Thursday, 18 July 2019

Inspirations - Nightmare of Eden

1979 saw the tenth anniversary of the writing partnership known as "the Bristol Boys" - who were Bob Baker and Dave Martin. After writing a crime drama together that year, the pair decided to go their separate ways. Martin wanted to write novels and plays, whilst Baker wanted to get into TV production.
Season 16 had seen the 15th Anniversary of Doctor Who, and the BBC had thrown a party at TV Centre to which Baker had been invited. He got talking to Graham Williams who informed him of Douglas Adams taking over the script editor role on the programme - and that he was looking for story ideas. They needed to be hard science fiction, and cheap.
Baker had written a well-received episode of the hard-hitting BBC crime drama Target - "Big Elephant", which had been directed by Douglas Camfield and had starred Katy Manning as a drug addict. He thought that it would be interesting to have drug addiction as a theme for a Doctor Who story. As the series had been forced to pull back on overt horror and violence, Baker thought that the BBC might not be keen on such an adult theme in a family show, and so was surprised when Williams and Adams told him to proceed.

Baker then added other elements which interested him. There would be a disaster movie plot inspired by the Airport films, and he also wanted to include a couple of personal bugbears - the difficulty in trying to get new car insurance, and horrible package holidays which he had experienced.
Airport had been a very popular movie in 1970, with an all star cast. It was about a snowbound airport having to deal with an approaching aircraft on which there was a passenger with a bomb. The film was based on a blockbuster novel by Arthur Hailey. It spawned three sequels - Airport 75 (in which a small aircraft crashes into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 - like the Hecate hitting the Empress), Airport 77 (a 747 crashes underwater) and Airport 79 - The Concorde (a Concorde gets hit by an out of control missile). It also inspired the Airplane movies.
These elements led to the set up for Nightmare of Eden. A supposedly luxurious passenger liner called Empress comes out of hyperspace in the wrong location above the planet Azure thanks to the navigator being off his face through use of a highly addictive and ultimately fatal narcotic named Vraxoin. As a result, it collides with a smaller survey ship called Hecate, and the two vessels become fused together. Vraxoin had a chemical name abbreviated to XYP, which people called "Zip". Lalla Ward objected to this name as it sounded like the exciting sort of thing children might want to take, so Vraxoin it became, although its longer chemical name could still be abbreviated to XYP in dialogue.
We see that most of the passengers sit in cramped berths, wearing silver overalls and dark glasses - suggesting that they are exposed to something like solar radiation. Later, when the Mandrel swamp monsters go on the rampage, the drug addled captain laughs as he watches these passengers being attacked. They are only steerage passengers, so who cares. The monster suits are so bad when seen fully that this sequence might also be a comment on the programme itself - viewers laughing at monsters attacking people rather than being scared or horrified.

The more important passengers aren't confined to the berths but instead have a spacious lounge to hang out in, and don't have to wear the protective gear - though we only ever see two. These are the scientist Tryst and his assistant Della. Tryst is played by Lewis Fiander, who decides to give his character the most extreme comedy German accent yet heard in the programme. As the "About Time" books claimed, perhaps he and Professor Marius of the Bi-Al Foundation, creator of K9, both attended the Ingolstadt University for Mad Scientists.
Tryst has invented a device called the CET machine - Continuous Event Transmuter. This allows sections of a planet's surface to be scooped up and saved on a laser crystal, where the flora and fauna continue to thrive. For some reason, all the planets they have visited appear to have names consisting of only three letters apart from the last one they went to - Eden. Presumably the three letters are abbreviations, so they can fit on the control dial. We see images of some of these planets on a view screen. They'll look familiar to fans of the first season of Space:1999, as clips from some of its episodes are used here - including Guardian of Piri and Matter of Life and Death.
Della tells the Doctor and Romana that one of their team was killed on Eden, a man named Stott.

The collision has resulted in a number of spatial distortions on the Empress, and also allowed the Mandrels to escape from the CET machine via its view screen. They are now roaming around the ship, killing anyone they come across. The Mandrels had originated on Eden. Stott was only ever presumed dead - killed by the Mandrels or the hostile plant life there. The Doctor and Romana have claimed to be insurance and salvage investigators, but Captain Rigg of the liner checks the company they say they work for and found that it went into liquidation 20 years ago. When challenged about this, the Doctor simply says that it is no wonder they haven't been paid recently.
He decides to investigate the Vraxoin smuggling. It must be on this ship, but scans don't show anything. Matters are complicated when a pair of officious customs officers from Azure arrive, and decide that the Doctor is the smuggler. (Both have appeared in the programme before. Fisk is Geoffrey Hinsliff, who had been Jack Tyler not that long ago in Image of the Fendahl. Costa is Peter Craze, who had appeared in The Space Museum and The War Games, and was also the brother of Michael Craze, who had played 60's companion Ben Jackson).
One of the Mandrels is accidentally electrocuted and its body decomposes rapidly into a grey ash - pure Vraxoin. It would be interesting to learn how someone first found out that the corpses of swamp monsters on a primordial planet produced a narcotic...

The director assigned to this production was the veteran Alan Bromly, who had only ever directed one previous story - The Time Warrior. This is, of course, regarded as a classic, so you would have thought that he was a safe pair of hands. Not so. That first Sontaran story had been virtually a period piece, with little in the way of special effects. Bromly assumed that production of the sow had improved since his last story, when in fact it had become more complex. He was also very old-fashioned in his ways - just at the time when Tom Baker was really making his views known during the making of the programme. Director and star did not get on at all and during the final recording block things came to a head. During the final evening's recording, the cast and crew were given an extended dinner break and returned to the studio to find Bromly gone. Graham Williams stepped in to handle the recording himself.
The VFX team were also unhappy, but this was because Williams had come up with a budget saving idea to record the models on video in the studio on the night using CSO, rather than have them specially filmed elsewhere as in previous years. The costumes for the Mandrels worked fine when the creatures were lurking in the gloomy jungle environment of the Eden CET projection, but were laughable when seen in the overly-lit sets of the space liner. They also started to fall apart quite quickly, and we see the white padding material showing through the outer layer on several occasions. When production had completed, one of the crew had T-shirts printed with "I Survived the Nightmare of Eden".

The story wraps up with the reveal that Stott was really a space security officer investigating Tryst's expedition as a source of Vraxoin smuggling, and he wasn't killed after all. He has been hiding in the Eden CET projection. Tryst is the smuggler, planning to get the drugs off the liner by transferring the Eden projection to his accomplice - the pilot of the Hecate. The Doctor uses the CET to trap the pair in Tryst's own machine when the pair try to flee.
Before this can happen, the Doctor has to lure the Mandrels back into the CET projection then stabilise it to prevent them from getting out again. He uses K9's dog whistle to round them up, and this leads to one of the sequences most cited in criticism of the programme during this period, and highlighting Tom Baker's descent into silliness. He goes into the projection and disappears from view as the monsters follow him in. We then hear him cry out: "Oh my fingers! My arms! My legs! My everything!" before emerging with his coat ripped to shreds. Tom clearly thought this was funny, but he's in a minority of one I'm afraid.
This would prove to be Bob Baker's final contribution to Doctor Who, though he has attempted to launch K9 in spin-off vehicles on numerous occasions. A new production team would soon be on its way, one which wanted to employ only new writers. Baker has claimed that he wrote to Russell T Davies when he heard the programme was coming back in 2005, but never got a response. Another new production team, only wanting to use new writers.
Nightmare of Eden proved to the final straw for Graham Williams. He had always had a rather stormy relationship with Tom Baker, whom he felt tried to boss him around and generally disrespected his authority. Things had come to a head earlier in the year when Williams had almost sacked his star, and his BBC bosses had initially agreed with him - though they backtracked when they remembered how popular he was. Baker in turn had threatened to resign on a couple of occasions. This time it was Williams who handed in his resignation. Season 17 would be his last.
Next time: Anthony Read is back with more Greek myths. However, Christmas is approaching and everyone else thinks it's panto season...

