ocean in 1926 and threatened the SS Bernice. It's never properly explained if this was simply another exhibit in Vorg's miniscope, which he put in with the merchant ship, or if it had really been patroling the Indian Ocean, still alive in 1926, and got scooped up along with the Bernice.
Sightings of sea serpents since the year 1812 might be down to the huge serpentine creature which the Doctor freed from the Thames in Thin Ice.
In The Fury from the Deep, the Doctor digs out an old volume of myths and legends and finds one from the 16th Century about the intelligent seaweed creatures which have been threatening a natural gas complex. It normally lies dormant deep under the sea, but the gas rigs have disturbed it - but sailors through the years have sometimes spotted it.
On a couple of occasions, maritime mysteries have been found to be down to alien intervention. There is no real Fang Rock off England's Channel coast, but The Horror of Fang Rock was based in part on the real life mystery of Flannan Isle's lighthouse. The first hint that something was wrong was when a passing ship reported that the light was not lit, despite poor weather, on December 15th, 1900.
A ship wasn't able to get to the isle until December 26th, when it was found that the lighthouse was empty. Three men were missing. One of their oilskins was still hanging up - meaning one of the men had gone out into stormy weather unprotected. The only sign anything untoward might have happened was a single upturned chair. The last log entry was at 9am on the 15th. No bodies were ever found... Did a Rutan get them?
The most famous martime mystery is that of the Mary Celeste, when the ship was found adrift and abandoned off the Azores on December 5th, 1872. Perhaps everyone had jumped overboard when a party of Daleks appeared on deck, as The Chase would have us believe.
I wonder if Flannan Isle is haunted...?


Ghosts:
In Doctor Who, the supernatural doesn't exist. Everything has a rational explanation - usually aliens again. Whenever ghosts have appeared, it has generally been something to do wth time. The UNIT soldiers who glimpsed a figure in armour in The Time Warrior probably thought they were seeing a ghost on the landing, but it was really a Sontaran officer travelling forward in time from medieval times. The Caliburn Ghast in Hide was really a vision of another time traveller - her image appearing in the same spot throughout history, as she was trapped in a pocket universe where time went very, very slowly indeed.
The Sarah Jane Adventures, however, suggested that ghosts might be real. In The Eternity Trap, the ghosts haunting an abandoned country house are once again due to alien intervention and people being dislocated in time. However, once the villain of the piece has been destroyed and the "ghosts" can be laid to rest, Sarah glimpses the 17th Century owner of the house and his children at an upstairs window.
I have my own theory about ghosts, and it also has to do with time. I recall the story of the Roman soldiers seen in a cellar in York, who could only be seen from the knees up. The Roman road which ran through the place was knee deep beneatht he modern flooring. Ghosts also are often said to pass through walls - walls which might once have had doors in them. They can be seen to float (perhaps an earlier floor level). They also have a habit of appearing on anniversaries, and repeating their actions, like clockwork. I think that what people are seeing is a glimpse into another time. Perhaps 100 years from now the future owner of my flat will hear the tapping of a keyboard coming from the living room in the middle of the night and come to investigate - only to find there is no-one there...
More Fortean Who coming soon.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Inspirations - Logopolis


Logopolis - the final story of Season 18, and the end of Tom Baker's lengthy tenure of the TARDIS.
When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer of Doctor Who, he would have been well aware of how difficult his star could be - having witnessed first hand the headaches Baker had given his predecessor. From the start he intended to make sure that this wouldn't be his experience. He would rein Baker in, stamping his authority on all aspects of the show, but ideally he wanted to cast a Doctor of his own. Baker himself had been ill, and contemplating moving on anyway. He could see the writing on the wall, and guessed what JNT wanted, so he offered his resignation. Later, he expressed dismay at how quickly this was accepted.
Script editor Christopher H Bidmead had experienced a troubled year on the show - from finding the script cupboard bare on his arrival to having to extensively rework other people's material. He decided to leave. An interim script editor was identified - Anthony Root - to take over from him on a short term secondment. However, he wouldn't be starting until the beginning of Season 19. Bidmead had championed the writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, who had already contributed Meglos. They were invited to write a second story which would form the season finale. What they came up with was a story which is known as "Project 4G" or "Project Zeta-Sigma".


