Monday, 9 December 2019

13 for 13

Before we take a quick look at the recent new series news, and that comment from Jodie Whittaker that Series 12 won't be her last as the Doctor, a word about the blog. As we are now well on the way to Christmas / New Year I will be taking a step back from the blog, in readiness for Series 12. There'll be another look at unseen stories later in the week, this time those mentioned in Troughton adventures, but then I'll be a bit busy doing other, more festive, things. Come January you'll be getting my musings on the new episodes, plus a continuation of other posts such as the Inspirations ones, the A-Z and What's Wrong With... The past story reviews won't pick up again until after Series 12 has finished, though I may squeeze in A Christmas Carol in Christmas week because of its obvious topicality.
So, onto Series 12's updates. First of all, there was the almost throwaway line in a piece in the TV Times mentioned above, where Whittaker lets it be known that she will be the Doctor in Series 13. The earliest that can be broadcast is in 2021 and, as I posted a few week's ago, it seems almost inevitable that she and Chibnall will stick around for the 60th Anniversary of the programme in 2023 - especially if there's another lengthy gap between seasons and Series 13 doesn't air until late 2021, or even into 2022. Chibnall is on record as saying that he has already got his writing team together for Series 13.
The Graham Norton Show had a clip from Spyfall, which featured Stephen Fry, who is playing a character called "C" (as in Bond's "M"). We know from on set photos that he works for the Cyber-Security section of MI6. Could this mean that the Cybermen will be in the background of other stories in the season, and not just the two stories in which they are supposed to feature more prominently?
The story's synopsis tells us only that agents across the globe are being attacked by an alien intelligence, their DNA being rewritten, and C co-opts the Doctor to help investigate. Struan Rodger (voice of the Face of Boe, and who also appeared in The Woman Who Lived) voices a character called Kasaavin, according to the cast list in the Radio Times. Presumably this is that alien. Yaz's family also appear.
It's believed that the 1943 Paris story will follow Spyfall - the one featuring SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan. This will then be followed by the one featuring Tesla (Goran Visinjic) and Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) and is the one with the scorpion creatures and Anjli Mohindra's Queen Skithra.
Then we might have the Judoon story, which is rumoured to be another two-parter.
For a while now there has also been the rumour of a Mary Shelley story, and Chibnall did say that there is a visit to Lake Geneva to come. I suspect that this will indeed be a Cyberman story. You'll recall that the trailer featured a Cyberman walking towards the camera surrounded by flames. The Cyberman was clearly made up of bits from different designs - including a Mondasian-looking right arm. This might tie in with the Frankenstein theme of a creature put together out of different body parts - Cyberman ones instead of human ones.
That still leaves us with some other elements from the trailers - such as the blue-skinned creature (is it the same one seen breaking through reinforced glass?), the alien breaking into the TARDIS, and the flock of black bird / bat things. There's also those medieval-looking Cybermen to fit in, which many think might come from the finale. That's at least 11 of the 10 episodes accounted for... Of course, some of these elements might double up in the same episode.
On the whole, I'm looking forward to this series more than I did the last.
Other things to keep you happy over the festive season include the three part Dracula, from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, which I'm really looking forward to. Pertwee fans might want to give the new version of Worzel Gummidge a try. It's based more closely on the books, so will be quite different to Pertwee's take on the character. There's also a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, from the guy behind Peaky Blinders - so definitely worth a look. I have a tradition of always watching the Alistair Sim version every year.
Funnily enough, just about everything I'm looking forward to is on the BBC. No need to expend energy channel hopping - more time to overindulge...

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Unseen Stories (1)

What went before...
Regular readers of this blog will know that I concentrate my attention purely on televised Doctor Who. I don't cover the novels, comic strips or audio adventures, mainly because I haven't read or heard all of them. To me they aren't canon anyway - my choice.
I never refer to these off-screen adventures, but it is time I looked at unbroadcast stories that do need to be considered as part of properly canonical Doctor Who - namely those unseen adventures which are referred to in the dialogue of televised stories.
To begin with, let's look at what the Doctor and Susan got up to prior to that cold and foggy evening when two Coal Hill schoolteachers pushed their way into the TARDIS.
The Hartnell era is one which affords few gaps between stories where other adventures might have taken place, partly because in the early days many stories ran into each other - with a cliffhanger at the end of the story setting up the next. A lot of the things which the Doctor mentions having happened to him off screen probably took place before Ian and Barbara joined him on his travels - because he's telling them about it and they obviously weren't there themselves at the time.
Not everything which the Doctor claims to be knowledgeable about may have come through personal experience, however, so we do need to add a caveat. Just because the Doctor knows all about a planet, a race, or a period of history, doesn't mean that he has visited that planet, or met its people, or visited that period of history. The Doctor must have spent many, many years back on Gallifrey studying other planets and cultures. We know he attended Prydon Academy, and what does he do in his downtime on the TARDIS? I suspect he does a lot of reading. If he has heard of Stephenson's Rocket, and knows the names of all the key figures of the Industrial Revolution, then it doesn't necessarily follow that he has been to late 18th / early 19th Century England and met any of them.
In The Web Planet he knows all about the planet Vortis and about the Menoptra, and he knows which galaxy Vortis lies in - but he clearly states that he hasn't been there before. He covered it at school perhaps, or simply read about it.
One of the first signs that the Doctor and Susan have had some adventures between leaving Gallifrey, and arriving in Totters Lane, Shoreditch, is when Susan starts to leaf through a book on The French Revolution, which Barbara has lent her. She immediately spots a mistake. Later, when the TARDIS arrives in France during this turbulent period, Susan informs the two teachers that this is the Doctor's favourite period in Earth's history. Most fans take this to imply that the Doctor and Susan have visited this time and place before. I'd argue that this isn't necessarily the case. Susan only has to be knowledgeable about the French Revolution to spot an error in a book - she doesn't have to have actually been there. Also, ask any historian what their favourite period is and they'll tell you - the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Tudors, the American Civil War etc. Again, it doesn't mean they've travelled back through time and visited it.
You can have a purely academic interest in something. A previous visit to Revolutionary France is a possibility, but not definite.
More concrete examples from the very first story are the Doctor's notebook, and the things which the TARDIS is said to have disguised itself as before becoming stuck as a Police Box. Susan states that the notebook contains notes on all the places they've been to - places, plural.
The TARDIS is said to have been an ionic column and a sedan chair. The column might at first glance appear to suggest a visit to ancient Greece or Rome, but such things went on to become architectural staples for centuries. A visit to any Georgian-built townscape in the present day might lead a TARDIS to assume the form of a classical column. The form may also be a default setting for a TARDIS. The Master's ship appeared as a column in Logopolis and Castrovala, despite it not fitting into the local terrain.
The sedan chair is more significant, as these weren't around before the 17th Century, and had disappeared by the mid 19th Century. They're named from the town of Sedan in France. The TARDIS disguising itself as a sedan chair might just mean that the visit to the period of the French Revolution really did happen.
In The Edge of Destruction, Susan confirms that one of the images on the TARDIS scanner is of the planet Quinnis, in the Fourth Universe. A primordial jungle planet, it is stated that they almost lost the ship there. This is the first indication that the Doctor and Susan have visited more than different periods of Earth's history. They've even visited an entirely different universe (something which the Doctor later claims was easy when the Time Lords were still around).
At the end of the same story, the Doctor gives Ian an Ulster coat, which he claims to have obtained from Gilbert and Sullivan. Their partnership lasted from 1871 to 1900, so the Doctor and Susan have visited the late Victorian era. Another caveat here. Some guide books maintain that the Doctor's name-dropping can't be trusted - that he's showing off or downright lying. Watching these episodes again, and listening to what the Doctor says and the way he says it, it is clear that he isn't lying. (The same can't be said of some later Doctors, however).
The Doctor isn't the only one who mentions previous TARDIS landings. In Marco Polo, Susan talks of seeing the metal seas of Venus. She also tells Ping-Cho that she has had many homes in many places, implying an itinerant lifestyle which didn't always involve staying in the TARDIS, unless she doesn't see the ship as her home.
Susan also mentions another alien planet - Esto - where the plant-life had telepathic abilities. This might be the same place where she heard plants screaming. She specifically states that she and the Doctor visited Esto, so not something she read about or studied at school.
Some more name-dropping from the Doctor leads us to believe that he met Pyrrho, the father of Skepticism. He says this so emphatically, that it does sound as if it is true. Pyrrho lived in Greece around the 3rd Century BC. Perhaps this is when the TARDIS disguised itself as that ionic column.
The Doctor also claims that Beau Brummell always said he looked good in a cloak. Brummell was the fashion trend-setter of the Regency period, friend of the future George IV until the two fell out and Brummell ended up in self-imposed exile in France, dying there in poverty in 1840. Had the Doctor claimed to have given Brummell all his fashion ideas then that might indicate showing off, but he merely states that the man complimented him, so I think we can accept that this meeting took place.
The Doctor's story of being sent to the Tower of London by Henry VIII after throwing a parson's nose at the king is corroborated by Susan. Another adventure corroborated by Susan is the experience of a zeppelin air raid, which most take to mean a visit to London in 1917. However, Rise of the Cybermen had zeppelins in an alternative universe contemporary England, and some alien planets might have retained zeppelin-like airships as warships.
When Susan leaves the Doctor, he mentions how both have looked after each other for many years, again indicating a long passage of time between leaving Gallifrey and meeting Ian and Barbara.
The TARDIS next arrives on the planet Dido, and the Doctor has been here before. This might not necessarily have been with Susan. He may have made some field trips to other planets prior to leaving Gallifrey as part of his studies / work there. We know next to nothing of what the Doctor did between leaving the Academy and running away in the TARDIS.
Some more name-dropping. The Doctor studied boxing and / or wrestling with the Mountain Mauler of Montana. This isn't a known historical figure, so he's unlikely to be making it up. It might suggest a visit to the USA, but the name could just as easily be the stage name of a British fighter, encountered during one of the visits to England already mentioned above. The fact that the Doctor can't quite recall James Watt's name suggests that this isn't showing off either. He claims he was with Watt when he was inspired to develop his improvements to the steam engine by observing a kettle boil. The only problem with this is that the story is often regarded as just a myth, something which might have happened when he was a boy or later when he was a young man.
Then we have him claiming to have given Hans Christian Andersen the idea for the Emperor's New Clothes fable. If true, then the Doctor was in Copenhagen around 1837, when the story was first published.
On encountering the Monk in Northumbria, in 1066, the Doctor mentions that the time-meddler's TARDIS is some 50 years ahead of his own - i.e. he left Gallifrey at least 50 years before the Monk did - another indication of how long he and Susan had been travelling together.
The Doctor later tells Steven and Sara that he has seen celebrations in Trafalgar Square before - but they were for the Relief of Mafeking, which was in May 1900.
We ought, at this point, to mention the First Doctor's outfit. It isn't contemporary with 1963, which might suggest he spent rather a long time in turn of the last century England. If so, it's strange that he doesn't recognise cricket when he sees it.
Knowing that the planet of the Elders and Savages is in a time of great peace and prosperity, and having knowledge about Mondas and the Cybermen, doesn't necessarily suggest that he has had personal experience of them. This might just be learned knowledge. The last definite unseen adventure, as far as we learn in the Hartnell era, is an encounter with the Celestial Toymaker. There's no indication of how long ago this was, except that it wasn't recently, as Steven doesn't recognise him. It may have been after leaving Totters Lane, or it might have been yet another adventure he and Susan had before they settled in London, 1963.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Spyfall, and Trailer 2