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Story 206 - Victory of the Daleks

In which the Doctor and Amy visit London during the height of the Battle of Britain, in response to a call for assistance received from wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Amy discovers that the Doctor and Churchill are old friends, and the PM would love to get his hands on the TARDIS. Churchill explains that the Doctor has arrived many weeks after he sent the call, and without the Doctor's advice he had gone ahead and agreed to Professor Bracewell's new invention. The Doctor is taken to the roof where he meets Bracewell and sees his weapon in action - shooting down German aircraft with an energy ray. The weapon proves to be a Dalek, in khaki livery. Bracewell insists that he is the inventor of the machine, which he has called an "Ironside". There are two Ironsides working in the Cabinet War Office, pretending to be helpful servants as well as weapons against the Nazis. Neither Churchill nor Amy can understand why the Doctor hates them so much. The Doctor is surprised to learn that Amy does not know about the Daleks, considering that they moved the Earth across space and invaded the planet only a year or so ago, and had previously been involved in the battle around Canary Wharf.

The Doctor urges Churchill not to trust the Ironsides and confronts Bracewell. He shows him the blueprints for his creations, and tells the Doctor that he has other ideas about space travel and advanced weaponry. The Doctor attempts to force an Ironside to admit that it is really a Dalek, hitting it with a metal bar. In a rage he accuses it of being a Dalek, at which point it and its companion declare that they have got what they came for. They show their true nature as they attack some soldiers. Bracewell insists that he created them, but they reveal that it was they who had created him. One of them blasts off his hand to reveal that he is really an advanced android, programmed with a complete personality and life story. The Daleks teleport away, and the Doctor rushes to the TARDIS where he manages to detect a Dalek saucer hidden in orbit near the Moon. He travels to the spaceship alone. He finds that there are only three Daleks remaining of the crew, holding them back by pretending that a Jammie Dodger biscuit is the button for a powerful bomb. The Daleks reveal that they have been searching the cosmos for a Progenitor - a device which contains pure Dalek DNA from which more Daleks can be created. However, their cells have been mutated, and the Progenitor no longer recognised them as Daleks. The Doctor has now identified them, and his outburst has been recorded. The Progenitor is activated, and soon after a group of new Daleks are created.

They are much larger, with coloured casings. A white one identifies itself as a Supreme Dalek. Others are identified as a Strategist, a Drone, an Eternal and a Scientist. They represent the new Dalek Paradigm. They immediately view the existing Daleks who created them as inferior and exterminate them. The Supreme tells the Doctor that they plan to travel to the future and create a whole new Dalek race. They realise that the Doctor is tricking them with the biscuit, forcing him to retreat to the TARDIS. In order to stop the Doctor from attacking them, they threaten to destroy London. Their spaceship is damaged and has limited weaponry, so they instead fire an electrical charge at the city which turns all the lights on - just as a German air-raid approaches. The Doctor contacts Bracewell and urges him to help them. One of his inventions is a device which enables aircraft to go into space. A squadron of RAF Spitfires is rapidly outfitted and sent to attack the saucer.

The aircraft succeed in damaging the Dalek device and the lights of London go out. However, the Daleks have another scheme to stop the Doctor. Bracewell has a powerful bomb capable of destroying the entire planet built into him, which the Daleks activate. The Doctor is forced to return to Earth to deal with this new threat, allowing the New Dalek Paradigm to escape by travelling into the future. The Daleks had programmed Bracewell so well that he has really come to believe in the memories they implanted into him, and Amy is able to tap into these to make him override the bomb.
A short while later he expects to be dismantled, but the Doctor and Amy realise that he is now just as human as anyone else so should have a chance to live. He can escape if he wants to.
Amy manages to stop Churchill from stealing the TARDIS key. They depart, with the Doctor still pondering how it is that Amy did not know anything about the Daleks. As the TARDIS dematerialises a crack on the wall, shaped like a crooked smile, is revealed...

Victory of the Daleks was written by Mark Gatiss, and was first broadcast on 17th April, 2010.
It was the first Dalek story since The Stolen Earth / Journey's End at the close of the fourth series. A solitary Dalek had been seen in one of the 2009 Specials - The Waters of Mars - but Russell T  Davies had considered featuring them in The End of Time, when they would have been in an alliance with the Time Lords to end the Time War. Davies contacted Steven Moffat to check if he was going to be doing a Dalek story for Series 5, and might want a gap so that they would have more of an impact. Moffat explained that he was indeed going to have the 11th Doctor meet the Daleks, so Davies omitted them from his finale.
Moffat was inheriting a clean sweep as far as the programme was concerned, able to have his own new TARDIS (inside and out) and new companions, as well as his new Doctor. He decided on a new design for the Daleks to go along with all these changes. The basic shape would be retained, but he was a big fan of the Peter Cushing Dalek movies and liked the size of the film ones, and their more colourful appearance. The movies had already influenced the design for the new TARDIS exterior.
The new Daleks would have colourful shells denoting different functions and a much bigger appearance - with thicker bumpers to increase their height. An organic eyeball was added to the eye-stalk.
The designers intended that the new props would have interchangeable utility arms, which would emerge from a unit on the back and slide round the mid-section. This idea was never put into practice, and unfortunately the tool store on the rear of the casings gave the new Daleks a humpbacked appearance.
The colour finish also gave them a plastic look, which made many people think of rubbish / recycling bins.
Moffat and Gatiss raved about the design upgrade. Fans generally hated the new Daleks, although kids seemed to like them well enough to buy a shed load of merchandise.

The story was also Moffat's first celebrity-historical, as it featured Britain's wartime leader Winston Churchill. He is played by Ian McNeice, who had performed the role in a number of different stage productions. A prolific actor, he was already featuring in the popular ITV comedy drama Doc Martin, having previously been seen in the HBO drama Rome. He was in the pilot of Game of Thrones, but the part was recast when it went to series due to McNeice having other filming commitments.
The only other guest artist of note is Bill Patterson, who played Professor Bracewell. Patterson first came to prominence in the Glasgow ice-cream wars movie Comfort and Joy, and the BBC adaptation of Iain Banks' The Crow Road, which also featured Peter Capaldi. More recently he had starred in the Phil Collinson produced BBC supernatural drama Sea of Souls.
Writer Mark Gatiss cameos as the voice of the lead Spitfire pilot.
As far as story arc elements go, we have another glimpse of the crack from Amy's bedroom, this time revealed on a wall as the TARDIS dematerialises. There is also the mystery of her not knowing about the Daleks when they have staged two recent very public attacks on the planet.

Overall, probably the worst Dalek story going in my opinion. The New Paradigm aren't stupid. They can see this isn't very good and so do a runner with quarter of an hour still to run, leaving us with the prolonged Bracewell bomb section, where the weapon is somehow defused because of his faked memories. The new saucer interior isn't a patch on the RTD ones. A really annoying aspect is the speed with which Bracewell gets a device which only exists on a blueprint built and fitted to the Spitfires in a matter of minutes. The story is just dreadfully plotted. The only good thing going here are the Ironsides, but they get bumped off far too soon. Voted the second worst Dalek story in DWM's 50th Anniversary poll at 193rd place (beaten only by the Daleks in Manhattan two-parter).
Things you might like to know:
  • The first appearance of the Daleks in the revived series coincided with the 2005 General Election in the UK - leading to the famous recreation of the Daleks on Westminster Bridge image on the cover of that week's Radio Times. This story coincided with the 2010 elections, so the public got to see the new Daleks on Westminster Bridge on a new Radio Times cover, before they were revealed on screen. Or rather on three covers, as there was a choice of a red Dalek, representing the Labour Party, a blue Dalek representing the Conservatives, and an orange Dalek representing the Liberal-Democrats - Britain's three main political parties.
  • Clearly a fan of classic war movies, Gatiss' call signs for the Spitfires include "Broadsword" and "Danny Boy". These derive from radio call signs in the 1968 movie Where Eagles Dare, which had starred Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton.
  • It's never specified where the trio of Dalek survivors come from. Where they left over from Davros' Reality Bomb scheme, or from some earlier Dalek story? If they came from The Stolen Earth story then they were created from Davros' body, and so would have been pure Kaled - which begs the question: what does the Progenitor regard as pure Dalek?
  • On the morning after the climactic air-raid we see some ARP men raise the Union Jack - an homage to the famous image of US Army soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes during the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945.
  • If the Air Raid Warden looks familiar, it's because he is played by Colin Prockter, who had featured as the foodstall holder in 2005's The Long Game.
  • The yellow Dalek is the one called the "Eternal". Moffat and Gatiss have both stated that they have no idea what this means - only that it sounded good.
  • For the Ironsides' subservient behaviour, Gatiss was inspired by Power of the Daleks, adapting the Daleks' "I am your servant" in the earlier story to "I am your soldier" here.
  • Churchill states that the Doctor has changed his appearance again, so has met him in at least one previous incarnation. This was never seen on screen, although the Doctor has met him in his second and sixth incarnations in novels.
  • Some of the locations used for the Cabinet War Rooms did not allow smoking, so Ian McNeice couldn't light his cigars. The cigar smoke you see in the episode had to be added by CGI.
  • The real Cabinet War Rooms never had one of those big map tables where you push models about. They were used in RAF command stations.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

