Thursday, 30 May 2019
The latest issue of DWM was published today, and it includes the 2018 readers' poll results.
There were two versions of the magazine available - the standard one at £5.99, and a "Deluxe" one at £9.99. The latter included a 28 page supplement on the making of Series 11, plus a vinyl disc with extracts from the soundtrack to Evil of the Daleks and some other odds and sods.
I don't need another 28 pages about Series 11, thank you very much, and don't own a record player, so I'm sure you will have guessed which version it was that I bought today. (The £4 saving paid for the latest issue of Infinity magazine - hooray!).
Anyway. The poll had some interesting things to say about last season, which simply confirm what myself and a lot of other fans have been saying about it since the time of broadcast.
The top rated story was Rosa, with The Tsuranga Conundrum languishing at the bottom of the pile.
Annoyingly, despite it being categorically billed as not part of the series, and not even broadcast in 2018, DWM had elected to include Resolution. It came in 4th place.
The actual order is:
3. Demons of the Punjab
5. It Takes You Away
6. The Woman Who Fell To Earth
7. The Witchfinders
8. The Ghost Monument
9. Arachnids in the UK
10. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
11. The Tsuranga Conundrum
As you can see, those stories written by Chris Chibnall all on his lonesome pretty much lie in the bottom half of the table (and most fans believe that the better parts of Rosa were down to Malorie Blackman). The guest writers being the better writers was something which we all picked up on as the series entered its second half, so it's hard to argue that our criticisms of Chibnall were either unfair or unfounded. The lacklustre "series finale" sitting in 10th position says a lot.
Were this poll to have an influence on future series would be both a Good Thing, and a Bad Thing. The Good Thing would be that Chibnall wrote less. The Bad Thing would be that we got a lot more of the historical stories in which the Doctor doesn't actually do anything.
The results of some of the other polls are also interesting, and say something about just what fans were offered last year.
Things weren't all bad for Tsuranga. The set design of the spaceship won in its section, and, bizarrely, the Pting managed to come in second in the "Favourite Creature" poll. The Kerblam! androids took first place. The DIY Dalek was third. Personally, I think this simply reflects what little we had to go on as far as the aliens were concerned this series.
Despite his stories coming in 6th and second to last place, the "Favourite Villain" was Tzim-Sha. The Dalek was second and Krasko was third - which definitely says something about how poor the threat levels were throughout the season. Krasko was one of the weakest characters of the entire run.
The favourite VFX was the new Vortex, first seen in Arachnids - with the Dalek / soldier battle second and the spaceship crash in The Ghost Monument third. You would have expected the series opener or, especially, the finale to have furnished something here. The new Vortex is nice, but hardly jaw-dropping.
Now, I didn't vote myself - I might have been tempted to submit a spoiled ballot, such was my relative apathy towards Series 11. In fact, I possibly didn't even see the poll. I find myself reading less and less of DWM these days, which is a sad state of affairs for someone who was there from Doctor Who Weekly Issue 1 back in 1979. I was really pleased to hear that Marcus Hearn, Hammer Historian, was taking over the editorship, but I haven't liked the magazine half as much since he took over. I have no interest in cosplay, so skip those features, don't buy Big Finish, so skip their many, many articles and reviews, and as for the opinions of teenagers about the show, well, I couldn't care less I'm afraid.
Got a spare £800 - £1200 which you are itching to spend on a bit of Doctor Who ephemera? In July a number of photographs which belonged to the late Derek Dodd, designer on Power of the Daleks, are going up for auction, according to the antiquestradegazette website.
Another set of mostly B&W photos (below) was earlier put up for sale - fetching £4600 back in March. The new batch includes a number of high quality colour images - so I guess that they will easily beat the estimate above. Hopefully we will all get a chance to see these in a future issue of DWM, or in a publication like Nothing at the End of the Lane.
Tuesday, 28 May 2019
In early July, Season 10 will be released as a Blu-Ray box set in the UK. One actor who features in two of the stories in that season is Stephen Thorne, who passed away at the weekend at the age of 84.
His first brush with Doctor Who came when he played Azal in Season 8's The Daemons. He was selected for his height and, despite being a noted radio performer, he originally wasn't going to voice the character. That was going to be done by Anthony Jackson - best known for playing the recently deceased Fred Mumford in the BBC's children's cult classic Rentaghost.
Director Christopher Barry decided to drop this idea and so Thorne was heard as well as seen.
A couple of years later director Lennie Mayne cast Thorne as another iconic character of the Pertwee era - the Time Lord Omega. Again this was for his stature, as well as his voice - as the character remains hidden behind a mask throughout the story. When he does raise the helmet, his body has been eaten away and only his will - and that voice - survives.
Prior to recording The Three Doctors, the production team had already employed Thorne on Season 10, when he portrayed another masked alien - this time the lesser role of an Ogron in Frontier in Space. Although recorded first, this was broadcast after The Three Doctors.
He was considered for a number of other roles in the programme - generally masked villains - but only made one further appearance in the show.
This was as the original male version of Eldrad, in The Hand of Fear. He only appears briefly in the final episode.
If you are a radio drama fan then you will spot his voice in many productions. Two genre roles of note were Aslan, in a 1988 BBC radio production of The Magician's Nephew (whom he also voiced for a 1979 animated film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and he was Treebeard in the highly regarded 1981 BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
His work was mostly confined to radio, and to readings for audio books (of which he recorded some 300) so his face wasn't that well known to TV audiences or movie-goers. ITV3 frequently repeat a 1983 Adam Dalgliesh whodunnit - Death of an Expert Witness - and he does feature prominently in that, should you want to seek it out.
|Thorne taking a breather sans mask on the set of Frontier in Space.|
Saturday, 25 May 2019
There's really not a lot to say about this one, as The Androids of Tara is very much a pastiche of one particular Victorian novel, which many know better from movie adaptations. If you knew that the working title for the story was "The Androids of Zenda", then that might provide the clue to which book we're talking about.
The Prisoner of Zenda was written by Anthony Hope and first published in 1894. It prompted a sequel some four years later - Rupert of Hertzau. Rupert is one of the villains in the original book, the dashing henchman to the real villain of the piece, Prince Michael (also known as Black Michael).
Count Grendel of Gracht (Peter Jeffrey) is a composite of the two characters.
The main plot for Androids comes directly from the novel, in that the new King is about to be crowned when he is abducted by his half-brother Michael. Should King Rudolf fail to attend the coronation, the throne will fall to Michael. The King has a distant relation named Rudolf Rassendyll who just happens to be visiting the country - the fictional Ruritania. Rudolph looks exactly like his regal cousin, so a pair of the King's attendants - Colonel Sapt and Fritz Von Tarlenheim - persuade the Englishman to take the King's place. The real King is locked up in a castle in the small town of Zenda. Matters are complicated when the English Rudolf falls in love with the Ruritanian Rudolf's betrothed, Princess Flavia.
Naturally, the King is freed and Michael vanquished, though Rupert (like Count Grendel) escapes to fight another day - and Rassendyll has to give up the Princess.