Confirmation this afternoon that Series 12 of Doctor Who will indeed begin on New Year's Day, 2020. The Mirror report was right about that, and that the first story would be a two-parter. What it got wrong is that all subsequent episodes are remaining in the Sunday slot - so no move back to Saturday nights.
We've also got a name for the first story - Spyfall. We knew that the opener was going to have a bit of a James Bond vibe, and this title is obviously a pun on Skyfall, the 23rd Bond outing from 2012.
What isn't clear is if this name goes across both parts.
In other news recently we've been told that this isn't the only two-parter. There's at least one other, as two-parters were mentioned in an interview in the plural. The episode count for the series is still 10, so that means there may only be 8 separate stories in all.
Also today, to go along with the broadcast date announcement, was a second trailer. This does include new clips, but doesn't really add much to what we already got a week or so ago. Some of the clips appear in both trailers. An ominous voice-over talks about the Doctor losing all of her lives, and the dialogue about something coming after the Doctor is repeated
Jodie Whitaker will be appearing on the Graham Norton show on Friday (6th December), so we might get our first proper episode clip then - presumably something from the first part of Spyfall.

What's Wrong With... The Romans

For some fans, what's wrong with The Romans is the humour. It's a story which contains a lot of humour - including some broad farce as Nero chases Barbara around the palace, and she continually fails to see the Doctor and Vicki, who equally always manage to miss her. The problem is that this humour sits in amongst a lot of death and destruction - assassinations, murders, poisonings, and someone getting a burning torch shoved in his face. The tone is very uneven. The general viewing public weren't all that keen on a funny Doctor Who story, as its broadcast just happened to coincide with the national tragedy of the death of Winston Churchill. Episode 3 was actually shown on the day of his funeral.
On to the story itself, and let's start with historical accuracy.
The Emperor Nero - Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus - was born in December 37 AD. The Great Fire of Rome took place in July 64 AD, so Nero should be 26 years old. Derek Francis, who portrays the Emperor here, was a far from youthful 42 when this story was recorded.
Tigellinus is presented here as some sort of slave, who is killed when Nero forces him to drink poisoned wine. The real Tigellinus - Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus - was one of Nero's most trusted advisers, a Prefect with the Praetorian Guard. He survived Nero's death by suicide in 68 AD, when he switched allegiance to Galba. Unfortunately, Galba only lasted 6 months, replaced by Otho during what would later be known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Otho ordered Tigellinus' execution, but he died by committing suicide.
Locusta is seen being dragged away to feed the lions in the arena, after Poppaea blames her for failing to assassinate Barbara. The real Locusta also outlived Nero. She was executed by Galba in 69 AD.
Whilst it was believed later that Nero had started the Great Fire so that he could make space for his huge new palace, according to Tacitus he was not in the city at the time. He was in Antium, 32 miles away. The fire actually burnt down the new palace addition he had already built - the Domus Transitoria on the Palatine.
Other things that aren't quite right include the writer's belief that a villa is just a big house, like a mansion. The Doctor and companions are seen to be relaxing in a villa for a whole month - the owner supposedly being away campaigning in Gaul. Apart from the fact that no Roman army was campaigning in Gaul in 64 AD, the villa is presented as just the house. A villa was at the heart of a huge agricultural estate, where slaves lived all year round. There's no way the Doctor and company could simply take over the house for a month, with no evidence of any slaves in attendance.
The pool in the courtyard appears to be lined with polythene - something noticeable now on cleaned up video, but wouldn't have been spotted on initial broadcast.
Something else that wouldn't have been so noticeable at the time was the use of metal washers for coins, as seen when Nero throws them on the ground for his fire-starters to collect.
The slave trader Sevcheria starts off as just that - a rather down at heel slave trader. Midway through the story he suddenly becomes Nero's chief henchman, able to order the Praetorian Guards around. He doesn't even smarten himself up for this new role.
If everything is being translated by the TARDIS then surely the Centurion would have seen through the Doctor's lyres / liars pun. 'Liar' in Latin is mendax, and 'lyre' is lyra.
Something out of character for Vicki is that she simply switches the chalice from the palace, rather than getting rid of the poison - so she's quite prepared for someone to be murdered through her own actions.
Nero wouldn't have enjoyed an evening watching gladiators kill themselves. He had actually banned gladiatorial combat, as it offended his aesthetic sensibilities. His idea of a fun night out, apart from orgies and marrying eunuchs, was music or poetry recitals. The thumbs down for execution is also wrong - a mythconception from Hollywood movies. The Emperor kept his thumb in his fist if the defeated fighter was to be spared, and put the thumb up if he was to die.
Tavius, the secret Christian, has a crucifix. This is anachronistic. The symbol for the early Christians at this time was the fish symbol - the ichthys.
One good Hartnell fluff: "That, your excellency, would be an impossibissity".

Friday, 29 November 2019

Inspirations - Time-Flight

The writer of Time-Flight is Peter Grimwade. He had directed a couple of Doctor Who stories - including the previous one, Earthshock, after spending a number of years working on the show as a Production Assistant. A complaint from him about there always being robots in stories he worked on led Tom Baker to change the scripted 'Grimwold's Syndrome' in Robots of Death to 'Grimwade's Syndrome' - another name for Robophobia.
Time-Flight was his first effort to write for the series - and it's a surprise that he was invited back. Actually, that's quite unfair, as most of this story's problems have nothing to do with the script itself. The really big problem was that Grimwade put forward a story that involved a Concorde supersonic airliner being transported back to prehistoric Earth, and the producer and script editor thought that it would be okay to produce it at the end of the season after all the money had ran out.
John Nathan-Turner, as should already be apparent if you have been reading these in order, was nothing if not a showman - keen to do anything that would garner publicity and hopefully get him some freebies into the bargain.
An airport-based story would obviously tie in with closing Tegan's story arc, what with her being an airline stewardess. Despite having been in service for more than a decade, Concorde was still a symbol of luxury and status. If they could get the real thing into the programme then this would be a major publicity coup, and show that the programme was sticking to high quality standards. When the aircraft had featured in a Bond movie, it had been footage of Roger Moore's actual arrival in the USA to begin filming that they recorded - having Moore change in to his Bond suit just before landing.
Apparently, when British Airways looked like they might not allow use of a Concorde for filming, JNT told them that Air France had already said yes - just to prompt BA into agreeing. They only agreed so long as neither BA nor the aircraft itself were shown in a negative light.
The BBC were offered a single morning with the aircraft, a spare one, to be filmed at Heathrow.