G is for... Gulliver

When the Doctor operated an emergency switch in the TARDIS to escape a volcanic eruption on the planet Dulkis, he warned his companions Jamie and Zoe that they would be taken out of Space / Time to a realm of which they knew nothing. After briefly visiting a mysterious white void, the ship appeared to break up and they were deposited in a world where characters from fiction were real. Hiding from Clockwork Soldiers in a forest of trees which spelled out proverbs and sayings, the Doctor encountered a man in 18th Century dress who spoke with a strong Nottingham accent. The stranger gave away their hiding places to the soldiers, but denied that he had seen anyone looking for them. After a couple of other encounters, the Doctor realised that the man was Lemuel Gulliver, from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. He could only say lines which Swift had given to him.
It transpired that the TARDIS crew had been dumped into the Land of Fiction, controlled by a super-computer linked to the mind of an elderly English story writer. The computer wanted the Doctor to take the old man's place, whilst it had designs on taking over the Earth. Zoe overloaded the computer, causing it to be fired upon by its own robot guards, which destroyed the realm.
The Doctor pointed out that the characters they had met would come to no harm, as they were not real and would live on in fiction.

Played by: Bernard Horsfall. Appearances: The Mind Robber (1968).
  • This was the first of Horsfall's appearances in Doctor Who - all in stories directed by David Maloney. He returned the following year as one of the Time Lord tribunal members in the final episode of The War Games, and was later seen as the Thal Taron in Planet of the Daleks. His last appearance was as Chancellor Goth in The Deadly Assassin - who may well have been the same Time Lord who had presided over the Doctor's earlier trial.
  • Strangely, the Doctor expresses a hope to have a long chat with Gulliver some time. Strange - as the character would only be able to speak lines written for him in the book.

G is for... Guido

A Venetian gondolier and boat builder who had saved for years to send his daughter to the city's exclusive Calvierri School for Girls. On enrolling her, he was shocked to discover that he would never be able to see his daughter ever again, and was also alarmed when he caught a glimpse of Rosanna Calvierri's son Francesco baring razor sharp fangs.
He then set about trying to catch sight of his daughter when the girls left the school on their frequent trips into the city. This drew him to the Doctor's attention. He had come to Venice to give his companions Amy and Rory a romantic holiday, after Amy had thrown herself at him on the eve of her wedding day. The Doctor decided to help Guido get his daughter back. Rory borrowed his clothes - lending him his stag-party T-shirt in return - whilst Amy would be enrolled at the school to give them access. The plan almost worked, but Guido's daughter - Isabella - had already started to be transformed into a vampire-like human-Saturnyne hybrid. She couldn't stand sunlight and was forced to retreat back into the school. Rosanna and Francesco were refugees from the nocturnal Saturnyne homeworld, who had come to Earth to start their race anew. The canals of Venice were full of male Saturnyne spawn, and the girls at the school were to become their mates.
Isabella was executed for helping the Doctor and her father. The schoolgirls then attacked Guido's house. He had stockpiled explosives taken from the city's arsenal, intent on using them to attack the school.
He sacrificed himself to blow up his house along with the vampire women.

Played by: Lucian Msamati. Appearances: The Vampires of Venice (2010).

G is for... Guardian of the Doomsday Weapon

This diminutive being was the sole survivor of a super race which evolved on the planet Uxarieus. This race had developed a weapon powerful enough to create a nebula in space. However, radiation from the weapon led to the race degenerating - the Guardian being worshiped as a god and the weapon having priest attendants who carried out human sacrifices to it. The surface of Uxarieus became barren, and the city dwellers regressed to a primitive state. The Time Lords had a file on the weapon, which was stolen by the Master. When this was discovered, they sent the Doctor to the planet to prevent the Master from obtaining control over the device. Jo Grant was in the TARDIS with the Doctor when it suddenly became active and dematerialised. She was later abducted by Uxariean primitives and taken to the city to be sacrificed. The Doctor followed her and pleaded with the Guardian to let them go free. It agreed, on the condition that they never returned. However, the Master captured the Doctor and Jo and forced him to take him to the city, whilst holding Jo hostage in his TARDIS. The Master demanded control of the weapon, but the Doctor was able to convince the Guardian that the device would always be at risk of use by unscrupulous people. The Guardian elected to destroy the weapon, sacrificing itself to do so.

Played by: Norman Atkyns. Appearances: Colony In Space (1971).
  • Atkyns returned to the series the following year, to play the Royal Navy fleet commander in The Sea Devils. It was pointed out on the DVD commentary for that story that the spectacles he wore were an error, as naval commanders had to have perfect vision. 
  • To play the Guardian he had to lie on his front behind the puppet's throne, with his masked head sticking out of the throne's headboard.

G is for... Grugger

General Grugger was the leader of the Gaztaks, a mercenary squad employed by an alien named Meglos to abduct a human male from Earth and bring him to the planet Zolfa-Thura. Meglos needed the man in order to use him as a body print to impersonate the Doctor. Like the rest of his men, Grugger could not be trusted, and Meglos sealed him and his deputy, Brotadac, in to his control centre when he attempted to steal his equipment rather than complete the mission he had been paid for. Once Meglos had transformed himself to look like the Doctor, he had Grugger transport him to the neighbouring planet of Tigella so that he could retrieve the Dodecahedron, which powered the Tigellan underground city. This energy source was Zolfa-Thuran in origin, and was needed by Meglos to power a weapon of mass destruction. When Brotadac captured Romana, Grugger spared her life so that she could lead the Gaztaks to the Tigellan city, but she led them into a trap - attacked by hostile Bell Plants.
Back on Zolfa-Thura, Grugger once again proved untrustworthy and had Meglos incarcerated on his ship - intending to take control of the weapon for himself. However, the Doctor had sabotaged it, aiming it at itself, and Grugger and his men were destroyed in the blast.

Played by: Bill Fraser. Appearances: Meglos (1980).
  • Perthshire born Fraser was best known for playing Sergeant Major Snudge in The Army Game, which had starred First Doctor William Hartnell. He then moved to the spin-off series Bootsie and Snudge. Shortly after appearing in Meglos, he featured in the K9 and Company spin-off as Commander Pollock, who turned out to be the villain of the piece.
  • He claimed in interviews that he only accepted the role of Grugger if he got to kick K9 (which he does) and become the most hated man on TV.
  • When not acting, he ran a little sweet shop / tobacconists in Ilford, Essex.