This would form part of another trilogy which would bridge the regeneration of Tom Baker into Peter Davison, JNT's choice for his new Doctor. The trilogy would comprise The Keeper of Traken, "Project 4G", and a story called "Day of Wrath" - which ultimately became Four to Doomsday.
"Project 4G" ran into problems and was moved to third place in the trilogy, becoming the new Doctor's debut story.
Bidmead himself stepped in to write the final story of the season, whilst still holding the script editor post.
He decided that he wanted to explore the TARDIS more. It generally got the Doctor from adventure to adventure, but it was a very long time since it had been the focus of a story. Bidmead was also inspired by his interest in computers. He had already named a piece of equipment in Warrior's Gate after his own machine, and could no doubt take it apart and put it together gain. One thing he noticed was that he could see how much memory was being used as an application ran, and where on the machine it was. He got the phrase "block transfer" from this. Likewise bubble memory, and numerical registers. The Monitor (a computer component) tells the visitors to Logopolis that his people work in registers, making their calculations in their heads and only seldom using technology - in this case the machinery needed to run their copy of the Pharos Project so that it will keep the CVEs open and prevent the destruction of the universe. The name 'Logopolis' derives from 'city of words', as the Logopolitans intone their calculations. Their settlement, from the air, looks like a giant brain.
The Pharos Project is based on the SETI Project - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The name, as Tegan points out, comes from the lighthouse at Alexandria, which was destroyed by a fire in antiquity.


As far as we know, Bidmead came up with the idea of the TARDIS within a TARDIS in the opening episode, but you'll recall that Barry Letts was still acting as exec-producer at this time, and no doubt he would have reminded him that this had been done before in one of his own stories - The Time Monster - where once again it is all down to the Master and the Doctor having their TARDIes in the same place at the same time. (This would be Letts' last involvement with the series as, from Season 19 onwards, it was felt that JNT could manage on his own).
A running theme throughout this season has been that of entropy, and it features prominently in this story. According to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy always increases over time. If you make a cup of tea, it will lose heat the longer it sits there. The simple definition is that it is the amount of energy which is unavailable to do work. It can also be a measure of randomness or uncertainty. In Logopolis, we learn that the universe has long passed the point of heat death, where there is no more energy left in its closed system, so the Logopolitans have opened the system up to external sources of energy - bubble universes such as E-Space. Access to these is through the CVEs. When the Master upsets the running of the planet, the CVEs begin to close. No more energy is able to transfer, so the universe begins to die.


Logoplis sees the introduction of a new female companion to accompany Adric, and who will help bridge the regeneration. This is Tegan Jovanka. JNT was offered the two names to choose from, and elected to use both, making Jovanka (a Slavic christian name) the surname. It has always been claimed that the decision to make her an Australian air hostess was a means to tempt Quantas to give the production team cheap flight tickets, as there was a plan afoot at this time to enter into a production deal with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to film a couple of episodes "down under". ABC declined the offer, although the BBC pursued it for a time. JNT made sure that Tegan was a BBC copyrighted character, as he also decided to bring back Nyssa and have her carry on as a regular - leading to the "overcrowded TARDIS" of the Peter Davison era. As mentioned last time, as Nyssa had been created just for his story, Johnny Byrne was paid for every story in which she appeared.


Throughout the story, the Doctor keeps seeing a mysterious white figure, referred to as the Watcher. It was hoped that viewers might think that this was the Master - even though we had already seen him "regenerate" into Anthony Ainley. The Watcher proves to be a version of the Doctor himself - an interim entity from between the incarnations. We had already seen something similar with Cho-Je in The Planet of Spiders, the last time the Doctor regenerated. There, the younger monk was a future projection of the Time Lord K'anpo - the form he would later regenerate into. There are other Pertwee references with the Master's use of the Tissue Compression Eliminator - first seen in his debut story Terror of the Autons, but not used again until The Deadly Assassin. We also have the radio telescope setting. The Master made his debut at just such an establishment, and the Ainley version also has one as a backdrop for his first proper story.
Next time: Bidmead gets called back and writes the debut for the new Doctor, basing it partly on a picture which really annoyed JNT...