This being a Doctor Who story, the doubles are explained away as android duplicates, although Romana has a real double in the Princess Strella. Mary Tamm cited this as her favourite story, as she got to play four roles - Romana, an android Romana, Strella and an android Strella.
The King Rudolf character here is Prince Reynart. Actor Neville Jason was selected by director Michael Hayes as he resembled Ronald Coleman, who had played the dual role in the 1937 film version of the book, regarded by many as the best screen adaptation. Raymond Massey played Michael, with David Niven as Rupert of Hertzau. There was a shot-for-shot remake in 1952, this time in colour, which featured Stewart Grainger in the dual role, with James Mason as Rupert. 1979 saw a comedic version courtesy of Peter Sellers, who played the dual role as well as the old King.
British audiences might remember the 1984 BBC TV adaptation, made as part of the Classic Serials strand for Sunday evenings - produced by Barry Letts and script edited by Terrance Dicks.
Colonel Sapt becomes Swordmaster Zadek in The Androids of Tara (played by Simon Lack), whilst Fritz Von Tarlenheim becomes Farrah (played by Paul Lavers).
The electric rapiers might just have been a nod to the lightsabers in Star Wars.
Location filming took place at Leeds Castle - which is in Kent, and nowhere near the Yorkshire city. Glass plate shots added some exotic turrets and minarets. There was a delay in getting access to the castle as it was being used to host a Middle East peace conference on the dates they originally wanted to use it.
Mary Tamm designed the purple costume herself after rejecting the itchy tweed outfit she was to have worn. This is surprising, as Tamm's astrologer had told her to avoid the colour purple when she first got the role. Perhaps the planets were in a more favourable conjunction.
Next time: Robert Holmes is brought back to cover a story that has fallen through, and he's challenged to include the biggest monster ever to appear in the series...
Thursday, 23 May 2019
In which everyone on Earth is now the Master, whilst on Gallifrey Rassilon plots the return of the Time Lords. It is the final day of the Time War, and Rassilon attends a meeting of the High Council. He is determined that Gallifrey will not fall, even though the conflict is trapped in a temporal lock. It is reported that the Doctor has taken a powerful weapon called the Moment, and could use it at any time to bring the war to an end - through the destruction of both the Time Lords and the Daleks.
On Earth, at the Naismith mansion, the Doctor and Wilf have been captured by the Master. Wilf's phone rings, which surprises the Master as he did not make the call. It is Donna. She has run outside, and is starting to recall her time with the Doctor, which will prove fatal. The Master sends her neighbours to capture her, but the Doctor had built in a safety measure should she begin to remember. She collapses as a psychic blast knocks out her attackers. The Doctor and Wilf are rescued by the Vinvocci, Addams and Rossiter, and make for the basement. Here they use a teleport to travel up to the Vinvocci spaceship which is in hidden orbit above the planet. The teleport is disabled to prevent them being pursued - but it also means they cannot get back to Earth. The Master orders UNIT to try to trace the ship, but the Doctor sabotages it so that the Vinvocci cannot flee as they plan to do.
One of the High Council is a mystic known as The Visionary. She interprets Gallifrey's prophesies, and indicates that she may have the answer Rassilon seeks. She taps out a four-beat rhythm - the heartbeat of a Time Lord. It is known that there are two Time Lords outside the time lock - the Doctor and the Master. They will use one of them to forge a link between Gallifrey and the outside universe. Rassilon decides to transmit that beat to the Master - selecting the moment when, as a boy, he had looked into the Untempered Schism. This is the source of the drumming which has plagued the Master his entire life. To establish a connection, Rassilon then sends a diamond from the tip of his staff to Earth through a crack in the time-lock - a type of diamond only to be found on Gallifrey. On the spaceship, Wilf is once more visited by the mysterious woman in white. He later gives the Doctor his old National Service revolver, which he had brought to the Nasmaith mansion. He insists that the Doctor should not put the Master before the population of Earth, just because he is another Time Lord. The Doctor sees the diamond fall to Earth. It is found by the Master, who realises its implication. He must use it to create the link to Gallifrey. he broadcasts to the spaceship what he has found. The Doctor also realises the implication of this, and so reactivates the ship's engines.
The spaceship can now be tracked from Earth and so the Master prepares to launch a missile strike against it. The Doctor flies the ship into the atmosphere. Wilf and the Vinvocci man the ship's weapons to shoot down the missiles, whilst the Doctor pilots the ship back to the mansion. Taking Wilf's revolver with him, he leaps from the vessel and crashes through the mansion's glass ceiling. Gallifrey begins to materialise next to the Earth, threatening to tear the planet apart. In the mansion, Rassilon and some of his council appear. Wilf forces the Vinvocci to land and rushes into the building. Rassilon has with him two Council members who opposed his plan - and one of them is the woman whom Wilf has been seeing. The Doctor recognises her. The Master plans to use the Immortality Gate to turn every Time Lord into himself as well, whilst Rassilon's great plan is for the Time Lords to become beings of pure energy, relinquishing their physical form. This will lead to the destruction of Time itself - as the Ood had foreseen in their nightmares. The Doctor can stop Gallifrey emerging fully if he breaks the link to Earth - by killing the Master. He knows that the Time Lords were corrupted by the Time War and are just as much a threat to the universe now as the Daleks have been. he s torn between shooting the Master - or shooting Rassilon. he decides instead to shoot the device which houses the diamond. The Master then attacks Rassilon and is dragged away with them as the Time Lords vanish - sent back into the last day of the Time War.
Everyone on Earth is returned to normal, and Donna is found by her mother and fiance. Wilf has become trapped in the control booth of the Immortality Gate. There are two booths and one must be manned at all times, but the device is about to overload and flood the chambers with lethal radiation. He knocks four times on the glass door to attract the Doctor's attention... The Doctor has survived the fall from the spaceship, and the battle between Master and Rassilon, but realises that this is to be his fate - to sacrifice his life to save Wilf. he releases Wilf and enters the booth himself, and his body is heavily irradiated. The Doctor emerges, his wounds now healed. The regeneration has started. he decides to make the most of the time remaining to him by visiting some of his old friends. he saves Martha Jones and Mickey Smith - now married and acting as freelance alien hunters - from a Sontaran soldier. He visits a space saloon where he finds a morose Captain Jack - and links him up with Midshipman Frame, late of the spaceship Titanic. He saves Luke Smith from being run over, and sees Sarah Jane Smith from a distance. She realises that this is the last time she will see him - at least in this incarnation. He attends a book signing, as the granddaughter of Joan Redfern has published a copy of his Journal of Impossible Things which he left with her in 1913. He then goes to see Donna Noble happily married to Lance. He meets Sylvia and Wilf and gives them a gift for Donna - a lottery ticket bought with money he had borrowed from Donna's late father.
His last visit is to the Powell Estate on New Year's Eve, 2004, where he sees Rose and Jackie Tyler. He keeps himself to the shadows as he tells her he knows she will have an amazing 2005. His health rapidly fading, he staggers back to the TARDIS. Ood Sigma appears to him, indicating that it is now time for his song to end. He doesn't want to go, but the Doctor regenerates explosively, wrecking the TARDIS. A new, younger Doctor suddenly finds that his ship is about to crash...