G is for... Grover, Sir Charles

Sir Charles Grover was a member of the British government who championed ecological issues. When London had to be evacuated after a spate of dinosaur manifestations, the government relocated to Harrogate in Yorkshire, but Grover elected to stay behind in the capital to liaise with the army and UNIT. The Doctor was introduced to him when he visited UNIT's temporary HQ and expressed his admiration for his views, having read one of his books on environmental concerns.
However, Grover was really the mastermind behind the dinosaur appearances, which were designed to empty the city so that a more ambitious scheme could be carried out. Grover was working with a scientist named Whitaker, who had perfected a time machine. Both were in league with the corrupt military commander General Finch, and with Captain Mike Yates of UNIT. Their scheme - Operation Golden Age - was intended to roll back time, taking the Earth back to a pre-industrial era before pollution. A group of like-minded people had been duped into thinking that they were going to be travelling to an alien planet to start a new life. They were really being held in a mock spaceship built beneath the streets of London, and when they emerged it would onto pre-industrial Earth rather than another world.
The Doctor was able to put a stop to the scheme, but Grover and Whitaker were transported back in time along with their device. At what point in history they ended up was never stated, but it may have been the time of the dinosaurs, if the machine was still fixed on that era.

Played by: Noel Johnson. Appearances: Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974).
  • Johnson had previously played King Thous of Atlantis in The Underwater Menace. He was famous as the original voice of Dick Barton, Special Agent, on BBC radio between 1946 and 1949.

Friday, 12 July 2019

What's Wrong With... The Edge of Destruction

Running at just two episodes in length, with only the principal cast, a single set, and very little in the way of visual effects, you'd think that there wasn't much that could have gone wrong with this particular story.
In reality, the entire series could have gone wrong - as this came perilously close to being the final Doctor Who story.
From its very beginnings, it was always intended that the programme would run for 52 weeks, and this was the basis on which the production team worked. One significant cost to be met was the interior of the Doctor's space / time-ship, which would feature in most stories.
There were many delays in getting the pilot episode recorded, and the broadcast date kept getting pushed back. This was partly to do with arguments about which studio space would be allocated to the production, and a desire to avoid a summer launch when audience numbers dipped.
As the launch date drew near, the Radio Times decided not to put the programme on the cover for the November 22nd issue. This was because confidence in the viability of the show had fallen.
Planned stories began to fall through. The opening story was to have been one in which the TARDIS crew were shrunk to an inch in height, followed by a story from Anthony Coburn about robots, who was also developing an adventure set in the stone age.
The studio issue put the mockers on the "miniscules" story, so the caveman one was brought forward, whilst the robot story was replaced by a story about mutants from Terry Nation.
Concerns then grew about the budgets. The TARDIS interior had cost a great deal of money, so word came down that the series would end after just 13 episodes. Terry Nation had been asked to extend his story from 6 to 7 episodes, and the opening story was a four-parter. This left two episodes to fill, instead of going straight from the Dalek story to one where the TARDIS crew met Marco Polo.
Producer Verity Lambert was able to show that the cost of the TARDIS had been planned to be spread over the entire 52 weeks originally planned, so it hadn't gone over budget.
The decision was then made to extend the series for a further 13 weeks, so the Marco Polo was back on the cards. However, it was still being prepared so the two episodes following the Dalek story still had to be filled. Problem was that there wasn't any money for them.
No writer could be commissioned in time, so the story editor David Whitaker was permitted to write the filler. No extra cast could be booked, so the story would feature only the regulars. And there was no money for sets, so the existing TARDIS console room would be the only location used.
Whitaker took all these limitations and put a positive spin on things. After an adventure in the past, and one on an alien planet in the future, it was time to spend some time developing the relationship between the regulars - putting them through a crisis from which they would emerge with better understanding of each other.
At the end of the previous episode we saw the TARDIS crew in the ship as it dematerialised from Skaro. We mentioned last time that this was a much smaller console room than previously seen - almost as if there was only enough space in the studio for the console and a couple of walls. This is because there was only enough space in the studio for the console and a couple of walls...
Suddenly, as this story opens, we have the massive TARDIS interior again. Everyone seems to have been knocked out. Whatever has happened has disintegrated the socks Susan was wearing at the end of the last episode. The Doctor has sustained a head injury, and is given a special bandage which has bands of some kind of healing ointment, which is a little wasteful unless he has cuts all round his head.
For the first few minutes after coming round, the companions act very strangely - behaving as if they don't know who they are or where they are. Barbara and Ian address each other as Miss Wright and Mr Chesterton, as though recent events have been forgotten, and Ian must think he is still at the school as he immediately assumes that the "Susan" Barbara mentions must be pupil Susan Foreman.
These days we know all about the sentient TARDIS, with its telepathic circuits, but here this behaviour is never satisfactorily explained.
All sorts of other strange things happen, such as people getting a severe pain at the back of the neck if they approach the console, other than the section with the scanner controls on it. The scanner shows a series of images - some good and some not so good. When a good picture is shown, the TARDIS doors open. When its a bad image, they close again. There is also a sequence of a planet, then a star system, then a whole galaxy - terminating in a brilliant flash.
When the doors open, we can see a white void outside - but a void with a floor.
Not long after Ian and Barbara have spoken about something getting inside the TARDIS, a couple of extraneous shadows can be glimpsed - belonging to members of the production team rather than an invading alien entity.
Then the clock melts, along with everyone's wrist watches.
It turns out in the end that this is the TARDIS' way of warning them that the ship has been set on a  course which would destroy it.
The question has to be asked: why couldn't it have done it in a less cryptic fashion? Why do it in such a way that the crew might never have worked out how to stop it being destroyed?
Had it simply flashed up the Fast Return switch on the Fault Locator, and only the Fast Return switch, surely that would have told the Doctor exactly where to look for the problem.
And we all know that the Fast Return switch is the only control on the entire console to have its function written next to it in felt tip pen.
Another obvious question has to be what mechanism does the TARDIS employ to cause all the various strange incidents? How does it melt the numerals on the clock and watches? How does it deliver the pain to the back of the neck? Is any of it real, or is it all just some form of hypnosis? Again, we are left none the wiser by the resolution.
William Hartnell has a lovely soliloquy about the formation of stars and planets, but he also delivers a few choice fluffs, and he skipped a part of the script which dealt with the melted clock and watches.
He repeats the line "It's not very likely", which momentarily throws the others, and has trouble with "You knocked both Susan and I unconscious".
Then we get:
"Don't underweight... underestimate me..."
"You rather suspected I was upset to some mischief..."
"We're on the brink of disgust... destruction!"
And my favourite: "You'd be blown to atoms by a split second!"

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Inspirations - The Creature from the Pit

The Creature from the Pit was the third story to be broadcast in Season 17, even though it was the first to be produced. As such it was the first time that David Brierley voiced K9, whilst Lalla Ward loathed her costume as it had been designed with Mary Tamm's version of Romana in mind.
David Fisher had written two well regarded stories for the previous season, and was commissioned to provide a further two stories for this one. Whilst this one made it to the screen, the second script ended up being rewritten by Douglas Adams and Graham Williams - as we saw last time.
As far as this commission was concerned, all Fisher had to go on with Creature, as I'll call it from now on, was that he should include a monster unlike any that had been seen before.
We've previously said that Fisher disliked his aunts, and often included villainous women in his scripts, and Creature is no exception. As well as Lady Adrasta, the ruler of the planet Chloris, we have her sidekick Madam Karela - who proves to be more sadistic and bloodthirsty than her mistress.
Fisher decided that the story's monster would not be evil - just misunderstood. It would kill people by accident. He then came up with the notion of the creature being a huge blob, trapped in a mine.

Fisher looked at some of the Greek myths and legends for inspiration, and these provided some of the names. Adrasta comes from Adrastos - meaning "inescapable", referring to her imprisonment of the creature in the Pit. It is called Erato. She was one of the Muses, whose name meant beautiful or lovely, which contrasts nicely with the creature's apparently hideous appearance but hints that it isn't the monster everyone thinks it is.
Erato is a Tithonian. This apparently derives from Typhonian. The Typhonian Beast comes from Egyptian rather than Greek mythology. It was a chimera (composite animal) associated with the god Set.
I wrote a whole post a while ago about how all the stories where the TARDIS was fitted with the Randomiser featured the ship going exactly where the Doctor wanted it to go. Its jackdaw meanderings were far more random when the device wasn't fitted. Here, the ship picks up a faint distress signal which takes it the densely-jungled planet of Chloris. (This is the Terry Nation school of planetary nomenclature - where a planet is named after a distinctive feature. Lots of plants means lots of chlorophyll). Chloris also comes from Greek myth, being a flower-loving nymph.
The distress signal is traced to a large structure which looks like a giant egg-shell. Romana gets abducted by a bunch of metal thieves, whilst the Doctor falls into the hands of the aforementioned Lady Adrasta. Chloris has very few metal deposits, so anyone owning any significant amount of metal gains political power. Adrasta disposes of her enemies by casting them into an abandoned mine-shaft - which is known as the Pit. There, they are killed by a monster which lurks there - which the call The Creature.