Never let it be said that Doctor Who ever trades in cliches, but there is a popular conception amongst the general public that male air stewards are often gay. We only see one male steward in this story, but the three cabin crew of the Concorde in which the Doctor and his companions travel all just happened to be played by gay actors. Most notable is Michael Cashman, he of the first gay kiss on the soap Eastenders, and who went on to become a Labour MEP. With gay actors, a gay writer and a gay producer, you might have thought that this story's reputation might have been salvaged at least a little by being championed by the series' many gay fans - but at the end of the day a generally derided  story is still just a generally derided story.
Peter Grimwade was an opera lover - German opera, if his later Mawdryn Undead is anything to go by. He has some elements of the Parsifal quest in this story, as Nyssa is drawn by an unseen force to delve deeper and deeper into the Xeraphin pyramid. On the way she meets several terrors, designed to stop her from proceeding with her quest - including dead friend Adric. She first sees an image of the Melkur - the disguised form of the Master's TARDIS as it had appeared on Traken. As she tells Tegan, the thing that came from the Melkur killed her father. We also get to see a Terileptil, from a recent adventure the two young women both shared. Then we get an image of the now dead Adric, warning them not to go any further. Matthew Waterhouse's inclusion here is entirely down to the Radio Times. These days it always comes out on a Tuesday, along with all the weekly TV and Radio listings magazines, but back then it came out on a Thursday. Viewers tuning in to see Part Four of Earthshock weren't supposed to know that Adric was going to snuff it, and the eagle-eyed might have spotted that he wasn't in the credits for the following week's two episodes. Waterhouse was therefore brought back to appear briefly as a mirage - just so he could be included in the cast listings and maintain the surprise ending of Earthshock.

Talking of Radio Times cast listings, alongside Waterhouse was one Leon Ny Tain, playing the rotund magician character of Kalid, who appears to be behind these temporal hijackings of Concorde aircraft. It doesn't take Inspector Morse to work out that 'Leon Ny Tain' is an anagram of Tony Ainley. For no discernible reason whatsoever, the Master is disguising himself as a vaguely oriental mystic, wearing a mask and fat suit. The production team seem to be labouring under the delusion that the Master was always disguising himself. We've already seen this new incarnation of the villainous Time Lord pretend to be the Portreeve of Castrovalva - but then he had a reason for doing so. He was laying a trap for people who would recognise him. The Roger Delgado Master only wore a face mask twice - in Terror of the Autons when he played a telephone engineer, and in The Claws of Axos when he pretended to be an army officer. He did employ masks on two other occasions - but it was to make folk think that other people were him - Rex Farrell in Terror of the Autons, and the hypnotised hovercraft pilot in The Sea Devils. Both times the masks were employed to create a diversion which would allow him to escape. Yes, the Master pretended to be other people lots of other times - but he didn't resort to any form of disguise save for the relevant costume to do so.
There is no way that the Master would have any inkling that anyone who knows him will pitch up on prehistoric Earth in this story - so why the deception? The script doesn't even try to explain.
The story ends with Tegan being left behind at Heathrow as the Doctor makes a hurried departure with just Nyssa on board the TARDIS. It was never intended that Janet Fielding was going to be leaving the show at this point - Tegan was always going to be brought back for the opening story of Season 20. This was simply a way to create a season break cliffhanger, rather than one between episodes or between stories, as was beginning to happen again after being common in the Hartnell and early Troughton eras.
Next time: Season 20 begins and, as it's a big anniversary, we get elements of the past in each story - starting with someone we haven't seen since the last big anniversary. Turns out tulips aren't the only things to come from Amsterdam...

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith - SJA 4.6

In which Sarah Jane Smith, Clyde and Rani rush to the landing site of a meteorite, following an alert from Mr Smith. There is a fear that it may carry alien pathogens. It proves to be harmless, but they are confronted by a woman who has also come to investigate, and claims to be helping save the planet from aliens. She speeds off in a red sports car, and later they discover that she has moved in to a house around the corner from Bannerman Road. They go to confront her and learn that her name is Ruby White and she has moved to the area because of all the alien activity which Sarah and her friends have been dealing with over the last couple of years. She cold shoulders them and orders them out of her home - accusing them of being little more than amateurs.
The next day Sarah finds herself forgetting that Luke is away at university when she talks to Rani's mother. Gita. Then she forgets K9's name when she later talks to her son.

There is another alert from Mr Smith, sending them to a junkyard where a trio of Dark Horde warriors materialise. Sarah discovers that she has forgotten to ask Clyde to bring the sonic lipstick, and she realises they are defenceless. Ruby suddenly appears and gets Clyde and Rani to help her to chase the Horde off, using a hand-held AI device to make them think they are up against superior forces. Clyde nicknames the device Mr White, after Sarah's Mr Smith.
They invite Ruby back to the attic, where she apologises for her earlier cold attitude towards them. She wants to be friends, and even Mr Smith and Mr White seem to get along. That evening, Sarah becomes increasingly worried about her memory lapses, and asks Mr Smith to conduct a medical scan on her. He notifies her that she has a degenerative brain condition. Not wishing to put Clyde and Rani at risk, as she did at the junkyard, Sarah decides to retire. She invites Ruby to her home and asks her to take over from her. After ordering Mr Smith to delete her command protocols, she gets ready to leave on an extended holiday. However, she finds herself transported to a cellar where Ruby chains her to the wall. In an alcove is a massive fleshy lump - Ruby's stomach. She is really an alien Qetesh, creatures who feed on the emotions of others. Ruby has been attacking Sarah for some days, causing her memory problems, and Mr White had tampered with Mr Smith to give the false medical scan diagnosis. She has abducted Sarah as she had led the most exciting life of anyone on Earth. Afterwards she will feed on the entire planet...

Instead of stopping alien invasions, she will facilitate them - to create more emotions upon which to feed. Clyde and Rani see a fake video message from Sarah telling them that she has gone away for good, but Clyde is suspicious as she would never abandon Luke. Mr Smith then attempts to warn him but Ruby shuts the computer down and Mr White teleports Clyde away from the attic. He finds himself in a pod floating in space above the Earth - a prison capsule from which Ruby has escaped. He has a limited amount of oxygen. Mr White had been an entertainments console left by her captors, but she reprogrammed it to aid her escape.
Worried about his mother, Luke arrives at Rani's house. Luke contacts K9 back in Oxford and gets him to trace Clyde's phone, and they discover he is in space. Rani must get her mobile close to Mr White, so that K9 can hack into it. Mr White is reprogrammed to return Clyde to Earth, but Ruby escapes. Luke, Rani and Clyde go to her house and find Sarah in the cellar, where the stomach is still feeding off her. Mr White is used to create a hologram of meteor strikes hitting the planet, and the huge wave of emotion generated is too much for Ruby's stomach to absorb. It shrivels up, releasing what it had taken from Sarah back to her. Ruby vows revenge, but is sent back to her prison in space.

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith was written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, and was first broadcast on 15th and 16th November, 2010. It marks the end of Series 4 of The Sarah Jane Adventures - what would prove to be the last full season of the show. Hickman is best known for being the editor of Doctor Who Magazine (from 2002 to 2007, so in post to oversee the return of Doctor Who to the airwaves, and a huge redesign for the publication). He's also well known for his design work - including the covers for the Classic Doctor Who DVD range. You'll have seen him in a few of the DVD extras as well.
Every series of SJA has had a story with "Sarah Jane Smith" in the title, written by Roberts. This is the first one not to feature the Trickster. This is the first season in which he hasn't appeared. Instead, a new character is introduced - a sort of anti-Sarah Jane Smith who at first appears to do everything she does, only better, and looks more glamorous to the youngsters. Mr White is a small hand held gizmo, as opposed to Sarah's huge attic-dwelling computer, and Ruby White drives a flash red sports car as opposed to Sarah's - a retro-looking Nissan Figaro.
After a few cameo appearances on video links in the last couple of stories, Tommy Knight returns as Luke, and K9 also features. This would be K9 Mark IV's final appearance on screen (and therefore John Leeson's final vocal work in the televised Doctor Who universe, at least to date).