The End of Time Part 2 was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on January 1st, 2010. It was the last of the 2009 Special episodes, although - as you can see from that broadcast date - changes in scheduling of these meant that it wasn't shown until the start of the following year.
It marks the end of David Tennant's tenure as the Doctor, as well as Russell T Davies' time as showrunner, and Julie Gardner's as fellow exec-producer. Matt Smith is introduced in the closing moments as the Eleventh Doctor, in a sequence overseen by new showrunner Steven Moffat.
As the end of an era, it marks a few more departures - at least for now. Moffat will introduce a new TARDIS - both inside and out, although the 2005 TARDIS console room will return for cameos in Series 6 and in The Day of the Doctor (when the old police box shell will also be seen).
This is the last time (at least to date) we see a number of companion characters who featured throughout Davies' tenure. These include Donna, Martha and Rose, as well as Sylvia, Wilf, Jackie, Mickey and Captain Jack. Sarah and Luke will continue with their own adventures, and even meet the new Doctor, but sadly this was to be Lis Sladens' final appearance in Doctor Who.
A couple of other characters cameo - including Russell Tovey's Midshipman Frame and Jessica Hynes as a descendant of Joan Redfern - named Verity Newman (in recognition of two of the programmes' principal founders).
At the time it was also to be the final appearance by John Simm as the Master. He publicly stated that David Tennant was his Doctor, and he didn't envisage ever returning to the role. The Master is last seen battling Rassilon as they are dragged back into the Time War.
There are also a few alien cameos, especially in the space bar sequence where Jack meets Frame. We see a Judoon, a pair of Hath, Graske, Sycorax, Slitheen and a drunken Adipose, whilst Martha and Mickey are fighting against a Sontaran, Jask, once again played by Dan Starkey. Jack's appearance ties in with the conclusion to Torchwood: Children of Earth, where he had left the planet full of remorse for sacrificing his grandson.
The identity of the woman in white (Clare Bloom) is never made explicit, and fans speculated that she could be Susan, Romana or the Doctor's mother. Davies later stated that she was supposed to be the latter.
Only one new significant character is added in the second half of the story - The Visionary. She is an old woman covered in henna-like tattoos, and was played by Brid Brennan.
Overall, it is a satisfying conclusion to an incredibly popular phase of the programme. David Tennant is given a lot to do - and does it all excellently. Bernard Cribbins gives a superb performance, and Simm tones things down a bit for the second half of the story, and is the better for it. Some fans dislike the story for its extended conclusion, as the Doctor makes his farewell visits to old friends. I personally don't have a problem with this. Like Jon Pertwee chasing Lupton in a variety of modes of transport, in Part Two of Planet of the Spiders, it is indulgent, but Tennant (and Davies) deserved to be indulged. It was nice to be able to say farewell to these popular characters, who are sorely missed in the following seasons.
Things you might like to know:
- Davies long considered having the Time Lords ally themselves with the Daleks to end the Time War. He contacted Steven Moffat to see what he might be planning for the Daleks in his first season. Moffat was going to attempt a sort of relaunch for them, with a radical redesign, so Davies elected to omit them.
- Timothy Dalton was unsure how to pitch his performance as Rassilon, until he was reminded that he was a warrior. He had watched a few episodes of the revived series on BBC America, so was familiar with the latest incarnation of the show.
- Have a hunt through You Tube and you'll find David Tennant's farewell video, where he performs The Proclaimers' I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) with various cast members. Many of the crew also feature. Elsewhere you'll find the viseo dedicated to Davies and Gardner - with Tennant, Barrowman and Tate performing a variation of Victoria Wood's Ballad of Barry and Freda.
- The US President is said to be Barrack Obama. The Sound of Drums had featured a fictional POTUS, whilst UK Prime Ministers have also been made up - though Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have both been PM in the Doctor Who universe as they have been mentioned in earlier stories.
- The Vinvocci spaceship is called The Hesperus, although this is only mentioned in the DW: Confidential documentary. The Hesperus was a real clipper ship, the subject of an 1842 poem - The Wreck of the Hesperus - by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
- For a long time Davies planned to have the Doctor die in a much more low key fashion - saving a family he'd only just met, who were trapped on a damaged spaceship.
- Davies was insistent that all of the farewell scenes should be included - apart from Jessica Hynes'. She was about to travel overseas for work and it was not known if they were going to be able to get her. Her scenes were the first to be filmed, so they could catch her before she left the country.
- The Doctor saving Luke Smith from being hit by a car was Davies' deliberate reaction to noticing that characters in the first season of The Sarah Jane Adventures were always running across roads without looking where they were going.
- The space bar was claimed by Davies to be set on the planet Zog. This planet's name was used frequently by Davies to explain why he kept the series Earthbound in its earliest phase - believing the audience would not relate to "people from the planet Zog", as a catch-all term for non-human characters.
Wednesday, 22 May 2019
Foster isn't the only doctor who's gone to Gloucester... Seems there are some criminals lurking around Gloucester Cathedral, as it has been announced that the Judoon will be visiting the city's famous landmark in Series 12. The new series is filming there this week, and the BBC have released the above image as it looks like the rhino-headed policemen are likely to be spotted by the public anyway. From a video clip shown on BBC News website, the cathedral is playing itself in the present day, rather than being used as an historical backdrop as in the past (The Shakespeare Code was filmed in the vicinity, and the cathedral itself featured in the background for The Next Doctor).
The only change in their appearance seems to be that their leader has been given a mohawk hairstyle.
I can't say that this has exactly got me excited. They are way, way down the list of aliens I'd like to see return. The Judoon are extremely limited as characters, other than having some comic potential. They've only ever had one story to themselves - the Series 3 opener Smith and Jones - but they have been used as background aliens on a few other occasions. They worked well in the SJA story Prisoner of the Judoon, but that was played for laughs and featured a lone Judoon in a fish-out-of-water scenario.
At least the BBC are actually letting us know a little bit about what is going on this series. They were extremely heavy handed last time, slapping restraint orders on anyone who dared post anything which they deemed spoiler-y. This put a lot of fans' backs up. The ironic thing is that there wasn't a single thing which could have been leaked that might have been even remotely considered a spoiler.
Saturday, 18 May 2019
The Stones of Blood takes us up to the half way point in the Key to Time season. It is the first story to be written by David Fisher. It is also the 100th Doctor Who story, and the final episode was broadcast less than a week before the show's 15th anniversary. Naturally, there was a lot of coverage about the series during its broadcast.
The story itself was going to mark these events with a short sequence in the TARDIS prior to the story proper getting underway. It would have depicted Romana and K9 celebrating the Doctor's birthday with a cake and the gift of a new scarf - identical to the one he already wore.
Producer Graham Williams vetoed this sequence on the grounds that it was too self-knowing and self-indulgent. What we got instead was the rather dull scene of the Doctor and Romana in the black limbo room, where the Key segments appear to be kept in a fridge, recapping the story arc plot for viewers. The White Guardian is heard - but it is not Cyril Luckham. Rather, it was one of the actors who had been employed to voice the Megara justice machines which appear in the second half of the story. Romana finally discovers that it was the Guardian who sent her on this mission, rather than the President of the High Council of Time Lords.