Unfortunately, the metal thieves are portrayed as stereotypical Jews, with the actor playing their leader, Torvin, attempting to play the part as Fagin - at least the Ron Moody Oliver! version. You half expect him to burst into a rendition of "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" at any moment.
Romana is able to call upon K9 to come and rescue her, and she quickly gets the better of the thieves, who are all a bit dim anyway.
Adrasta has two supposed experts on the Pit and its creature. One of these is played by Morris Barry, who once directed The Moonbase, Tomb of the Cybermen and The Dominators. He had returned to acting late in life. The other is played by Pertwee / Baker stuntman Terry Walsh. You can guess which one of them gets thrown into the Pit. The Doctor decides to throw himself into the Pit to escape Adrasta - leading to a sequence which fans either love or loathe. The Doctor has managed to grab onto the rock face and he produces from his pocket a book on Teach Yourself Mountaineering. This proves to be written in Tibetan, so he next produces from his pocket another book - Teach Yourself Tibetan. All very Douglas Adams.

Once in the Pit, the Doctor comes upon an old astrologer named Organon, who had been cast into the pit years ago but has managed to survive being crushed by Erato. Organon is Greek for instrument or tool, and is where we get the word "organ" from - as in part of the anatomy which fulfills a particular function. He is played by Geoffrey Bayldon, who had been approached back in 1963 to play the Doctor. He turned the role down as he was fed up playing "old man" parts. He would later portray an alternative version of the First Doctor on audio.
(Other links to the earliest days of the programme include Eileen Way playing Madam Karela, who had played the Old Woman in the very first story, and this story's director - Christopher Barry, who had helmed most of the first Dalek story - Parts 1,2,4 & 5).
The Doctor quickly works out that Erato isn't intrinsically hostile. It tends to smother and crush people by accident, due to its great bulk. Attempts to communicate with it fail, however, as it requires a shield-like communications device which Adrasta has retained.

The monster was a source of great amusement when it was first brought into the studio, resembling a huge balloon with a rather rude appendage. Things were not helped by Tom Baker blowing into the appendage when the Doctor tries to communicate with it. Not only did it look like a balloon, it was a balloon, as the body was made from meteorological balloons. Designer Mat Irvine had hoped that it might resemble the Rovers from The Prisoner. Some changes were made between the two studio blocks to lessen the phallic appearance - but it was too little too late.
A postmortem was conducted after the production wrapped, in which Graham Williams backed the director against the VFX team, who had argued that the producer, writer, script editor and director should shoulder most of the blame between them for agreeing to something which would be impossible to realise effectively in a studio.
The Doctor discovers that Erato is a Tithonian ambassador, from a metal-rich planet, who had come to set up a trade deal with Chloris - swapping their metals for its chlorophyll, which Tithonians eat.
Not wanting to lose her monopoly over the scant metal supplies, Adrasta had tricked Erato into entering the mine where she had sealed it up.
The story seems to run out of steam when Adrasta gets killed in the first 5 minutes of the final episode.

A new plot is introduced, however, as it is revealed that Erato had sent out a distress signal to its own people decades ago, and they had sent a neutron star on a collision course with Chloris in revenge. The Doctor has to force Erato to help in deflecting this star using its newly rebuilt spaceship - the egg thing from the jungle - and the TARDIS. These model shots led to further friction between Mat Irvine and Christopher Barry, as the director ordered shots of the TARDIS to be remounted (supposedly because the string holding the model up could be seen). Irvine has since insisted that he would never have passed inferior model shots anyway. Erato's ship spins an aluminium shell round the star which reduces its gravity, or something. Apparently the science is a bit rubbish, despite Fisher claiming to have approached real scientists when preparing the story.
Creature would be Christopher Barry's final Doctor Who assignment, after many years of involvement on the show - save for the 1995 video spin-off Downtime production. He had worked on The Daleks, The Rescue, The Romans, The Savages, Power of the Daleks, The Daemons, The Mutants, Robot and The Brain of Morbius. He later said that he had not enjoyed working with Tom Baker on this story, noting how much the actor had changed for the worse since they had last worked together.
Next time: There's more drama going on behind the scenes than there is in front of the cameras. It's a nightmare for everyone...

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Pertwee Centenary

Today, 7th July 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Devon Roland Pertwee, and I'm honouring the occasion by watching the new Season 10 Blu-ray Boxset. (Which also explains why there haven't been many updates in the last few days).
I'm still working my way through the set, having watched The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, and Frontier in Space so far - plus all the bonus features that go with these stories.
The picture quality is excellent - especially in the studio-bound scenes. They're pin sharp.
Of the extras that I have watched so far, the documentary by Toby Hadoke on director Lennie Mayne has been the standout item. It's similar to the feature he did on writer Peter R Newman on the DVD of The Sensorites. he starts out with only a wikipedia entry and a single photo of Mayne, and ends up viewing his family photo albums and watching home movie footage of his wedding to Frances Pidgeon, who herself featured in two Doctor Who stories directed by her husband. Bernard Cribbins is a contributor, having worked with Mayne when he was a dancer and choreographer on the West End stage.

As always, the "Behind the Sofa" segments have been highly entertaining. On Sofa 1 we have Katy Manning, John Levene and Richard Franklin, whilst on Sofa 2 we have Phil Collinson (who produced Doctor Who between 2005 - 2008), Pete McTighe (writer of Series 11's Kerblam! and the very funny trailer for the forthcoming Season 23 Blu-ray Boxset), and Joy Wilkinson (writer of The Witchfinders).
Of the stories I have watched so far, Richard Franklin hasn't appeared in any of them yet, and Levene was only in the first one, so Manning tends to talk about her time on the programme in more general terms, rather than concentrating on the individual stories. It may be more interesting to see this trio back together when Seasons 8 & 9 are released, in which they all played an active role.
The neutral trio prove to be the more interesting to observe. Whilst Wilkinson clearly hasn't much knowledge of the Classic series, Collinson and McTighe are definitely fan boys. According to Collinson, his very first word as a baby was "Drashig".

As someone who loves old fashioned special effects, I was entranced with the 57 minutes worth of model shot filming for Frontier in Space. There are frequent glimpses of Bernard Wilkie and Ian Scoones at work throughout.
So, still to watch are Planet of the Daleks, which has some fancy new CGI and a cleaned up version of the re-coloured Episode 3, and The Green Death, which I can watch either in its original 6 episode version or as the 90 minute omnibus which I can recall watching on its initial broadcast.
Another highlight still to come lies on the bonus features disc - an overview of the entire Pertwee era of the programme, as well as a Panopticon convention panel featuring Pertwee, Manning and Nicholas Courtney.
I've also yet to listen to the BBC Radio 4 Extra feature The Pertwee Files, presented by son Sean and broadcast yesterday morning, which I've recorded. (Which is another way of saying, don't expect any updates for the next couple of days).
There's no better way of remembering Jon Pertwee than to sit back and enjoy watching him when he was at the peak of his popularity as the Doctor, and helping to celebrate the first 10 glorious years of Doctor Who.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Story 205 - The Beast Below

In which Amy Pond takes her first trip in the TARDIS, and she and the Doctor come upon a vast spacecraft. The Doctor is intrigued and decides to land there. They discover that it is the year 3295, and this vessel contains the entire population of England, who have fled from a devastated Earth in search of a new home. Each county has its own huge residential block on Starship UK, and a number of historic buildings have even been preserved on it. The TARDIS has materialised on Oxford Street in the area designated for the population of London. The Doctor sees a schoolgirl sitting by herself who appears to be upset, and so goes to find out what's troubling her. Her little brother had done badly at school, and has disappeared after being banned from travelling in an elevator with the rest of the class. Unbeknownst to the girl - Mandy - her brother, Timmy, was dropped through the floor of the lift. All the children on Starship UK fear the "beast below", to whom wrongdoers are supposed to be fed. The Doctor is suspicious about a few things. He places a glass of water on the floor and studies it, then he points out a booth containing a smiling mechanical man which no-one ever approaches. He is observed by a man dressed in a black hood, who reports what he has seen to a masked woman nearby.