We only have two guest artists in this story, principal of whom is Julie Graham. She's Scottish, so naturally her first TV work was an episode of Taggart. Genre appearances include the revamped Survivors, a remake of Terry Nation's 1970's drama series, and Bonekickers. that dreadful archaeological adventure series.
Voicing Mr White is Eddie Marsan (Mr Norrell in the BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell amongst many, many others).
It's a surprise that neither guest artist has been called upon to appear in Doctor Who itself.
Overall, another quality addition to The Sarah Jane Adventures. It's tragic in hindsight, watching this knowing that Lis Sladen was already ill, as we see Sarah physically and mentally deteriorate. The title is painfully apt, as this was the last thing we had seen before Lis's untimely death.
Things you might like to know:
  • Series 5 would have bucked the trend of not having a story with "Sarah Jane Smith" in the title, as we have a record of what the unmade stories would have been called.
  • Roberts and Hickman were collaborating on another story for that season when Sladen died and production was stopped.
  • Ruby White was clearly set up for future return appearances, as the last we see of her is her vowing revenge on Sarah.
  • Clyde maintains the tradition of someone being slimed during the story.
  • Yet another reason to ignore the whole UNIT dating controversy, as Sarah states that she was 23 when she first met the Doctor. The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith shows that she was born in 1951 - meaning the events of The Time Warrior take place in 1974.
  • Julie Graham went to school with Eric Potts (Oliver Charles in Aliens in London).

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Series 12 - The Trailer

First of all, Happy Doctor Who Day. I've been watching the series since the tail end of the 1960's, and I didn't even know that was a thing, but have a happy one anyway.
Today we finally got to see a proper glimpse of the forthcoming series - glimpse being the operative word as what we have is a rather frantically paced trailer. If previous series are anything to go by, several of these clips will have come from the same few stories, usually from the start of the run.
We have had confirmation of the return of the Cybermen, redesigned once again (see above for the only shot we had of them). The participation of Stephen Fry had been confirmed a couple of days ago - along with the involvement of Lenny Henry, and both feature in the trailer. Both may well be appearing in the same story, which I suspect will be the one which debuts on New Year's Day. This is the epic James Bond-ish one (TARDIS crew in tuxedos, etc).

Two other guest artists were announced yesterday, and one of them - Goran Visnjic - was spotted in the trailer, in a story which appears to have a 19th Century setting. Might this be the Mary Shelley one that's been rumoured? (Update: no it isn't. Having rewatched the trailer the costumes are too late, and I'm hearing that Visnjic might be playing Nikola Tesla). I didn't spot Robert Glenister (making a return to the show after appearing in The Caves of Androzani).
There was one clip of a Judoon, and the 1943 Occupied Paris story was also confirmed - so we definitely have two stories with historical settings.
A few new monsters were to be seen - including something that looked a bit like the Racnoss Queen, something which is able to break into the TARDIS, a giant scorpion-like creature, and a flock of black bird-like things which can swarm out of nowhere. (Update: the Racnoss-like creature is more scorpion-like, and it's Anjli Mohindra - Rani from SJA. So this is from the possible Tesla story).
Dialogue-wise, the significant thing seems to be the Doctor fearing that something is coming after her.
A word of caution: some previous trailers have included scenes which never actually made it into the broadcast episodes.
So, what do we think? Well, I was totally underwhelmed by the advance publicity for Series 11. The trailer told us they had been abroad, and had some fancy new cameras, but little else. We then got a trailer of sorts at the end of the first episode which laboured under the delusion that we might be interested in seeing the guest artists who would be appearing - many of whom we'd never heard of. There was no sense of adventure. Nothing to excite. I remember saying at the time: why can't we have some spaceships and explosions? This trailer does make Series 12 look exciting, with proper jeopardy. And there's spaceships and explosions! The general public might actually be interested to watch this - something which Series 11 publicity failed to do. The aliens look like they might be the point of the story, not just window dressing. Hopefully things might actually be a little darker as well.
We've had a look at what Series 12 might look like, and who will be appearing in it, now we just have to see what the calibre of the storytelling is going to be - and for that we have to wait until early next year. I'm a bit more excited to find out.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Inspirations - Earthshock

Take a look at Dalek stories over the years. Unless they were written by Terry Nation, there is a great deal of diversity in the types of plots employed. Even Nation managed to give us varied story types at the beginning - compare The Daleks with The Dalek Invasion of Earth and then with The Chase. It was only really when he got stuck on "small group of military types up against Daleks in a jungle planet setting" that the similarities started to become apparent. You'll be aware of the Terrance Dicks / Barry Letts story about commissioning Nation for Season 12. They read his latest set of scripts then invited him into the office for a chat. He was told that it was a perfectly good story, and it had been a perfectly good story when he had sold it to them the year before. And the year before that...
The trouble with Cyberman stories, is that they have been plagued with "sameness" for much longer. The Moonbase is pretty much a remake of The Tenth Planet, just set on the Moon instead of at the South Pole. There's a base, and the Cybermen want to invade it - and the base has something in it to which the Cybermen have an allergy. Later, we will get two stories in which the Cybermen want to capture a space station - The Wheel in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen. These space stations simply replace the Antarctic and Moon bases. Other allergies are introduced, and by 1975 they have a problem with radiation, gravitational forces, nail varnish remover, quick-setting plastic, electric shocks and gold. Only Tomb of the Cybermen (a Mummy / Egyptology pastiche) and The Invasion are different from the Cyber-norm - but even the latter sees them simply following the Daleks by having them invade London to march past a few tourist attractions.
The main reason the Cybermen never met the Third Doctor during the Pertwee era is because many of his stories revolved around invasions of Earth, and they had already done that in the Troughton era.
As Letts and Dicks planned Season 12, knowing that the series was going to move away from Earthbound stories, they decided to have a few old enemies lined up to help ease the transition to the new Doctor. Pertwee had been in the role for longer than either of his two predecessors (5 years to their 3 apiece) and was very popular with the viewing public, so it was felt that the relatively unknown Tom Baker would need all the help he could get. Time to bring the Cybermen back, as written by their co-creator Gerry Davis. The Revenge of the Cybermen turned out to be the weakest story of Season 12, mostly rewritten by a begrudging Robert Holmes, and the Cybermen slipped back into obscurity.

Jump ahead to the next Doctor transition period, and this time Peter Davison (at least already known) is having to take over from the most popular Doctor ever, who has been in the series for 7 years. A whole generation of children know only of Tom Baker as the Doctor. They could have gone with a Dalek story in Davison's first season to help launch him, but John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward liked the Cybermen. They had access to all the Doctor Who stories in the BBC archives, and it is clear that Saward was taking notes.
Not only do we get references to previous Cyberman stories, we actually get clips from them as well. JNT was actively courting the ever growing organised fan base at this time, and was aware that the infrequent repeats of stories tended to be only of recently broadcast ones. What fans really wanted to see were archive stories from further back in the show's long history. He began by including some clips in Logopolis - of all the Fourth Doctor's companions, plus a selection of his enemies. This nostalgic clip-fest would continue in Seasons 19 (this story), 20 (the Brigadier's memories returning in Mawdryn Undead) and 21 (all the Doctors and their companions in Resurrection of the Daleks). Prior to Season 18 commencing, JNT had even managed to get a whole season of archive stories broadcast - The Five Faces of Doctor Who.
When the Cybermen recognise the Fifth Doctor, we get a short background piece about their encounters with him - leading to clips from The Tenth Planet, The Wheel in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen being shown on their scanner. The plot description which accompanies the Troughton story is actually that of Tomb of the Cybermen, but that story hadn't yet been rediscovered in Hong Kong and returned to the BBC vaults when this was made.
This scene may be the most blatant piece of Cyber-nostalgia, but Saward also works elements of previous Cyberman stories into his new story - most noticeably from Revenge. In that story, the Cybermen intended to blow up a planet which threatens them with explosives, making use of a human agent to help them. When the bomb ploy fails, they turn to Plan B and decide to crash a spacecraft into the planet instead. Earthshock also sees the Cybermen plan to destroy a planet which threatens them with a bomb, and resort to the same Plan B when the bomb is defused - only this time it's a space freighter which is to crash rather than a space station. Again they have a human agent helping them. Gold is once again a problem for the Cybermen. The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet had human hands - reminding us that they were once like us. The new design of Cyberman seen here has a transparent chin plate on its helmet, through which can be seen a humanoid jaw.
The Cyberman army is seen to be in suspended animation in silos on the freighter, and burst out of cylindrical tubes - just like the reactivated Cybermen emerging from their cocoons in The Invasion - another story in which they were abetted by a human agent.