It is a story of two halves. The first part is the best, and deals with British folklore and horror movie tropes. The second half sees the action switch to a spaceship in hyperspace, and a mini courtroom drama. The Doctor has unlocked a cell in which the aforementioned Megara have been trapped for centuries. Unfortunately this is a crime punishable by death, and the Doctor must defend himself against the charge whilst at the same time getting the justice machines to spot that the silver-skinned lady present is their original prisoner - the one who had escaped and locked them up in the first place.
Hyperspace is basically a sub-region of normal space which can be entered and passed through in order to travel faster than light. It has been a staple of science-fiction for many years, in various forms. It can be accessed via wormholes, for instance. The word first appeared in Sci-Fi stories of the late 1920's. The spaceship in this story is stuck in hyperspace. It is just above the stone circle which forms the focus for the story, but can't be seen as it sits in that different dimension.
A pair of aliens from previous stories are seen among the other captives on board - a Wirrn from Ark in Space, and a Kraal android from The Android Invasion.
The name Megara could either come from the wife of Heracles, or the ancient city in West Attica in Greece.
The Megara who married Heracles came from Thebes. The goddess Hera made Heracles mad and he killed his wife and children. When his sanity returned, Heracles visited the Oracle at Delphi - seeking a means of assuaging his guilt - who sent him off to work for King Eurystheus, which is when he was given his 12 labours to perform. One of the characters in last season's story Underworld, also script edited by Anthony Read, was based on Heracles.
The Stones of Blood is notable for its predominantly female guest cast - including the villain. There have been very few female baddies in the series, and an attempt to include one in Colony In Space was actually vetoed as being a little too kinky. Fisher claimed that he devised female villains as a means of getting back at some aunts of his whom he loathed as a boy.
Here we have Cesair of Diplos. The spaceship carrying her ran adrift in hyperspace and she managed to escape to Earth in prehistoric times. The implication is that the stone circle - the Nine Maidens - was set up to mark the location of the portal to the ship. Cesair has then stayed around the immediate area ever since, taking on a variety of guises so that she can control the locality - marrying (then quickly murdering) powerful husbands, and even becoming the abbess of the local nunnery.
The squire has a number of portraits of her from down through the centuries, which he keeps hidden in his cellar. (They've obviously been down there for a while as they are covered in dust and cobwebs, and yet they must have been up on his wall not that long ago). The notion of a portrait giving away the identity of a villain might just have been inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles.
One of the portraits is said to be by Ramsay. That would be the Scots artist Allan Ramsay (1713 - 1784), who was a much sought after society portraitist who would become painter to George III.
The convent which Cesair ran was dedicated to Saint Gudula. She was born in 646 AD in Brabant (modern Belgium). She is usually depicted holding a candle and lantern - referring to a legend that she always used to go to church before the sun rose, and a demon tried to extinguish her light so that she would lose her way.
In the late 1970's, when the Doctor and Romana arrive in search of the third Key segment, Cesair is posing as Vivien Fay, a spinster of the parish who lives in a cottage near to the stones (but not in the manor house for some reason. Her history would suggest that it should have been more likely for her to have wed then killed squire De Vries - or one of his ancestors - and so lived at Boscombe Hall, where her portraits after all are to be found).
The name Fay is suggestive of Morgana Le Fay of Arthurian myth. Earliest versions of the story actually have her the magical protector of King Arthur, but over time she became his elder sister and is enemy. Unlike in the John Boorman film Excalibur, Mordred is her nephew and not her son via an incestuous relationship with Arthur. One of Vivien's earlier guises was called Morgana, just to ram home the Arthurian reference.
Fay also adopts the guise of an ancient Celtic goddess known as the Cailleach. She derives from Irish, Scots and Manx legend, and the word means old woman or hag. In Scotland she is known as the Queen of Winter and is a witch-like figure who dwells in mountain regions - created when she dropped rocks from her basket as she strode over the landscape. As a winter deity, it was claimed that she turned to stone every spring (which just happens to be Cesair's ultimate fate). There are many legends of how various lochs were formed involving the Cailleach - when she allowed a well to overrun when she fell asleep instead of watching over it.
Staying with Vivien is the archaeologist Prof Amelia Rumford. As far as fandom is concerned, they are in a Sapphic relationship. It isn't obvious from what we see on screen, although Rumford does exhibit a fixation on truncheons and sausages...
Rumford is played by Beatrix Lehmann, in her final TV appearance. She was still acting on the stage when she passed away at the age of 76 in July 1979. The director had initially approached Honor Blackman to play Vivien Fay, but when she heard that Lehmann was playing opposite her she withdrew claiming that Lehmann would get all the best lines. The role of Fay went instead to Susan Engel.
Other than the Doctor, the only significant male character we see is the squire - and he gets killed in the second episode. De Vries is said to be a follower of the Druidic religion. The Druids were the priests of the Celts at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain, said to worship in forest groves and to practice human sacrifice including burning people alive in straw effigies (a la The Wicker Man). The Romans were normally respectful of the religions they came across and often assimilated them, but they drew the line at human sacrifice and so wiped out the Druids, who made their last stand on Anglesey in North Wales. As the Doctor mentions, modern notions of the Druids are a 17th Century invention - a sanitised version developed out of antiquarian theories. The men with big beards wearing bed sheets who go round Wales and Glastonbury, or turn up at Stonehenge every Midsummer, derive from this more recent invention - despite what they claim.
One of the antiquarians (the forerunners of archaeologists) mentioned by Prof Rumford is William Borlase. He was a Cornish parson (the county where The Stones of Blood is set) and wrote two histories of the region. The Doctor mentions John Aubrey in relation to the background to modern Druids. Aubrey (1626 - 1697) embarked on a tour of England recording megalithic sites - often for the first time - and he collected many folk tales, myths and legends.
The scene which people remember most from this story - the two campers being killed by one of the Ogri - was a last minute addition to an under-running episode. Its the sequence which is most redolent of what's known as Folk Horror movies (films set in the countryside involving ancient evils being reawakened). Ogri comes from ogres, of course. Fisher had been thinking of the legendary British giants Gog and Magog (originally a single giant named Gogmagog), who are associated with the founding of London.
Next time: Double trouble for Romana on the planet Tara and the Doctor buckles a few swashes in a pastiche of a famous adventure novel...
Tuesday, 14 May 2019
In which Wilf Mott is doing some late Christmas shopping and decides to drop into a church. Lately he has been having nightmares about a strange, maniacal figure. In the church he encounters a woman dressed in white who tells him of a legend concerning the founding of the place, and he realises that it refers to the Doctor as he spots what looks like the TARDIS represented in a stained glass window. The woman vanishes before he can find out who she is. The Doctor, meanwhile, has finally arrived on the Ood Sphere, following the psychic image of Ood Sigma which he had seen just after his doomed attempt to save Adelaide Brooke. Sigma is there to welcome him and takes him to meet their elders. They tell him of visions they have been having, and of the End of Time. They allow him to share these visions, and he witnesses glimpses of Wilf, an unknown man and woman, and the Master. The whole universe has been having nightmares about the Master. He realises that the Master has found some way to return from the dead, and rushes to the TARDIS. It materialises outside the ruins of the prison where Lucy Saxon had been incarcerated. He has delayed too long in going to the Ood Sphere and now it is too late. The Master had prepared for his return through a secret cult who followed his Harold Saxon guise. They possessed his ring, stolen from his funeral pyre, and from Lucy they obtained some genetic material from which to reconstitute him. However, Lucy has also prepared for his return, and she sacrifices herself to sabotage the resurrection.