Amy follows Mandy whilst the Doctor goes off to make his own investigations. She comes upon an area which has been cordoned off, and inside a workman's tent she sees a large barbed tentacle emerging from a hole in the deck. On leaving the tent she is attacked by more of the hooded men and knocked out by gas. She wakes to find herself in a booth where a recorded message plays. She is going to be shown something and at the end she will be asked to vote on whether or not to forget what she sees. She suddenly finds that the message has ended, and she has pressed the "Forget" button. The Doctor meanwhile has checked on the engines and discovered that the vessel does not appear to have any. This is why he placed the glass on the floor - to test that there were no vibrations. Engine equipment is not connected. The masked woman appears and tells him she has also noticed this, and she wants to know why - hoping the Doctor will help her. The woman tells the Doctor that she is called Liz 10, and she will come looking for him after he has investigated further. He is then reunited with Amy. He discovers that the last 20 minutes have been wiped from her memory, but he cannot play the message as the equipment doesn't recognise him as human. The other button which Amy could have selected is marked "Protest" so the Doctor decides to hit this. The floor opens and both plunge down a chute into a massive rubbish heap.

The Doctor realises that they are actually in the mouth of a gigantic creature. To stop themselves from being swallowed, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to make the creature vomit, and they are flushed into a side chute. Here they see a pair of the mechanical men. They have pleasant smiling faces, but their heads then turn to reveal angry scowls. They emerge from their booths and are about to attack when Liz 10 appears with Mandy. She shoots the men then takes them to safety. Her home proves to be Buckingham Palace and her name refers to her title - Queen Elizabeth the Tenth. She tells the Doctor that she is convinced that her government is keeping a secret from her, and from her subjects. She claims to have been on the throne for ten years, but the Doctor points out that her mask is at least six times older, even though it was tailor made for her. Her own memory has been tampered with. One of the black-hooded men arrives. They are known as Winders. He has come to take them all to see a government official named Hawthorne, who is based at the Tower of London. Liz 10 angrily demands to know what Hawthorne has been doing, but the Doctor has already guessed.

Starship UK has been harnessed to a giant space-travelling creature similar to a terrestrial whale, and it has been providing the motive power to take them across the stars. Part of its brain has been exposed and it is being struck by electrical charges to make it move. Liz 10 was one of the architects of this plan, even though she hated doing it, and allowed her government to wipe her memory of it. Every few years her curiosity gets the better of her and she rediscovers the truth - only to have the memory wiped once again. She has the option to choose "Forget" or "Abdicate". All adult citizens of Starship UK are told about the whale in the voting booths every five years, and have the option to forget or protest against it. If the majority protested, or if Liz 10 chose to abdicate, the whale would be released but the entire spacecraft would be destroyed in the process.
The Doctor is furious at Amy for having learned about this exploitation of an intelligent alien species, then choosing to forget about it. As releasing the creature would destroy the vessel, the Doctor has no option but to give it a lobotomy so that it will no longer feel pain. Mandy is reunited with Timmy who is with some other children. Hawthorne states that the creature never harms children. Amy realises that the whale would never do anything to harm people, so she hits the "Abdicate" button. The whale is freed, but elects to stay where it is and continue to carry the spacecraft. It never needed to be enslaved in the first place, as it only ever wanted to willingly help the humans.
Starship UK continues its voyage through space as the TARDIS departs - the Doctor failing to notice a jagged crack on the hull, shaped like a crooked smile...
The telephone rings and the Doctor has Amy answer it. It is a call from Winston Churchill, asking for help from the Doctor...

The Beast Below was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 10th April 2010.
It was preceded by a short sequence known as Meanwhile in the TARDIS 1, which follows directly on from the ending to The Eleventh Hour. It can be found on the Series 5 DVD / Blu-ray boxsets.
This 4 minute item features just the Doctor and Amy in the TARDIS, as she asks him a lot of questions about the ship and about who or what he is. On opening the doors, Amy thinks that the view looks like some special effects, so the Doctor pushes her out to prove it is all real - which is where The Beast Below opens (Amy floating in space outside the TARDIS with the Doctor holding onto her foot).
In the episode itself, Amy learns that the Doctor really is alien when the voting booth refuses to recognise him as human, and he tells her a little about his being a Time Lord.
She has so far failed to tell him about her impending wedding to Rory, and when she gets her personal details on screen in the booth the part about her marital status is recorded as "not known".
There are clear parallels with the second story of the first series - The End of the World. There the Doctor took Rose into the far future for her first trip in the TARDIS, to a time of devastation to the Earth. Both stories even conclude with the image of the Doctor and companion staring out into space through a huge window.

Like many episodes in the Moffat era of the show, children feature prominently. Post opening credits, the story proper opens with Mandy and Timmy at school, and it is through Mandy that the Doctor and Amy are drawn into the mystery of Starship UK. The children also contribute to the resolution of the crisis, as Amy spots the star-whale's lack of hostility towards them.
The idea of a space whale story is not new to Doctor Who. Nor is the notion of a space ark.
There were two stories featuring an ark in space - 1966's The Ark, and 1975's The Ark in Space. Two other stories dealt with a cataclysm engulfing the Earth - 1986's The Mysterious Planet (the first section of Trial of a Time Lord) and 2005's The End of the World.
The Ark is set at the very end of the Earth's period of habitability, when the sun begins to expand, and the 1984 story Frontios shows what happens to one of the colony ships which left the dying planet. The End of the World shows that the planet was stabilised, after evacuation, by the National Trust, and only destroyed once the money had run out to preserve it any longer.
The events behind The Mysterious Planet are set millions of years in the future. Then, the destruction of the surface was caused by the Time Lords moving the planet across space.
The incident which caused Starship UK to be launched seems to be the same one that led to Space-station Nerva being used as The Ark in Space. This obviously changes how that earlier story should be perceived. Nerva wasn't carrying the sole survivors of Earth escaping the solar flares, but some smaller elitist group who did not want to join the nationality-based space arks.

Back in the 1980's attempts were made to produce a story, usually referred to as "Song of the Space Whale" or "Song of the Megaptera", which had been written by 2000 AD scribes Pat Mills and John Ainsworth. It would have been a Fifth Doctor story, designed to introduce the new companion who would become Turlough. He was one of the people, encountered by the Doctor, who lived in a colony which existed inside a giant space whale. Numerous attempts were made to get this story ready for production but it was never made for the TV series. It did appear many years later as a Big Finish "Lost Stories" audio.
The main guest artist for The Beast Below is Sophie Okonedo, who plays the gun-toting Liz 10. She had previously voiced the Doctor's new companion in the ill-fated animated adventures of the alternative Ninth Doctor (Richard E Grant) in Scream of the Shalka. The proposed animated on-line series had the misfortune to be released just as the BBC announced that the series would be returning to the screen in 2005.

Hawthorne is played by Terrence Hardiman, who is best known for the children's drama The Demon Headmaster. Appearing in the closing seconds as a throw forward to the next episode is Ian McNeice, playing Winston Churchill.
As far as the story arc goes, we have the crack appearing across the spacecraft's hull, and Amy is keeping her wedding secret from the Doctor.