Another inspiration for this story is Alien - the franchise-spawning 1979 movie from Ridley Scott. Saward was clearly aiming for a Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) vibe for Captain Briggs, commander of the space freighter. (I'm sure he wanted the ship to look like the Nostromo as well). What he got instead was the spectacularly miscast Beryl Reid. JNT saw his role as producer primarily as the money man, and the publicity man, leaving the actual stories to his script editors to sort out. One way of maintaining a high profile for the show in the newspapers was to cast well known actors and entertainers - whether they were right for a part or not. Reid was mainly known for comedic roles, but was perfectly capable of delivering a serious performance - just look at the BBC's adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Killing of Sister George to see how good she could be. Briggs is supposed to be a tough, rough, hard-bitten, freighter captain - not your gran in space.
Watching Earthshock today, you might be mistaken for thinking that the sequel - Aliens - was also an inspiration, what with Lt Scott and his troopers crashing about - but that movie wasn't released until 1986.

When the TARDIS first arrives in the cave system, Nyssa spots a lot of dinosaur fossils. This will prove to be significant later on, as the Doctor gives a lecture on the theory of how the creatures came to become extinct. He is talking about the KT Event - the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction which took place some 65 million years ago. Apart from some turtles and crocodiles, no large animals survived this event. A thin layer of sediment called the K-Pg boundary had been discovered in rock formations across the entire globe, and this layer contained the element Iridium. This is rare in the planet's crust, but is abundant in asteroids - so it was believed that the element must have been introduced from space. A vast crater was then discovered in the Bay of Mexico which appeared to have been the epicentre for the distribution of this layer, and it became accepted that a huge asteroid had struck the Earth - plunging it into a nuclear winter. Debris thrown up into the atmosphere would have reduced the sunlight, reducing temperatures, killing off plants and hence the animals which fed on them.
Other theories have emerged since, including the eruption of the volcanic Deccan Traps. This prolonged volcanic activity (it lasted some 800,00 years) would have resulted in the same nuclear winter conditions, but the extinction of species would have been more gradual. Another theory goes with multiple asteroid impacts - not just a single crashing space freighter. Others believe it was a combination of factors - asteroids and volcanoes, plus changes in sea level.

All this brings us to Adric. One of the functions of Earthshock which Saward had to include was the writing out of the series of Adric. JNT decided that he would have to die, rather than just leave to go home to Alzarius or be married off. It was clear that three companions were proving too many. Often one of them would have little to do - usually Nyssa, who gets stuck in the TARDIS building a robot-shaker machine in The Visitation, and is totally absent from Kinda while she has a bit of a lie down. Peter Davison actually fought for Nyssa to be retained on more than one occasion, as he felt she was the companion who worked best with his Doctor. The death of a companion was decided upon by JNT as he wanted the viewers to be reminded that the Doctor wasn't infallible, and that it could be dangerous to travel with him. The public had become complacent that the companions were just as invulnerable as the Doctor.
Adric wasn't the first companion to be killed off - that had been Katarina in The Daleks' Master Plan, in which companion of sorts Sara Kingdom also died. Katarina. however, had only appeared in 5 episodes, bridging two stories, and Sara had only featured in that one story, so Adric has the distinction of being the first long-running companion to be killed.

For the end credits to Part Four of Earthshock, JNT was inspired by an episode of Coronation Street. On 13th May 1964, the character of Martha Longhurst suffered a heart attack in the snug of the Rover's Return pub. The other characters who were with her in the bar didn't realise anything was amiss - thinking she had just fallen asleep. The end credits of the episode ran in silence. This had been only the second death of an established character in the programme. JNT remembered this episode and decided to do the same thing for Adric, as it was felt that the series' then current end titles music wasn't appropriate. The episode ends with a shot of Adric's broken gold-rimmed star badge against a black background, with the credits rolling in silence. Many have agreed that using the usual music would have been wrong, but just as many hate what we got. A more sombre arrangement of the theme would have been the sensible thing to have done.
(In the unlikely event that you have never seen this episode, firstly - sorry for spoiling it for you, and secondly - just turn off any music or TV you might have on in the background as you read this and stare at the above image for 45 seconds to recreate the experience).
Next time: Some idiot writes a Doctor Who story about a Concorde on prehistoric Earth, and another idiot actually commissions it. A well known villain makes a (non) surprise appearance, disguising himself for absolutely no reason whatsoever...

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Series 12 - Here Be Spoilers...

I haven't written anything about Series 12, apart from mentioning the return of the Judoon - as that was publicised by the BBC themselves. Now that we are getting closer to a possible broadcast date, it's time to start looking at what we might expect. This includes possible spoilers, and a bit of speculation / reading between the lines - so proceed with caution...

Apart from the Judoon, we know of two other returning monsters thanks to photographs which have appeared widely on-line. Last month the Clifton Suspension Bridge was closed to traffic for maintenance, but the public were still permitted to cross on foot. What some of them got to see was Daleks - lots of them, plus a new design of Black Dalek which had more than a hint of the Resolution Dalek about its top half. Looks like the BBC took the opportunity of the road closure to do some filming. What it was for, we can't say for certain. Everyone's assuming it is for a Series 12 story. A month or so earlier, some actors were spotted on location wearing what appear to be Cyberman costumes, slightly redesigned to have a Medieval look.
Other things we know about, thanks to actors, directors and technicians putting their CVs on-line, is that there is going to be a story set in World War II Paris, based on a historical figure. This is Noor Inayat-Khan, who was with the Special Operations Executive. She was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi occupied France. Sadly, she was captured and died in Dachau concentration camp in 1944.
There's supposed to be another espionage-tinged story featuring Stephen Fry - possibly 1980's set. A prop door sign seen on location mentioned "Cyber-Security".
Earlier in the year an interview with a BBC exec mentioned that the new series would tackle some contemporary concerns, such as plastics in the world's oceans. This has prompted many to think a Sea Devil story might be on its way - or an Auton one.
Another rumour doing the rounds is that Frankenstein writer Mary Shelley will feature in one of the stories.
A week or so ago we had a very nondescript teaser - claiming that we'd hear (or see) something significant on 23rd November. Most people are assuming that this will be the first trailer. At the same time, the BBC started to say that the series will return in "early" 2020. Not Spring 2020 - which would imply a March / Easter launch - but "early" - which to me pretty much means January.
Potentially more concrete news came out today, in the form of a tabloid story (in The Mirror). Tabloid obviously translates as "take with a big pinch of salt", but apparently this particular journo has often got things right.
The Mirror story claims that there won't be a Christmas Special, but there will be a New Year's Day one again. This will be a two-parter, with the second half following on January 4th - so a move back to a Saturday. Maybe just for this episode - maybe for good. The story goes on to state that those Daleks won't be seen in Series 12 at all - they've actually filmed next year's festive special already, so don't expect Daleks until either Christmas 2020 or New Year's day 2021.
This last point might well be true, as filming a story well in advance allows the ultra-busy Bradley Walsh to get on with his many other projects in 2020.
Finally, a rather wild-sounding rumour I came across yesterday. You might recall those weird rag things in The Ghost Monument, which spoke of the "timeless child" - something which was left, like the rags, hanging in mid-air. The rags claimed to know secrets from the Doctor's past that even she wasn't aware of. Well, the rumour is that the Doctor had a whole regeneration cycle before William Hartnell came along, of which she has no memory. Speculation goes that the Doctor was born a girl in this cycle...
Interesting times ahead, I suspect. Last series I wasn't impressed with at all - purely because of the writing. I wasn't alone in that, seeing as how the series lost half a million viewers week on week as it progressed towards its damp squib of a "finale". Despite the talk of Daleks, Cybermen and Judoon, I do have reservations about this next batch of stories - seeing as how there are a number of new writers who have no genre experience on their CVs. A background in soaps, or dramas about social media, does not inspire confidence. The returning Vinay Patel wrote a lovely story about the Partition of India as experienced by one small rural family. Rubbish Doctor Who (the TARDIS crew needn't have bothered being in it) but a lovely story.
Read any interview with the great Script Editors of Doctor Who's past, and they'll all say something about the programme being the hardest one in the world to write for - with some highly accomplished authors having scripts rejected over the years.
Bottom line, I just want the programme to excite and entertain - something it did little of last time.
Let's see what Saturday 23rd November brings...

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Lost In Time - SJA 4.5

In which a newspaper article about a sighting of aliens brings Sarah Jane Smith, Clyde Langer and Rani Chandra to an obscure antiques shop. The shopkeeper appears and tells them that the article was planted by him in order to lure them here, as he needs their help. Three pieces of Chronosteel - a metal forged within the Time Vortex - are scattered throughout history, and they must be retrieved before they distort time. Before Sarah can reject the mission, the shopkeeper creates a time window which engulfs them and they vanish. After they have gone, he talks to his parrot - the Captain - telling it that they only have until an hourglass runs out to complete their task, or disaster will result.
The three friends find themselves separated throughout history. Rani is in the Tower of London in July 1553, where she finds that she is to meet Queen Jane. Clyde is in 1941, on a beach on the south coast, whilst Sarah is in a large townhouse in 1889.