The Master still looks like Harold Saxon, and he is forced to hide amongst London's homeless -though even here he is recognised. His metabolism is breaking down - causing him to have a voracious appetite. At times he turns into a skeletal figure, and he is able to emit powerful energy bolts and to fly through the air. Wilf gets his friends together to hunt for the Doctor, and they are able to trace him after the TARDIS was spotted at the prison. They go to a cafe where Wilf intends for the Doctor to see Donna again, from afar. He would like to see her back the way she was when she travelled in the TARDIS, but the Doctor reminds him that to remember could kill her. Donna is about to be married, but she and her fiance have little money and there is a global recession. The Doctor finally manages to track down the Master to a nearby piece of waste ground. The Doctor wants to help him but is shocked to discover that his old enemy really can hear the sound of drums in his head. It is not just his crazed imagination. The Master is suddenly captured by black-clad troops and taken away in a helicopter. The following morning, Christmas Day, the Doctor goes to see Wilf, who has just seen the woman in white on his TV screen, warning that the Doctor is in danger, but he must not tell him about her. Earlier, Donna had given Wilf a book by a businessman named Joshua Naismith, but couldn't say why she had bought it for him. When Wilf shows the book to the Doctor he sees that Naismith is the man he had seen in the Ood visions.
Naismith is a millionaire who has managed to salvage a piece of alien technology from Torchwood. It was he who has abducted the Master. It has been shown that the alien machine can repair injuries, and Naismith intends for the Master to refine the device so that it will make his daughter immortal. Two of his technical staff are really green-skinned alien Vinvocci in human disguise, named Addams and Rossiter. They are salvagers and have come to retrieve the machine. The Master is left to work on the device and realises its true potential. The Doctor and Wilf travel to Naismith's mansion by TARDIS and meet the Vinvocci, who reveal that the machine - the Immortality Gate - can heal entire planets. The Doctor and Wilf arrive in the main hall too late to stop the Master breaking free and leaping into the Gate, which is fully activated. It will translate the Master's body print across the whole of the Earth - turning everyone into himself. He is now the President of the USA, the whole Chinese People's Liberation Army, Naismith and his daughter, and even Donna's mother Sylvia and her fiance Lance. The Master is everyone, and everyone is the Master. Everyone, that is, except Donna Noble - but she is beginning to remember the Doctor...
Events on Earth are being observed from afar. On Gallifrey, on the last day of the Time War, Rassilon has a plan for saving the Time Lords...
The End of Time Part 1 was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on 25th December 2009. It is the first half of David Tennant's epic final outing as the Doctor, and sees the return of the Master, as portrayed by John Simm, as well as reintroducing the Time Lords.
They are led once again by their great hero Rassilon, played by former Bond Timothy Dalton. He narrates the episode and is initially only seen in tight close-up - his Time Lord robes only being seen in a reveal at the story's cliffhanger.
In keeping with the rest of the 2009 special episodes, the Doctor is partnered with a stand alone companion - in this case the previously established Wilf Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins. Donna and her mum Sylvia also return. In the cafe scene, the Doctor comments on the coincidences which surround Wilf and his family. Long before meeting Donna he had encountered Wilf when he was selling newspapers on Christmas Eve just before the Titanic spaceship almost crashed onto the planet. Many enemies had failed to trace the Doctor and yet Donna had found him again, and Wilf and his pensioner friends - known as the "Silver Cloak" manage to trace him fairly easily.
Among the "Silver Cloak" we have the late great June Whitfield, as Minnie Caldwell, and Barry Howard as Oliver - best known for his role in the BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi!.
The Vinvocci are said to be related to the Zocci (Bannakaffalatta's people). They are green instead of red but have the same spiky features. Rossiter is played by Lawry Lewin, whilst Addams is Sinead Keenan, who had played werewolf George's girlfriend in Being Human.
Other returnees include Alexandra Moen as Lucy Saxon, and Paul Kasey as Ood Sigma. The Chief Ood Elder is voiced by Brian Cox, cinema's original Hannibal Lecter, and who has since featured in many Holywood blockbusters such as the second X-Men movie, a couple of the Jason Bourne films and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Other cast members of note include Clare Bloom, who plays the mysterious Woman in White who appears to Wilf, and David Harewood, as Joshua Naismith, who is currently a regular in the Supergirl series.
Things you might like to know:
- The Vinvocci originally had flesh-coloured faces, with only their skulls being green. After filming had already taken place Davies decided that he would prefer them to be totally green, so their faces were coloured digitally.
- An advert for Naismith's mobile phone network had featured on the side of the 200 bus in Planet of the Dead.
- The Immortality Gate had been mentioned by the Trickster in the Sarah Jane Adventures crossover story The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.
- The Master bangs on an oil drum in a pattern of four beats to attract the Doctor - seeming to presage the "he will knock four times" prophesy.
- As her memories of the Doctor return, Donna sees glimpses of Davros, the Racnoss Queen, Sontarans, the Vespiform, Vashta Nerada and Pyroviles.
- John Sim had to spend hours putting on various costumes to be composited into scenes where everyone becomes the Master. For some sequences, however, extras were filmed at distance wearing a mask of his face.
- The two parts of this story were at one point going to have their own titles. This first half was to have been called "The Final Days of Planet Earth".
- This is only the second story to feature the actor playing the villain to get his name in the opening credits. The last time it was also the Master - as played by Eric Roberts in the 1996 TV Movie.
- The Master commands Lucy "You will obey me!" at one point during his resurrection - a nod to Roger Delgado's original portrayal of the character.
- When Wilf suggests to the Doctor that he simply use the TARDIS to go back a day to locate the Master, the Doctor confirms the long-held fan notion that Time Lords must always meet in chronological order to each other. Steven Moffat and the DWM comic strip will later disregard this.
- At one point Davies toyed with the idea of it being Omega rather than Rassilon who had been resurrected to lead the Time Lords.
We'll take a look at the story overall, with a few more things you might like to know, once we have covered The End of Time Part 2 next time...
Thursday, 9 May 2019
In 1971, a very tall young man went up to Cambridge University. He wasn't all that keen on actually working once he got there, however, being rather more interested in joining the famous Footlights comedy revue team. He was unsuccessful initially, so got together with a couple of friends and created his own comedy group. This led to him finally getting an invite to join Footlights in 1973. By the following year he had arrived in London, eager to write for TV and radio. Joining a Footlights Revue show in the West End, he came to the attention of Graham Chapman, of Monty Python fame -who invited him to write material together. John Cleese had stepped away from Python at this time. The young scribe wrote some material for Python's fourth series, and even appeared in a couple of sketches. Things then went quiet, and he worked away at an idea which had begun when he had done some hitchhiking around Europe. Imagine a Hitchhikers Guide for the whole galaxy...