Overall, proof that Steven Moffat was fallible. All his stories written for Russell T Davies had been hugely successful with fans and critics alike, garnering a brace of Hugo Awards. The Eleventh Hour had shown that the programme was in safe hands. And then this came along. The Smilers are great visually, but are totally wasted. And no-one likes programmes about kids. Even kids tend to hate programmes about kids. Of all the stories written by Steven Moffat as of 2013's DWM 50th Anniversary poll, this one was second to bottom - beaten only by The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. I gave it 1 out of 10.
Things you might like to know:
  • Starship UK is seen to have branches of Magpie Electricals in the 33rd Century - the business first seen in the 1953-set The Idiot's Lantern. This is very good going for a one-man operation whose owner was killed shortly after collaborating with an alien invader.
  • Starship UK should strictly be called Starship England, as Amy hears that Scotland launched its own spacecraft. A cut line of dialogue would have stated that every country had its own starship and people could travel between them, until Starship UK closed its borders. 
  • In Canada and the USA, on initial broadcast, each episode of Series 5 opened with Amy giving a narration about the series, over clips from the show, for the benefit of new viewers.
  • It's never clear how the Smilers can have three faces, when each time their heads turn there is only space for two.
  • The little girl who reads the poem about "the beast below" on screen in the elevator is based on the famous BBC TV Test Card.
  • There's a continuity error when the screen gives Amy's current age as 1308, when the computer says it's 1306.
  • Something else which isn't very clear is how the Doctor and Amy aren't ejected into space when the whale is made to throw up.
  • Moffat lifts a Russell T Davies line wholesale when he has the Doctor say: "And with that sentence you just lost the right to even talk to me". The Ninth Doctor said the exact same thing to the female programmer in Bad Wolf.

Monday, 1 July 2019

G is for... Groske

Cousins of the Graske race, from the planet Griffoth. They were identical in appearance, except for having blue skin. They were also less mischievous than the Graske, whom they disliked. A number of Groske became stranded on Earth, where they were taken in by UNIT and employed at their base built into Mount Snowden in Wales. One particular Groske helped Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Jones (nee Grant) when they visited the base to pay their final respects to the Doctor. The Doctor wasn't really dead, but a corrupt UNIT officer had entered into an alliance with the alien Shansheeth to steal the TARDIS. The Shansheeth had marooned the Doctor on an alien world, but he was able to swap places with Clyde Langer, who had previously been contaminated by Artron energy. The Groske was able to detect the Arton energy in Clyde's system.

Played by: Jimmy Vee. Appearances: SJA 4.3: Death of the Doctor (2010).

G is for... Groom, Roman

Roman Groom was an American member of the international crew of Bowie Base One - the first human settlement on the planet Mars. He operated the base's service robot, which was nicknamed Gadget, and he had programmed it to say its name - which the Doctor found to be slightly irritating. He had arrived on the planet for a look around, unaware that the date of his arrival was that on which the base was destroyed with all hands, according to the history books. The crew had inadvertently released a waterborne parasite known as the Flood, which had lain dormant for centuries in the Martian ice-field on which the base had been established. The crew fell to the contagion one by one - including Roman, who had been hit on the cheek by a single droplet of water.
All the infected crew were destroyed when base commander Adelaide Brooke activated the self-destruct mechanism.

Played by: Michael Goldsmith. Appearances: The Waters of Mars (2009).

G is for... Grisenko

Professor Grisenko was a scientist who was stationed aboard the Soviet nuclear submarine Firebird. On a mission to collect ice core samples in the Arctic in 1983, the crew had discovered a large, armoured biped frozen in the ice. An impatient crewman thawed out the figure and it returned to life. It was actually Grand Marshal Skaldak, a member of the Ice Warrior race.
Grisenko loved western music - particularly bands like Duran Duran and, especially, Ultravox which he played constantly on his walkman. He had little time for the more hawk-like members of the crew, and adopted a fatherly role with the Doctor's companion Clara. On discovering that they were time-travelers, the only thing he really wanted to know about the future was if Ultravox were still together. Clara saved his life when he was about to be killed by Skaldak. She used this act of mercy to help convince the Ice Warrior not to fire the submarine's nuclear missiles.

Played by: David Warner. Appearances: Cold War (2013).
  • After a number of roles in British cinema in the 1960's, Warner moved to Los Angeles where his career really took off internationally. He was the villain in Tron, and appeared in two of the Star Trek movies in different roles - an Earth ambassador in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the Klingon Chancellor Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. On TV he also played a Cardassian officer in Star Trek: The Next Generation. For many though, his finest moment is Time Bandits, where he played the embodiment of Evil.
  • Warner has appeared in a number of Big Finish audios, including a role as an alternative Doctor in the Unbound series. He joined the cast of The Scaryfiers after the death of Nicholas Courtney.
  • He also voiced the character Azlok in the animated Doctor Who adventure Dreamland.

G is for... Grigory

Grigory had been a promising young medic until he developed a drink problem. He was recruited by a woman named Natasha Stengos to help her break into the Tranquil Repose Funerary Complex, on the planet Necros. She was suspicious about the events surrounding the death of her father, the noted scientist Arthur Stengos. They found his casket and discovered it was empty. Hiding from security guards they took refuge in a laboratory where they were horrified to find that Stengos had been turned into a Dalek. Grigory destroyed him, but the pair were then captured. The chief attendants Takis and Lilt tortured Grigory by forcing him to drink all the alcohol he had brought with him in a flask.
They were freed by the assassin Orcini, who had come to kill the Great Healer - Davros. The Doctor sent Grigory and Natasha back to the laboratory to destroy it, but a Dalek materialised and exterminated them both.

Played by: Stephen Flynn. Appearances: Revelation of the Daleks (1985).

G is for... Griffiths

A career criminal who was recruited to a gang which was being put together by the alien mercenary Lytton. He believed that they were going to rob a bank, but Lytton really wanted the gang to help him free the Cryons of Telos from enslavement by the Cybermen. He led them into the London sewers where they were captured by the Cybermen hiding there. They were working on a scheme to divert Halley's Comet into the path of the Earth so that the planet would not be in any condition to threaten their original home planet of Mondas when it returned to the Solar System in December 1986.
The Cybermen captured the Doctor and forced him to take everyone to Telos in the TARDIS. Here Lytton needed Griffiths to help steal a time-ship which the Cybermen had obtained.
Griffiths and a couple of escaped slave workers, also recruited by Lytton, managed to reach the ship - only to be killed by a protective electrical booby-trap.

Played by: Brian Glover. Appearances: Attack of the Cybermen (1985).
  • A regular on the BBC TV sitcom Porridge, Glover is probably best known for his small role as the joke-telling villager in the "Slaughtered Lamb" pub at the beginning of An American Werewolf In London. He gave up teaching to become a wrestler before moving into acting.
  • According to the novelisation, the character's full name is Charles Windsor Griffiths.

G is for... Grey, Lady Jane

Sarah Jane Smith's friend and neighbour Rani Chandra was transported back in time to 1553 after the team went to investigate a newspaper report about an alien sighting. They had been lured to the man's shop in order to be sent on a mission to find three pieces of chronosteel which were scattered throughout history. They needed to be retrieved otherwise the Earth would be at risk.
Rani found herself in the Tower of London with the young uncrowned queen on the eve of Mary's arrival in the city. She had to pose as a maid servant and befriended the young noblewoman, helping to expose one of Mary's spies within the royal household, as well as stopping a loyal servant from killing her to make her a martyr to her Protestant faith. Whilst Rani knew of Jane's fate, she could not do anything to alter history, but she did help Jane through her last night of freedom, and she was able to assure her that history would always remember her. Rani found the chronosteel - the knife which the servant was going to use to kill Jane - and returned with it to the 21st Century.