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Story 212 - The Lodger


In which the TARDIS becomes erratic. The Doctor materialises the ship and steps outside in search of the cause - only for it to dematerialise without him. Amy is still on board. Some time later, a young man is walking past No.79 Aikman Road, Colchester, when he hears a call for assistance coming from the door's intercom. The front door is open. He goes inside and an elderly man asks him to come upstairs to help him. Once inside the flat, he is attacked. His downstairs neighbour - Craig Owens - hears a thud, and notices that the strange damp patch on his living room ceiling appears to be getting worse. Craig is living on his own at the moment, his flatmate having just inherited a lot of money from an unknown relative. He has a friend named Sophie who visits regularly, and he wants her to be his girlfriend - but is too nervous to ask. She suggests that he advertise for a lodger. The next morning the doorbell rings and Craig finds the Doctor on his doorstep. The TARDIS had landed in a nearby park before dematerialising without him, and he has traced the cause to 79 Aikman Road. The Doctor gives Craig a large sum of money for rent and announces himself as his new lodger. Craig is unsure at first, but the Doctor soon wins him over. He is quite looking forward to living in a house, for a time at least. He is in contact with Amy in the TARDIS, and asks her to do some research on the house. She, meanwhile, wants to know how he will cope passing himself off as an ordinary bloke.


The Doctor sets out to find various items which he can use to build a scanner device. He does not want to alert the upstairs neighbour, so is unable to use any advanced technology in case it is detected. More people are lured into the house by the person upstairs - though the mysterious neighbour appears in different forms. To one person it is a younger man and to someone else it is a young girl. After each enters the flat, the TARDIS goes wildly out of control - and the stain on Craig's ceiling grows. The Doctor fails to catch Craig's hints about being left alone with Sophie when she visits. He quickly spots that her desire to go travelling, but doesn't do anything about it, is a sign that she would prefer to stay with Craig were he to ask her. The next day, the Doctor agrees to play football with Craig and his friends. He annoys Craig by being much better than him, single-handedly winning the game. After the match, the Doctor witnesses a temporal distortion, and Amy confirms that the TARDIS has gone out of control again. Another person has been lured to the upstairs flat whilst they are out. Despite the Doctor's warnings not to touch it, curiosity gets the better of Craig and he touches the ceiling stain. He falls ill and can't get to work the next day, despite an important presentation needing to be delivered. The Doctor tends to his illness. Craig wakes that afternoon and rushes to work - only to find the Doctor has taken his place and proven to be a huge success with his colleagues.


That evening, Craig decides to loo in the Doctor's room to see what he has been up to, and discovers a large apparatus made out of junk in the middle of the bed. He decides to ask the Doctor to leave, as he is fed up of him being more popular than he is, with Sophie, his colleagues and with his football mates. The Doctor decides to tell him the truth of why he is here, using telepathy to instantly update him. They hear someone else going upstairs, and Craig is horrified to discover that it is Sophie. They rush up to the flat and discover that there is an advanced spacecraft inside. Amy confirms that 79 Aikman Road is supposed to be a bungalow - with no upper floor. The people seen on the stairs are merely computer generated avatars, created by the ship whose pilots are missing. The vessel needs someone to take over - and only someone who desperately wants to travel will suffice. The avatar has recognised this in Sophie, but now that the Doctor is here he will make a much better pilot. Craig finally declares his love for Sophie, and she is released as she now prefers to stay with him. The Doctor also manages to break free and they rush outside. They see the upper floor disappear, to be replaced by the ship, which the Doctor has identified as a time-ship with a camouflage capacity - just like the TARDIS. This is what had been preventing the TARDIS from materialising in the same location. The time-ship vanishes.
After the TARDIS has safely arrived in Colchester, the Doctor then uses it to go back in time and set up his rental of Craig's spare room. Whilst she was alone in the ship, Amy has found an engagement ring in the Doctor's pocket - little realising that it is her own...