Our writer - Douglas Noel Adams - decided that the idea might be a good one for Doctor Who, and so submitted it to the BBC. Robert Holmes said no thank you. Adams also submitted an idea for a Doctor Who movie - "Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen" - but this was also rejected. However, his ideas caught the imagination of the programme's new script editor, Anthony Read, and he was invited to submit a new story. After much, much, much revision, this would become The Pirate Planet, and be broadcast as the second story of Season 16 - the Key to Time season.
Adams' starting point was an image of the Doctor being chased and jumping down through a trapdoor in the floor - only to discover that the planet he was visiting was hollow. When informed about the structure for Season 16, Adams wondered what would happen to the planets where the key segments were hidden. If was disguised as a continent, for instance, would there be a massive continent-shaped hole when it was removed? He had an idea about the Doctor going to a planet where new continents were made - the inspiration for the planet-building world of Magrathea in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The Doctor was to have visited a planet where everyone was very nice and polite, and in the centre of the main city was a huge statue of a Time Lord who had gone missing here many centuries ago. The spirit of this Time Lord, Malchios, was still alive, trapped within the statue, which absorbed all the hostility from the population - which was why they were so insufferably nice all the time. The planet had been rich in a mineral which the Time Lords used in TARDIS construction, and Malchios had mined out the entire centre of the planet to turn it into one vast TARDIS, which would time jump to Gallifrey and smother it, as he had felt abandoned by the Time Lords. The villain later changed to a space captain trapped in a pocket universe, and even the daughter of the Master, who was targeting planets where the Doctor had defeated her father.
Producer Graham Williams decided that he wanted to do a story about pirates, and felt that the Time Lords had featured too often recently. Adams duly changed his villain to a pirate captain, whose planet simply went round smothering other worlds in order to loot them of their mineral wealth - which is basically the story that we got to see.
Another of Adams' ideas which he managed to insert into The Pirate Planet was the notion of a business which sold Time. If your time was running out, the very wealthy could buy some more and so prolong their existence. This made it into the finished programme through the character of the aged Queen Xanxia, who is using the planets captured by the Captain to power Time Dams, which maintain her in the final moments of life. (The actress playing the decrepit Queen asked for extra money for taking her false teeth out - and was given it). As Read and Adams polished the script, the Captain became a more tragic figure, enslaved by Xanxia who was creating a new younger body for herself, and he was secretly working on a scheme to use the crushed remains of the planets to breach the Time Dams and destroy her.
Having gone from little work to getting a script commissioned for Doctor Who, Adams suddenly found that the BBC wanted to turn his Hitchhikers pilot idea into a full radio series. He had to work on both projects at the same time - prioritising Hitchhikers as it had the earliest deadline. (Adams famously said of deadlines that he liked them - "I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly past...").
So, what elements of pirate lore find their way into this story? Well, we have the Captain for a start, whose headquarters are referred to as "the Bridge". The Captain had been a feared space pirate but had been badly injured when his spaceship crashed on Calufrax. His body was repaired with cybernetic implants and attachments. These include a robotic arm with inbuilt gun - replacing the hook of Captain Hook or the spike of Captain Pike. He has an electronic eye - replacing the eye-patch of many a pirate - and he has a prosthetic leg, which replaces the peg-leg of Long John Silver.
For a pet he has a robotic bird of prey, the Polyphase Avatron - "Polly" reminding us of "Pretty Polly", which parrots are often said to say. The Polyphase Avatron was originally scripted to talk - saying "Pieces of Silicate", instead of "Pieces of Eight". The design of the bird was based on an archaic Greek warrior's helmet.
As a means of disposing of his enemies, the Captain either uses his pet, or he makes them walk the plank - falling from the Bridge which is built on top of a mountain. Two later Doctor Who stories with a Pirate theme have walking the plank as a threat to the Doctor or one of his companions - Enlightenment and Curse of the Black Spot. It should be mentioned that this is not the first time the programme has adopted pirates as the basis for a story. We had The Smugglers back in 1966, and then The Space Pirates in 1969.
In 2018 I watched reruns of the entire three series of Lost in Space. There was a story in the first season called The Sky Pirate (1966). This involved a space-going pirate, played by Albert Raimi, who had a robotic parrot. The character, Alonzo P. Tucker, returned the following year in Treasure of the Lost Planet.
I'd be surprised if Adams had never seen either of these episodes.
Adams came up with a lot of ideas, and he was never one to fail to capitalise on them. Many of the names, bits of dialogue, and concepts reappear in later works - especially later entries in the Hitchhikers series of novels. His unused movie idea, recently novelised, formed part of the third Hitchhikers book, for instance. There is mention of a planet called Bandraginus V, whilst the Pan Galactic Gargleblaster has an ingredient from a planet called Santraginus V. The Doctor tells his temporary companion Kimus "Don't Panic" at one point, and says to one of the Captain's guards "Standing around all day looking tough must be very wearing on the nerves" - a line which he then gave to Ford Prefect when addressing a Vogon guard.
The Pirate Planet made such an impression on fans that future writers will be tripping over themselves to reference it in later stories, or simply steal from it, as we'll see when we get to them.
One production story worth mentioning before we go. The Doctor bangs his face on the TARDIS console when first attempting to land on Calufrax. This scene was included to cover for the fact that Tom Baker had a visible scar on his upper lip from when Paul Seed's dog bit him during the making of the previous story. Its party piece was to snatch a sausage from someone's mouth.
Next time: Two down, four to go. It's back into Hammer Horror territory as we encounter human sacrifices, vampiric standing stones and pagan goddesses, with a sprinkling of Arthurian myth thrown in for good measure. The writer starts to take revenge on his aunties, and sausage sandwiches have never sounded so naughty...
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
In which the Doctor takes a trip to the planet Mars. Exploring, he comes across an expedition from Earth. He finds himself captured by a small robot, and is forced to enter the base. Inside he meets the commander, Adelaide Brooke, and her colleagues. Second in command is Ed Gold, and the Doctor is also introduced to Yuri Kerenski, Mia Bennett, Steffi Ehrlich, Tarak Ital and Roman Groom. Two other crew members - Andy Stone and Maggie Caine - are in the hydroponics section, where Andy has just grown a crop of carrots - the first ever grown on Mars. The Doctor is initially held under suspicion as a member of a rival expedition, for this is supposed to be the first manned base on the planet - named Bowie Base One. The Doctor is shocked to hear this, as he knows something of the base's future. It was destroyed in an unexplained explosion on 21st November, 2059. The Doctor is horrified to discover that today is that day. He realises that he must leave, as this is a fixed point in time which cannot be altered. The death of Adelaide Brooke will inspire her granddaughter to become an astronaut, who will help usher in a new era of space exploration which will take the human race out into the cosmos. When the crew attempt to contact Andy and Maggie to come and meet the new arrival they hear an inhuman voice over the intercom.