Played by: Amber Beattie. Appearances: SJA 4.5: Lost In Time (2010).
  • Known as the "Nine Day Queen", Jane was manoeuvred onto the throne, aged 16, by her father as a Protestant successor to King Edward VI - the only legitimate son of Henry VIII. On Edward's death, popular opinion favoured Henry's first born child - his daughter Mary. Support for Jane rapidly evaporated and Mary arrived in London to take the throne which Jane had never really wanted. She was executed in February 1554.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Inspirations - City of Death

City of Death, the second story of Season 17, is credited to David Agnew, who you'll recall was also the writer of The Invasion of Time back in Season 15. Cast your mind back to that story, and you'll know that this credit was used by the BBC as a nom de plume for those occasions when the real author(s) could not be credited, for one reason or another. Back then, it was really producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read who were the actual writers, having to step in at the last minute to salvage things when the planned story proved impossible to produce.
This time, it is Williams and his new script editor Douglas Adams who are the writers, after a script from David Fisher (Stones of Blood, Androids of Tara) fell through. Whilst Williams may have contributed, it is obvious that the story as broadcast is very much Adams' work.
And what a work it is. Quite possibly the most perfect Doctor Who story of any era - funny and clever, with Tom Baker at the top of his game and a villain worthy of a James Bond movie (or Indiana Jones, or Star Wars - Julian Glover has played a villainous role in all three franchises).
If you wanted to introduce a friend to the Classic era of the show, this is one of the stories you would select to demonstrate just how good a series it has always been. Personally, I think it is better than that thing Douglas Adams is better remembered for - the thing about towels. There, it was his own show and he could do what he wanted with it, so he could be overly self-indulgent, but here he is having to work to someone else's format. It could have limited him, but it made him a lot more focused, and the humour serves a purpose - rather than being there just for its own sake.

Fisher's original storyline does bear some resemblance to City of Death, so Adams did not start again from scratch. The basic structure is Fisher's. His story was called "A Gamble With Time", and was set on in Monte Carlo in the 1920's. The Doctor and Romana would have visited the famous casino, and spotted someone using anachronistic technology to cheat at the roulette tables. The villain was doing this to raise finance to fund his time travel experiments. The action would have flitted between the 1920's and the present day. Earlier drafts had set the action in Las Vegas. Fisher included the plot about multiple copies of the Mona Lisa, and he also had an image he wanted to use of the first creature coming out of the sea on to the land, only for someone to step on it, and so upset the whole of history.
Also investigating the villain was a private detective named "Pug" Farquharson. This character was inspired Bulldog Drummond. Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond was a gentleman adventurer who was created by H C McNeille, who went by the pen name of "Sapper", in 1920. The character had been used unsuccessfully as a policeman in a magazine story, and Sapper retooled him to make him more of an independent man of means action hero. McNeille died in 1937, leaving 10 novels, a number of short stories, a couple of plays and a film treatment. The first movie was made in 1922, and a number of noted actors took on the role over the years, including Ronald Coleman, Ray Milland, Ralph Richardson and Walter Pidgeon. John Howard played the character 7 times. "Pug" - a breed of bulldog - eventually evolved into Duggan in City of Death.

The Doctor Who production office looked into filming in Monte Carlo itself - Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner working out the logistics. A number of ITC adventure series had been set on the Riviera, and they had been studio-bound, with some stock location footage to set the scene - so this was another option.
Fisher revised his scripts to move the setting to Paris, but still in two time zones - 1928 and 1979. The sequence where an artist sketches Romana was in Fisher's scripts - but it was set in a Montmartre cafe, and the artist drew her with three eyes instead of having a clock for a face. This is because the alien villain was to have had three eyes, with one in the centre of the forehead. They were known as Sephiroth at this stage, and the story had begun in similar fashion to the televised version in showing us their spaceship exploding on prehistoric Earth.
Although it was broadcast later, Fisher had already delivered his scripts for Creature from the Pit, which was the first story of Season 17 to be made. Problems began when Fisher experienced some marital problems at the time of the story's development, as well as having to move house, so he wasn't able to give it his undivided attention. There were concerns about achieving the period setting, as well as having to set some of the story in a different time zone.
When it became clear that Fisher could not proceed any further with the story, he agreed that Williams and Adams could complete it and make any alterations they deemed necessary.
The director had already been booked - Michael Hayes - so he and Adams went to stay with Williams for a weekend, during which Adams was fed with black coffee by Hayes and set to work rewriting - with Williams commenting on what he came up with and throwing in a few suggestions of his own.

To simplify things, Adams first of all set the new version of the story primarily in present day Paris. He decided to concentrate on the Mona Lisa heist, so the whole cheating at gambling idea was dropped. There would still be one visit to another time period - but this would be to Florence in 1505, as the Doctor visited Leonardo da Vinci's studio.
Leonardo moved to the Tuscan city when he was 14, to join the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, where it is claimed that his talent soon outgrew that of his master. He later moved to Milan, between 1482 and 1499. 1502 saw him in Cesena, which is when he became employed by Cesare Borgia. The soldier tasked with guarding the Doctor for Captain Tancredi (one of Scaroth's splinters) mentions having worked for the Borgias. Leonardo returned to Florence in 1503, and was there until 1506 - so the date of 1505 is an accurate one. It is known that he had begun the painting we all know as the Mona Lisa in 1503, but it was later taken on his travels and he worked on it for years afterwards. It was with him when he died in France, in 1519, where he had come under the patronage of King Henri I. The painting's proper title is La Gioconda - La Jaconde in French. The sitter with the most famous smile in art history was Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. Mona is basically a contraction of ma donna, or madam. Poor old Francesco obviously never received his commission, and it was typical of Leonardo to leave a project unfinished as his interest moved on to something else.

The plot of City of Death sees the alien Scaroth caught up in the explosion of his spaceship, which causes him to be splintered and scattered through time. Each splinter assumes a position of authority, influencing human development so that the latest of them - posing as Count Scarlioni in present day Paris - has the technology to build a time machine, so that he can go back to prehistory and prevent the spaceship from being destroyed in the first place. Time machines cost money, so Scarlioni is selling off his art treasures to raise funds - which is how Duggan has come to be employed by a group of art dealers to investigate him (finding out if the items are genuine). Scarlioni has Shakespeare's original draft of Hamlet, and a few Gutenberg Bibles in his collection.
One of the splinters - the aforementioned Tancredi - has commissioned Leonardo to make multiple copies of the Mona Lisa, which will be left bricked up in the house in Paris which Scarlioni will inhabit in 1979. Scarlioni will secretly sell all of them to various buyers, who will keep quiet about their purchases as the painting will be stolen from the Louvre. Each will think they are getting the one and only painting.
We've mentioned before that Doctor Who stories not only draw their inspiration from other sources, but sometimes they themselves inspire later ones. In 1985 ITV serialised the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Jeremy Brett in the lead, and when it came to The Final Problem they found that the plot didn't quite cover the programme run time. They also wanted to increase the role of Professor Moriarty, who only ever appears in this one story, so they added a whole new opening section - wherein Holmes is in Paris stopping Moriarty from selling multiple copies of the Mona Lisa after stealing the one from the Louvre...

Douglas Adams had briefly been a member of the Monty Python team, but he had worked on the last series, in which John Cleese had not appeared. (Adams had taken on Cleese's co-writer role with Graham Chapman). He was able to persuade Cleese to make a cameo appearance in City of Death. Cleese agreed so long as it was uncredited, and his daughter could visit the Doctor Who set. (She got to see Destiny of the Daleks being made). Adams wanted Alan Coren to partner him as the pair of art critics who mistake the TARDIS for an art installation in episode four, but Cleese suggested they try to get Alan Bennett or Jonathan Miller. Eleanor Bron eventually joined him. Cleese filmed his scene whilst he was visiting the BBC to edit the Basil the Rat episode of Fawlty Towers.
Exactly 30 years later a TARDIS did end up on display in an art gallery - Mark Wallinger's mirrored Police Box, a piece called Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, 2001.

JNT did manage to balance the books, so that Doctor Who got its first ever foreign location shoot. Only three of the cast got to go to Paris, with a minimal crew, to keep costs down - Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Tom Chadbon, who played Duggan.
As you can see, there were quite a few story elements which Fisher had introduced which made it through to the finished serial. He elected not to take any credit, but he was did accept a substantial part of his fee.
Next time: from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is a massive green blob of a monster. They call it "the Creature". It lives in an old mine shaft. They call it "the Pit"...