The Lodger was written by Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast on 12th June, 2010. It was based on Roberts' comic strip of the same name for Doctor Who Magazine 368. This had featured the Tenth Doctor being temporarily stuck on Earth, waiting for Rose in the TARDIS to catch up with him, and having to share with Mickey Smith. In both cases the Doctor plays football and is much better than his flatmate, who comes to regret having him stay. In the comic strip Mickey mistakes the sonic screwdriver for a toothbrush, whilst in the TV version the Doctor grabs a toothbrush instead of his screwdriver.
This is therefore only the second Doctor Who TV story to be lifted wholesale from another medium - the first being the Human Nature two-parter which came from one of the New Adventures novels. Elements of two Big Finish audio adventures had also offered tenuous inspiration for other stories - Dalek / Jubilee and Rise of the Cybermen / Spare Parts.
The story is notable also for being an Amy-lite one. She does appear throughout, but is confined to the TARDIS control room and only appears briefly each time the Doctor calls her on his radio.


The main guest artists are James Corden, as Craig, and Daisy Haggard, as Sophie. Corden had shot to fame through his appearances in The History Boys, on stage and in the movie version, before co-creating and appearing in Gavin and Stacy with Ruth Jones. The National Theatre stage show One Man, Two Guvnors went to Broadway and this led to him moving to the USA where he currently hosts a popular chat show - The Late Late Show. Haggard had appeared in a wide variety of British TV roles, from sketch shows to Jane Austen.
Both Craig and Sophie will return to the series in the next season.


The last episode was light on story arc elements, but they are back this week.
The time-ship's origins are never explained, but we will see the vessel again in the next series, when its creators will be revealed.
Craig has a postcard for a Van Gogh exhibition on his fridge, and behind the fridge there lurks the crack in space and time.
Overall, a lightweight episode, played mainly for laughs with the fish-out-of-water Doctor trying to adjust to conventional living. Hardly deserving of a sequel, however. One thing I was really unhappy about was the use of not one but two head butts when the Doctor makes telepathic contact with Craig - a totally stupid and unnecessary thing to do in a show watched by children.
Things you might like to know:
  • This was a late replacement for what would have been Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife, which was deferred to the following year on budgetary grounds. Many fans were confused when the Blue Peter design-a-TARDIS-console competition winner failed to appear in Series 5.
  • Roberts later claimed that this story was going to feature the return of Meglos, the villain of the story of the same name from Season 18.
  • One of the potential story titles was "Something at the Top of the Stairs", which is probably a play on "Nothing at the End of the Lane" - an early title for Doctor Who's first ever episode.
  • Before becoming an actor Matt Smith had his sights set on becoming a professional footballer. An injury caused him to change career plans, but he continues to love the game (as does Mr Corden). The football match sequence was pretty much designed to allow Smith to show off his talents. Naturally, the Doctor wears a number 11 shirt.
  • Daisy Haggard is the great-great-great niece of She and King Solomon's Mines author H Rider Haggard.
  • The Doctor cooks Craig an omelette. This would be a reference to Gavin and Stacy, in which Stacy's mother only ever cooks omelettes.
  • The Doctor cures Craig using tea - just as that drink had revived the Tenth Doctor from his post-regeneration coma. Tea leaves were also an integral part of the Time Flow Analogue device which the Third Doctor put together from odds and ends in The Time Monster. The Eleventh Doctor builds a similar Heath Robinson machine here. In both instances, the Doctor creates the device because of a nearby enemy time machine.
  • The Doctor sings La donna e mobile in the shower - just as the Third Doctor did in Spearhead from Space.
  • The one big mystery about this episode which was never explained: just what on Earth was that picture in the hall all about?