The Doctor and Adelaide go with Tarak to the hydroponics dome where they find Maggie unconscious. They summon the robot, which Roman has nicknamed Gadget. They then see Andy attacking Tarak. His body is producing huge quantities of water which he is pouring onto Tarak. His eyes are white, and the skin around his mouth is cracked and blackened. Tarak becomes like him. The Doctor and Adelaide are forced to flee, with Andy and Tarak in pursuit. Maggie appears to be unharmed but is placed in an isolation booth in the sickbay. Yuri is the base medic and as he watches a video of his brother back on Earth, Maggie becomes fascinated with the images of the planet - especially its oceans. Yuri suddenly finds that Maggie has also been infected like Andy and Tarak. The Doctor tries to communicate with her and discovers that she is speaking an ancient Martian language. He and Adelaide investigate the cause of the infection. The base draws its water from an ice floe beneath the base. A filter in the hydroponics dome had failed, and the carrot crop has become infected. The Doctor recalls a parasite which the Ice Warriors had fought against, and he realises that it must have lain dormant in the ice. It was known as the Flood. He now knows why the base was destroyed, but still feels compelled to leave. He cannot prevent what is going to happen. Andy and Tarak continue to generate infected water, and are using it to break through the base's structure. Maggie has also managed to break out of the isolation area. A single drop of the infected water will mutate anyone it touches.
Adelaide has worked out that the Doctor knows something about what is happening, and forces him to tell her. He informs her of the base's destruction, but also about how it will inspire her granddaughter and what that will mean for the future of the human race. As the crew members begin to be taken over by the Flood, the Doctor dons his spacesuit and leaves the base. Ed is getting the rocket ready to take the survivors back to Earth when Maggie appears and infects him. He elects to self-destruct the vessel with himself on board, knowing that the Flood will infect everyone on Earth if it gets off Mars. The Doctor decides to go back to the base and save who he can. He is Time Lord - the last of the Time Lords - and is no longer bound by the laws of time. Adelaide is shocked by his actions, after everything he had told her about the future. She decides to activate the self-destruct - a nuclear explosive under the base. The Doctor uses Gadget to go and fetch the TARDIS, bringing it into the base just before it explodes, destroying the Flood. He manages to save Adelaide, Yuri and Mia. The TARDIS materialises outside Adelaide's home. Future history as been changed, and the Doctor exults in his new powers. Adelaide is appalled by his arrogant disregard for the future. She goes into her house and kills herself. History is put back on track, only now it is her grandmother's suicide which prompts Susie Fontana Brooke to follow in Adelaide's footsteps. The Doctor is left guilt-ridden at his hubris. He suddenly sees an image of Ood Sigma. Having gone too far, the Doctor thinks that perhaps it might be time for him to die. However, he returns to the TARDIS, determined to prolong the inevitable for as long as he can...
The Waters of Mars was written by Russell T Davies and Phil Ford, and was first broadcast on 15th November, 2009. It was the third of the one hour special episodes which followed Series 4, leading up to David Tennant's departure. The story had an on screen dedication to Barry Letts, producer of Doctor Who from 1970 - 1974, and exec-producer on Season 18. He had passed away on 9th October, 2009.
Originally, it was planned that this story would be broadcast at Christmas, with Tennant's swansong the following week at New Year. This is why the street where the TARDIS lands is covered in snow, and we would have seen the Bowie Base crew preparing for their first Christmas dinner on Mars. A working title had been "Red Christmas". As The End of Time expanded, it was decided to move this story to an earlier broadcast date. It was to have been shown on Saturday 21st November - the date which features in the story 50 years hence - but scheduling by the BBC moved it to the Sunday before this.
Phi Ford, who had become the lead writer on The Sarah Jane Adventures, had come up with a quite different story, called "A Midwinter's Tale", which would have featured an alien princess arrive on Earth, pursued by her enemies in what would have been more of a festive romp.
As with all of the 2009 Specials, the Doctor is partnered with a one-off "companion" - in this case Captain Adelaide Brooke, played by Lindsay Duncan. Davies had hoped to secure the services of Helen Mirren for the role, and the character was originally going to be Russian.
Ed Gold is played by former Neighbours star Peter O'Brien. He had featured in the second season of Davies' Queer As Folk, playing Doctor Who fan Vince's would be boyfriend - who gets dumped when he can't name all the actors who played the Doctor. Yuri is Bosnian actor Aleksandar Mikic. Mia is Gemma Chan. Playing Andy Stone we have the first appearance of Alan Ruscoe without being hidden under layers of latex. In Series 1 in 2005 he had been an Auton, a Slitheen, one of the Forest of Cheem, Trin-E and the Anne-Droid. Chook Ibtain (Tarak) had featured in Warriors of Kudlak - one of The Sarah Jane Adventures - as the villainous Mr Grantham. Maggie Caine is Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Roman Groom is Michael Goldsmith, and Steffi Erhlich is Cosima Shaw. Ironically, Shaw would go on to appear in the National Geographic TV series Mars.
Paul Kasey also makes an appearance - as Ood Sigma.
The Waters of Mars also features a cameo from a Dalek - their only appearance in David Tennant's final year. We see a flashback to an incident from Adelaide's youth, set during the events of The Stolen Earth, when she saw a Dalek flying in the sky outside her bedroom window which spared her life.
Overall, a fast paced adventure with some pretty scary monsters, of the old base-under-siege school.
Things you might like to know:
- This was director Graeme Harper' final Doctor Who story. He had directed fifteen stories in total, starting with 1984's Caves of Androzani, plus some SJA's.
- In deleted dialogue, the Doctor claimed that the Ice Warriors had failed to defeat the Flood, which is why they had abandoned Mars.
- The base is named after David Bowie, who had recorded the song Life on Mars for his 1971 album Hunky Dory. There is another Bowie reference hidden in the dialogue when Adelaide tells her crew that they won't see another human being for five years - Five Years being another Bowie title.
- The Doctor's spacesuit is the one he picked up on Sanctuary Base 6 on Krop Tor, in The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit.
- There is a mistake in one of the web news pages which we see about the destruction of the base. It claims that Adelaide had 7 people in her crew, when there were in fact 8.
- As the Doctor struggles with his decision whether or not to leave the base crew to their fate, we hear snippets of dialogue from earlier stories. These include Rise of the Cybermen, Doomsday, Gridlock, Utopia and The Doctor's Daughter.
- Carmen's prophesy from Planet of the Dead - presaging his demise - appears to be coming to fruition when the Doctor hears Andy knock three times on the door. The Doctor sends an electric shock through the door to prevent him knocking for the fourth time.
- Davies was inspired to create the robot Gadget after watching the Pixar movie Wall-E.
Thursday, 2 May 2019
Before we look at the Season 16 opener The Ribos Operation, it might be an idea to recap on events in the closing months of Season 14. You'll recall that the BBC had started to take Mrs Whitehouse's complaints about Doctor Who seriously, and it was decided that producer Philip Hinchcliffe should move on to other projects whilst his replacement reconfigured the series to cut down on the violence and overt horror, and inject more humour and fantasy. Graham Williams had been setting up a new crime drama called Target, which was to be the BBC's response to ITV's The Sweeney. He suddenly found himself being asked to leave this project and transfer over to Doctor Who - with Hinchcliffe being swapped onto Target. This was all pretty much a done deal, though Williams was asked to pitch some ideas as to the direction which he would take the show, before his appointment was finalised.