Sarah encounters a girl named Emily Morris, who has come to this house to investigate ghosts. She thinks Sarah might be one, until she finds that she is real. Clyde, meanwhile, has met a schoolboy named George, and together they see a group of men arrive on the beach by boat. They turn out to be German soldiers, led by SS Lt Koenig. Clyde and George set off for the nearby village to warn the authorities. Rani is introduced to Queen Jane, and finds that she has been appointed one of her ladies-in-waiting. Jane and her nurse are fearful for the new Queen's safety, as Mary Tudor is on her way to London at the head of a large army, and there may be traitors within the Tower who favour a catholic monarch over Jane. Sarah and Emily come upon a room where they hear children's voices, and Sarah realises that they come from the future, rather than the past. Some terrible tragedy will take place in this room sometime in the future. They see the image of a girl  from Sarah's time, talking on her mobile phone. She is supposed to be babysitting, but is planning on leaving her charges alone to meet friends - locking them in the room whilst she is away.

Clyde and George meet schoolteacher Miss Wyckham, who tells them that the village has already been taken over, but they might be able to capture the Germans who are gathered at the church. When they arrive there, they discover that the teacher is really an agent for the Nazis, in league with Koenig. They have brought a device with them which will block British radar, and enable German aircraft to attack without being intercepted by the RAF. Clyde discovers that a vital component of the device is made from a strange metal - one of the Chronosteel objects. He and George steal it and escape. Koening, Miss Wyckham and the Germans retreat to the beach, but are captured by the Home Guard. Rani succeeds in thwarting an assassination attempt on Jane by one of her other maids. The blade of the knife she was wielding proves to be the second Chronosteel object.
In the house, Sarah discovers that the key to the room is the final object. Emily is able to make a link to the future to save the children, who had been playing with matches and a candle.

All three time-travellers are sent back to the present day, but at the last minute Emily keeps hold of the key - so Sarah returns empty handed. The shopkeeper fears the worst, but a woman suddenly turns up at the shop with the key. She is Emily's grand-daughter, Angela, and had been told by her grandmother to bring it here on on this day. The shopkeeper reveals that the Captain is really his commander, responsible for sending them on their mission. They teleport away with the Chronosteel.
Clyde reads up on George and finds out that he recently won the George Cross, whilst Sarah goes off to chat to Angela about the amazing life her grandmother had led. Rani reads about the sad fate of Queen Jane, but is happy that she had been a comfort to her in the final day of her short reign.

Lost In Time was written by Rupert Laight, and was first broadcast on November 8th and 9th, 2010. Laight had previously contributed the Series 3 story The Gift.
It introduced the characters of the Shopkeeper and his parrot commander the Captain. Had the series continued, they were to have returned for further adventures.
The story is made up of three individual smaller adventures - one for each of the main characters, so each gets equal screen time. Each segment is satisfying in its own right - a ghost story of sorts for Sarah, a historical adventure for Rani, and a Boy's Own escapade for Clyde - but the overarching plot also works well. Sadly Laight is no longer with us to ask, but it may have been that these three mini-stories had been considered as full stories in their own right, but weren't quite enough to fill two episode slots by themselves. Of the three, only Clyde's WWII story might have worked as a longer piece.

The Shopkeeper is played by Cyril Nri. He appeared as one of the main characters in Russell T Davies' Cucumber, and was also in the final episode of Class as the Chairman of the Governors.
The guest cast for the Sarah segment includes Gwyneth Keyworth as Emily, whilst the babysitter, Gemma, is played by Lucie Jones, who had been a 2009 X Factor contestant, and would go on to become the UK's 2017 Eurovision Song Contest hopeful.
In Clyde's story we have German actor Tom Wlaschiha, recently famous for playing the face-changing assassin Jaqen H'ghar in Game of Thrones. Miss Wyckham is Catherine Bailey. George was played by Richard Wisker, who was a regular on CBBC in the Tracy Beaker series.
In Tudor England we have Amber Beattie as Queen Jane, Elizabeth Rider as the nurse, and Fiona Hampton as the assassin maid Matilda. Rider provided the voice of ATMOS in The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky and later played Linda, girlfriend of Clara Oswald's dad in Time of the Doctor.

Overall, a very good story, the device of mini-adventures in different settings keeping things interesting.
Things you might like to know:
  • The newspaper article which brings Sarah & Co to the shop is dated 23rd November, 2010 - Doctor Who's 47th anniversary.
  • Sarah tells Emily about the Stone Tape theory of hauntings - that emotionally charged events can somehow be imprinted into the fabric of a building. This was popularised by Nigel Kneale in his 1972 TV ghost story The Stone Tape, though its origins go back to Charles Babbage, of computer fame, in 1837.
  • Lady Jane Grey was hailed as Queen on the death of Edward VI, the only (legitimate) male heir of Henry VIII. His first child, by Catherine of Aragon, had been a daughter - Mary - who was a staunch Catholic. Mary had the strongest support from the people, partly because they felt it was her birthright but also because many wanted to see the return of the old faith. Jane had gone to the Tower to prepare for her coronation, only to find herself a captive there. She was executed in February 1554.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

What's Wrong With... The Rescue

Only two episodes in length, so not a lot to go wrong with this one.
The Rescue opens with Vicki seeing something register on the scanner in the crashed spaceship which she currently calls home. She thinks that this might be the rescue ship from Earth which is due any day now. It turns out that it is actually the TARDIS which the scanner has picked up. But the TARDIS has materialised inside a cave, deep inside the mountain - so that's some scanner the spaceship has. And why isn't it trained on local space, from where the rescue ship is coming?
You can see the cave wall through the TARDIS doors.
It's a David Whitaker script, so we have spaceships that can only find planets if there is a radio beacon transmitting, even when they're a mere 72 hours away.
Just how many people were travelling in this spaceship? It seems to comprise of just two rooms and a corridor.
The Doctor describes the people of this planet as a peace-loving race, yet they have built death traps in their tunnels, need a Hall of Justice, and like to dress up as grotesque insect monsters despite being humanoid in form themselves.
It is suggested that the spikes which emerge from the wall will cause the unwary traveller to plummet to their doom - and yet we later see that the drop is only a couple of metres. The monster which lurks at the bottom turns out to be a herbivore. It is also rather easy to get round the trap - as we see Ian manage to do by simply draping his jacket over the spikes.
When we cut from the cavern to the exterior, as the Sandbeast emerges, you can spot William Hartnell and William Russell in the background, moving to their next mark.
Vicki's backstory is odd. She tells the Doctor and his companions that her father basically abandoned her whilst seriously ill to attend a party. The implication is that this feast took place not long after the spaceship crashed, so her father was leaving his sick child all alone on a potentially hostile world.
There is a trap door in the floor of Bennett's room, which enables him to sneak out and dress up as Koquillion. It would appear that Vicki has never stuck around to see Koquillion leave after any on his visits to Bennett, otherwise she would surely have spotted that something wasn't quite right - with Bennett in bed and Koquillion nowhere to be seen.
How on earth did William Russell get away with calling the villain 'Cockylickin'?
There's one mangled line from Hartnell: "You must believe what Barbara did. Try and understand, my dear, and why she did it, just for me, eh?".

Friday, 15 November 2019

Inspirations - Black Orchid

Read most reviews of Black Orchid, and you'll usually see the name Agatha Christie mentioned as an inspiration. Mrs Christie was, of course, one of the world's most prolific writers, who specialised in crime. The vast majority of her novels and short stories are specifically about murder - and they are usually 'Whodunnits'. A crime is committed, and the reader has to try to work out who the perpetrator is by following the clues unearthed by the story's investigator - hopefully spotting the culprit before they do. For Christie, the investigators were Hercules Poirot, a private detective; Miss Marple, an old lady who just happens to have remarkable insight into the way criminals think; or the Beresfords, a terribly, terribly posh crime-solving couple. There is a lot of crime / police drama on TV, and the most popular programmes tend also to be of the Whodunnit variety - such as Inspector Morse and its spin-offs, Lewis and Endeavour. Chris Chibnall's Broadchurch is another good example.
However, Black Orchid isn't a Whodunnit. We know from the opening scene that the killer is the figure locked away in an otherwise disused wing of the house. None of the other characters is ever set up as a possible killer, for us to try and work out who may be the guilty party.
What Black Orchid really is is an example of the Country House Mystery. These can often also be Whodunnits, but not always. The premise is always a group of people brought together in a country house - so relatively isolated from the wider community, where a crime is committed and someone works who did it and why, though we, the reader / viewer, may already have been told / shown.

Being a country house, the protagonists are invariably well-healed, although one of the old cliches about these kinds of stories is that it was the butler who did it. In Black Orchid, the butler is one of those murdered, and indeed all the victims prove to be servants of one sort or another.
Apart from the killer, the deranged eldest son of the Cranleigh family, all the posh folk make it to the end, and the mother, Lady Cranleigh, even seems to get away scot-free with being an aider and abetter, and so complicit on the murders.
All the trappings of a Country House Mystery are in place in this story. We have the house for a start - Cranleigh Hall; a family secret - the hidden away son; the period setting - 1920's; the clueless police; and the private investigator who works out what's going on - the Doctor. Other common trappings are the killer being masked (such as with The Cat and the Canary, probably the best known Country House Mystery) and secret panels (The Cat and the Canary again).

Before the Doctor and his companions become embroiled in the murder mystery, we have a game of cricket. This is obviously there to highlight the fact that this new Doctor is a huge cricket fan. Davison's whole image as the Doctor was based on a photograph JNT had on his office wall of the actor when he participated in a charity cricket match.
On arriving at the cricket match, the chauffeur mentions "the Master", which naturally gives the Doctor a start. He then qualifies this by referencing William Gilbert "W G" Grace - the other Doctor. W G Grace (1848 - 1915) was nicknamed "The Doctor", as he had qualified as a medical practitioner. The cricketer who was nicknamed "The Master", however, was Jack Hobbs. Hobbs (1882 - 1963) is widely regarded as the greatest cricketer of all time. He was primarily a batsman (only gaining one wicket as a bowler in his entire test career), he scored nearly 62000 runs in first class matches.
Hobbs passed away in December 1963, so you never know, he might have actually seen the first couple of episodes of Doctor Who.

The Doctor and his companions soon get to meet the Cranleigh family, and Nyssa finds that Charles Cranleigh's fiancee is her spitting image. You'll recall that Nyssa was written out of Kinda, but Sarah Sutton gets to make up for it by having a double role here.
Lookalikes and identical twins can also be a staple of murder mysteries.
Doubles are nothing new for Doctor Who. The First Doctor encountered an android duplicate of himself, created by the Daleks, in The Chase, before Steven Taylor met the Abbot of Amboise, who just happened to look exactly like the Doctor, in The Massacre. The Second Doctor later had a run in with his doppelganger Salamander, in Enemy of the World. The Fourth Doctor's face was purloined by the mad computer Xoanon, before he came across Meglos, who impersonated him to steal the Dodecahedron power source from Tigella. He and Sarah Jane Smith also encountered android duplicates of themselves, as well as of Harry Sullivan and RSM Benton in The Android Invasion. More androids on Tara meant that Romana not only met her biological double, but a mechanical one as well.

Black Orchid has the distinction of being the first purely historical story since the genre was abandoned following The Highlanders in 1967 (on the basis that the production team didn't think they were very popular, following low audience appreciation figures for The Gunfighters). Whist this is accurate, the story does have a monster of the week, in the form of the deranged and mutilated George Cranleigh. Even at the time, some people found this distasteful - presenting disfigurement as monstrous.
According to Eric Saward, who had taken over as script editor by this time, writer Terence Dudley simply dusted off an old script he had in his drawer - so Black Orchid had originally been intended as a non Doctor Who work.
The story is also a two parter - the first since The Sontaran Experiment back in Season 12.
The reason for this is that two episodes of budget was set aside in order to make the spin-off, and potential pilot, K9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend. Season 19 would therefore only have 26 episodes, instead of the 28 which Season 18 had enjoyed.
Next time: Shocking events on Earth, and off it. The writing's on the wall for Adric as an old enemy makes a long overdue return...

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Empty Planet - SJA 4.4

In which Rani Chandra and Clyde Langer wake up one morning to discover that they appear to be the only people on Earth.
The previous night at Sarah Jane Smith's house, Mr Smith had been monitoring strange signals emanating from space. Initially, they notice that their families have vanished, but when they take to the streets they find that the disappearances cover the whole area. TV and radio channels show only static. They move towards the centre of London, discovering that the disappearances are ever more widespread. When they decide to head back to Sarah's home they hear a noise, and spot a boy in school uniform. They pursue him and are led to a tower block where the boy lives. His name is Gavin and he tells them that he is an orphan, living here with a foster family, of whom he has had many. He seems scared of Clyde and Rani, rather than happy to see other people.

A strange noise is heard and Gavin runs off. Clyde and Rani look for him, but stop at a cafe to get some food. They hear the noise again, and a message comes over the TV, radio and their mobile phones - a voice demanding the sun and the air. Going outside they split up to look for Gavin, but both encounter giant robots - one red and the other yellow...
Gavin reappears and saves Rani, whilst Clyde also manages to evade his robot attacker. They go back to the cafe where Sarah's friends start to reminisce about their life since encountering Sarah Jane Smith. This leads them to realise something which makes them different from everyone else they know. At the conclusion of their encounter with the Judoon, they had been grounded - forbidden from leaving the Earth. This might explain why they have not been taken, but not Gavin, who claims to know nothing of aliens.
The robots burst in and corner Clyde and Rani, whilst Gavin slips away. The robots scan them, but don't harm them. They reiterate their demand for the sun and air.

However, it soon becomes apparent that what they are really looking for is the son and heir. Gavin is really an alien prince, who was sent to Earth as a baby for safety when his planet was attacked. The threat is now gone, and the robots have been sent to bring him home. Recalling Gavin's love of nature, they trace him to a local wildlife park, bringing the robots with them. However, the machines can't see him. He is wearing a bio-damper which was given to him to protect him. They convince him to remove it, and the robots tell him of his true nature, and show him images of the planet he is to rule. He agrees to go with the robots, knighting Clyde and Rani before ordering the robots to return the Earth's population.
Back on Bannerman Road they tell Sarah and Mr Smith of everything that has happened, as no-one knows they have gone anywhere apart from some lost time. Their solo adventure has brought the pair closer together.

The Empty Planet was written by Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast November 1st and 2nd, 2010.
The story is very much a character piece for Anjli Mohindra as Rani, and Daniel Anthony as Clyde, as every scene features one or both of them. It also starts to develop their personal relationship with each other - hinting at a blossoming romance. Had the series not ended prematurely the following year, this romance would have been developed further by the production team.
Lis Sladen only features briefly at the beginning of the first episode, and the end of the second - making it a Sarah-lite story, much as Mark of the Berserker had been in Series 2, and Mona Lisa's Revenge in Series 3.
The only other cast member of note is Joe Mason, who plays Gavin, though we also briefly see Rani's parents, and Clyde's mum Carla (Jocelyn Jee Esien), who has featured only a couple of times in the series.
The story is also notable for the extensive location footage, with very little studio work.

Overall, quite a nice little episode. The first section sets up the mystery very well, and you're really intrigued to know what has happened to everyone - and why Clyde and Rani haven't been affected. It's the nature of the series that the resolution is going to be a little bit twee, but it is still good to see Clyde and Rani get so much screen time. A special mention must be made of the excellent robot designs as well.
Believe it or not, but there are no things you might like to know about this story. Lots of little continuity references, but that's your lot.

Monday, 11 November 2019

H is for... Harkness, Captain Jack

An ex-Time Agent from the 51st Century who became companion to the Ninth Doctor, before leading Torchwood 3 based in Cardiff. Jack was born in a colony on the Boeshane Peninsula. The settlement frequently came under attack by alien creatures, and during one of these assaults his younger brother Gray was taken. As he had been looking after him, Jack felt responsible for this loss. He later joined the Time Agency as one of its operatives, forging a personal and working relationship with fellow agent Captain John Hart. Following one of their missions, the Agency deleted two years of Jack's memories, which caused him to resign.
He set himself up as a con-man, and one of his schemes involved the sale of a Chula Warship - to be sold under cover of the London Blitz. Jack took on the persona of a dead US RAF volunteer. His real name has never been revealed. The warship was really a Chula ambulance, containing millions of nanogenes designed to repair injured Chula warriors. They escaped into the atmosphere and began rewriting the DNA of anyone they encountered. When Jack rescued the Doctor's companion Rose Tyler, he assumed from her anachronistic clothing that she and the Doctor were the intended buyers.
Jack was prepared to sacrifice himself to carry a German bomb into space, before it could destroy the alien ambulance. He was rescued by the Doctor and Rose and accompanied them on their travels, visiting present day Cardiff and medieval Japan, before the TARDIS and its crew were captured by the Daleks and placed on the Game Station, around the year 100,100 AD.