What he came up with was the idea of a series which would have an overarching plot. All six stories would fit together to form a longer narrative, rewarding the long term viewer, whilst still being accessible to the casual audience. Each story could be watched in isolation, as the story arc wouldn't necessarily dominate. For the last 8 years, the series had positioned the Time Lords as the universe's supreme beings - but what if there was someone, or something, even greater than they? This would be some cosmic elemental force representing Good and Evil, Light and Dark, Order and Chaos. There would be two beings, representing opposing forces, who between them kept the universe balanced. However, occasionally this equilibrium would start to unbalance, and would need to be restored.
Williams came up with the Guardians - one White, one Black - who represented these opposing forces. Universal harmony would be maintained by a key, which was split into several parts and scattered, disguised, throughout Time. When required, it would have to be gathered together and operated to restore things. Williams' series would see the Doctor being sent on a mission by the White Guardian to collect the key components, whilst keeping them from falling into the hands of agents of the Black Guardian - the villains who would populate the individual stories which made up the season.
Williams arrived on the programme as The Robots of Death was in rehearsal, and work was already far advanced on The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had already commissioned some of the stories which would make up Season 15 - so there was no way that Williams could produce his story arc season straight away. He would have to wait until his first full season in sole charge.
To get things started, Holmes was asked to write the opening story. Holmes had a fascinating life. Thanks to lying about his age to enlist, he became the youngest serving British Army officer in WWII. After the war he became a police officer. He then decided that he preferred writing about crime to catching criminals and became a newspaper reporter, before finally writing for TV.
The series had always featured criminal elements - human or otherwise - but had never made an actual crime caper story. In the 1960's and '70's a number of confidence trickster scams made the newspaper headlines - often featuring plots which seemed so fantastical that it was hard to believe that anyone would be dumb enough to fall for them. Selling Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Eiffel Tower were just a couple of examples. (When comic actor Dick Emery made his 1972 big screen feature, Ooh... You Are Awful, rather than employ sketches as he had on his popular BBC TV series, he used a single plot about a con-man. This enabled him to still include his well-known TV show characters - now as disguises for the con-man).
The Ribos Operation features a pair of con-men - Garron and his sidekick Unstoffe. They are the latest of Holmes' trademark comedic double acts (following the likes of Vorg & Shirna, Kalik & Orum and Jago & Litefoot). At one point Garron mentions a con he worked on Earth - the sale of Sydney Harbour Bridge, just like the tabloid stories. The character was originally going to be Australian, and actor Ian Cuthbertson does seem to have an Aussie accent at some points. However, we then hear that he actually comes from Hackney Wick, which is a district of East London.
This being a science fiction series, it is not landmarks which Garron tries to sell to the gullible, but whole planets. he and Unstoffe have come to Ribos to try to sell it to the Graff Vynda-K, a warmongering noble who has been deposed by his own people. To make their scheme more attractive, they employ a piece of the mineral Jethrik - which is incredibly valuable. They make out that there is Jethrik to be found on the planets they are flogging. Of course, the lump of Jethrik turns out to be the first disguised component of the Key to Time which the Doctor is seeking.
To aid in his quest, the Doctor has been given a new assistant by the White Guardian - a member of his own race. She is Romanadvoratrelundar - or Romana for short. The Doctor gives her this shortened name - it is that or Fred, and she actually opts for the latter. Romana has just graduated from the Time Lord Academy on Gallifrey, and is academically smarter than the Doctor, but with little or no experience of the universe. The character was created to be the exact opposite to the untutored, instinctual Leela, once it became clear that Louise Jameson could not be persuaded to stay for another season. Williams had actually asked Lis Sladen to return first, but at the time she felt there wasn't anything new to add to the character of Sarah Jane Smith and it was too soon to think of going back. Mary Tamm got the role of Romana. She had just featured prominently in The Odessa File, and was reluctant to take on a TV job at first, but her agent thought that the exposure in a popular show would be no bad thing for her career. She was promised that the part would be different to previous companions, being of the Doctor's own people. Tamm was into all things mystical and often consulted an astrologer when making decisions. She was pleased when Romana got to wear a white costume in the first story, as this was a lucky colour according to the astrologer. (We'll come back to this astrologer when we get to The Androids of Tara).
Of course, the Doctor still has K9 to assist him as well - or at least the new K9 Mark II, still voiced by John Leeson. The new version had been built to be quieter and supposedly more manoeuvrable.
Ribos is a scientifically backward planet, whose inhabitants know nothing of life on other worlds and who believe their decades-long seasons result from a battle between the Sun and Ice Gods.
The whole look of this planet is based on Medieval Russia, and to the films of Sergei Eisenstein. The designers would surely have seen his Ivan the Terrible (released in two parts - Part I in 1944, and Part II: The Boyars' Plot in 1958. The reason for the lengthy gap between the two halves is that the second part was banned by Stalin, and it couldn't be released until after his death. There was to have been a Part III, but it was cancelled after the banning of Part II). The other great historical epic of Eisenstein's which might have inspired the look of The Ribos Operation is Alexander Nevsky, which was released in 1938. It tells of an invasion by Teutonic Knights of the city of Novgorod. The Graff Vynda-K's bodyguards have the look of Teutonic Knights. The various Ribosian officials are given the large fur trimmed skullcap hats similar to the famous Monomakh Cap worn by the early Tsars, and the treasure room of capital city Shurr is decorated with pictures which look very much like Russian Icons.
During the course of the story Unstoffe meets and befriends an old homeless man who sleeps in a tent in the city concourse. His name is Binro, and we hear that the officials call him Binro the Heretic. This is because he once advocated publicly that the lights in the sky were not ice crystals, but other suns, which might have other worlds around them. Most guide books on Doctor Who lazily
tend to get stuck on him being a reference to Galileo, whose heliocentric views of the cosmos led to him being prosecuted by the Roman Inquisition. The clue to the real inspiration for Binro is there if you look at his name. Giordano Bruno (born in Nola, Italy, in 1548) was a Dominican friar who proposed that the stars were other suns, which probably had other planets orbiting them where there might be life. He also claimed that as the universe was infinite, it could not have a centre, where the Catholic Church claimed Earth to be. Bruno entertained other theological beliefs which ran counter to Church dogma. He didn't believe in Hell, and doubted both the divinity of Christ and the virginity of Mary. After travelling widely through Europe publicising his philosophy, he returned to Italy in 1593 and was soon after arrested by the Inquisition and accused of heresy. In February 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori. Now famous for its fruit & veg market, it has a statue of Bruno brooding over it, marking the spot where he died. Binro is clearly Bruno, rather than Galileo.
Next time: One down, five to go. A young man who has been trying to get a Doctor Who story commissioned for a while finally strikes lucky, just as he is about to find fame with a radio show about hitchhikers...