Jack found himself in a deadly version of the TV fashion show What Not To Wear, menaced by its robot presenters. Despite being naked, he somehow smuggled a compact laser about his person and was able to destroy them. He then joined the Doctor in attempting to defend the station from a Dalek assault. He was able to work out that the game show contestants were not being vapourised, but were really being teleported away to the Dalek fleet for conversion into Daleks. His efforts to halt the Daleks ultimately failed as the overran the station, and Jack was exterminated.
However, Rose had absorbed the Vortex from the heart of the TARDIS, and she used her powers to bring him back to life. The Doctor saved Rose but at the cost of his own life, and so he rushed away from the station with her before he regenerated - leaving Jack behind. As a Time Agent, he possessed a wrist-mounted device known as a Vortex Manipulator, which allowed him to travel in time. He used it to travel to present day Earth where he hoped to find the Doctor and Rose. However, the device left him in the Victorian era where it malfunctioned - leaving him stranded. He then discovered during a drunken brawl on Ellis Island, New York, that every time he was fatally wounded he healed, or if killed came back to life. Rose had not only brought him back to life, she had made him immortal.
He decided that he would have to live out his life on Earth until his path crossed once again with the Doctor, who might be able to help him.
Back in England, he soon came to the attention of the recently formed Torchwood organisation, who were set up to protect Britain from alien menaces - including the Doctor. Rather than be locked away, he was forced to work for them.

He was based in Torchwood's Cardiff Hub, built beneath the city's bay area, but went on missions all over the country. In the 1960's he was in Scotland, where he was tasked with handing over a number of children from an orphanage to aliens known as the 456. On the eve of the Millennium, his boss killed his entire team before taking his own life - bequeathing Torchwood 3 to Jack before he died. He had claimed that everything was going to change for the worse with the coming of the 21st Century, and believed that they were doomed. Jack then set about building a new team. In 2006 he came into the possession of the Doctor's severed hand - cut off in a duel with the Sycorax leader over London on Christmas Day. Jack kept this, as he felt it might lead to another meeting with the Doctor. When he recruited WPC Gwen Cooper to the team, it coincided with his having to kill his deputy Suzie Costello, who had become obsessed with an alien gauntlet which could revive the dead - prompting her to commit murders so that she could use it. Investigating an abandoned music hall, Jack and colleague Toshiko Sato were transported back to the Cardiff Blitz, where he met the man whose identity he had taken - the real Captain Jack Harkness.
Soon after Jack was almost killed when he faced the demonic Abaddon. On recovering from the ordeal, he noticed that the Doctor's hand was reacting, and he spotted that the TARDIS had arrived above the Hub to refuel from the space / time rift which ran through the city. He leapt onto the ship as it dematerialised, and his presence caused the TARDIS to fly to the end of the universe.

He was at last reunited with the Doctor, now in his tenth incarnation and travelling with Martha Jones. The TARDIS had recognised him as a temporal anomaly and had tried to avoid him - hence the trip to the end of time and the planet Malcassairo, home to one of the last remnants of the human race. The Doctor admitted that he could not help Jack. Jack helped the humans take off in their spaceship in search of a place called Utopia, where other survivors may have gathered. The elderly Professor Yana had declined to accompany them. He proved to be the Master, his identity hidden from himself by a Chameleon Arch. Earlier, the Doctor had been told by the Face of Boe "You Are Not Alone" - implying that he was not the last of the Time Lords as he had believed. The Master stole the TARDIS and used it to get to Earth, and the Doctor repaired Jack's Vortex Manipulator so that they could follow him. They arrived some months later - to find that the Master, as Harold Saxon, had just been elected British Prime Minister. he then arranged for the planet to be invaded by the Toclafane - cyborg remnants of the human race from Utopia. Jack was left chained up for a year in the Valiant, the Master's base of operations which had been a UNIT flying aircraft carrier.
The Master was eventually defeated and time rolled backwards to delete the year of his misrule for everyone except those on the vessel. jack was dropped off back in Cardiff, where he told the Doctor and Martha that he had once been nicknamed the Face of Boe, when he became the first person in the Boe Peninsula to join the Time Agency...

Jack rejoined his team, who were not happy that he had seemingly abandoned them. He resumed his relationship with team member Ianto Jones. He was reunited with Captain John and from him learned that his brother Gray was still alive. Later, he encountered an alien who called himself dam, who thrived on people's memories - needing to be remembered in order to exist. Adam tried to infiltrate the team by planting false memories, to make everyone think had always been with them. He was able to access Jack's memories of the day when Gray had been taken - memories which he tried to suppress. Jack was prepared to lose these again to destroy Adam, giving himself and the rest of the team the Ret-con drug, which caused memory loss.
Some time later, however, the team was lured into an ambush - a trap set by Captain John and Gray. Gray had become deranged following years of captivity and wanted revenge on his brother. He set off bombs around Cardiff, then abducted Jack and took him back to the city in the Iron Age, where John was forced to bury him alive. Jack remained imprisoned this way, dying over and over again, until a device planted in the grave by John attracted the attention of the Edwardian Torchwood team. Jack had them place him in cryogenic suspension in the Hub, to be reawakened on the day Gray attacked the city. Jack was able to overpower Gray and had him placed in cryogenic suspension, but the incident had already led to the deaths of Tosh and colleague Owen Harper.

Jack, Ianto and Gwen had no sooner got over the loss of their colleagues when the entire Earth was dragged across space to the Medusa Cascade, before being invaded by Daleks. Jack was reunited with Martha Jones, now with UNIT and who had been temporarily seconded to Torchwood. He also got to meet Sarah Jane Smith, whose exploits he had followed closely. He had left Ianto and Gwen to defend the Hub and gone off alone to help the Doctor. Jack allowed himself to be exterminated once again by the Daleks in order to remain at large on their space station - the Crucible. Here he would also be reunited with Rose, and Mickey Smith. Everyone was captured by Davros and the Daleks, but they were rescued by Donna Noble and a second Doctor who had grown from the severed hand which Jack had once kept, following a partial regeneration.
Jack returned to Cardiff after the Daleks had been defeated and the Earth restored to ts rightful location.
Whilst investigating mysterious deaths at the city's hospital, Jack was knocked out and awoke to discover that a powerful bomb had been sewn into his body. Gwen and Ianto managed to escape before it detonated, but Jack was blown to pieces and the Hub destroyed. The 456 had returned, and the British government was eliminating everyone associated with their earlier visit. Jack was rescued after he had come back to life, despite the government assassins encasing his remains in concrete. He, Gwen and Ianto went on the run, travelling to London. When they managed to get into the building where the 456 had materialised. Jack and Ianto were poisoned by toxic gases released by the creature. Jack returned to life, but Ianto perished.

Jack had had a number of relationships over the years. One of these had been with a lady named Estelle, where he later pretended to be the son of the man she once loved. Another relationship had led to a daughter, Alice Carter, and a grandson, Steven. A means of ejecting the 456 back out into space was discovered, a conflicting frequency, but it would require a child to deliver it - something which would prove fatal. Jack decided to use his own grandson to act as the conduit for the frequency. The 456 were expelled, but Steven was killed. Guilty and bereaved, jack decided to leave Earth for time - unsure if he would ever return.
The Tenth Doctor came across him in an alien bar as he visited old friends and companions prior to his next regeneration. He set Jack up on a date with Midshipman Alonso Frame, late of the Starship Titanic, who was also in the bar and feeling sorry for himself.

Jack returned to Earth, where he ensured that Gwen and her husband Rhys, with their baby daughter, were safely hidden in a remote farmhouse. Then one day, no-one on Earth died. Jack discovered that he was now the only person on the planet who could die. Gwen was forced out of retirement to accompany Jack to the USA to investigate what became known as Miracle Day. It transpired that it was created by an international conspiracy, centred on a group known as the Three Families. As Jack investigated, he discovered that he was the cause of the phenomena. On an earlier visit to the USA in 1927 he had become the lover of a young Italian immigrant named Angelo Colesanto. The two worked together and one night Angelo had seen Jack killed, before he was arrested and sent to prison for a year. On his return, he was shocked to find jack still alive, and believed him to be a devil. He stabbed him - and discovered that he could not die. He and some others - who would become the Three Families - took some of Jack's blood, and they had later used this to bring about Miracle Day - by feeding it into a strange rock formation which ran through the Earth. Known as the Blessing, this maintained a morphic field which stopped people dying. Feeding Jack's blood into both ends of the field, across the globe from each other, negated it - and mortality resumed.

At the time of writing, the present whereabouts of Captain Jack Harkness are unknown.

Played by: John Barrowman, Jack Montgomery (young Jack). First appearance: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005). Last appearance: TW: Miracle Day (2011).