Monday, 30 December 2019
On Christmas Eve my router decided to give up the ghost, so I had an internet-free Christmas. I'm taking the opportunity to change my internet provider - but unfortunately this means that I won't have full internet access until the 16th January. I will still be writing reviews on the first three new episodes, but there won't be any other weekly posts until this is resolved.
Monday, 23 December 2019
In which the honeymoon of Amy and Rory is turning into a bit of a disaster. They are trapped on a space liner which is about to crash onto an alien planet. This world's atmosphere is permanently storm-lashed. The Doctor travels to the surface, arriving in the city of Sardicktown. The Sardicks are a powerful family who virtually run the planet. Kazran Sardick's father built a device which can control the skies, calming the storms. He is an embittered old man who is cruel to everyone. His father had made his fortune from money-lending, the borrowers providing members of their own family as collateral. They are held in suspended animation in caskets resting on an ice lake beneath his mansion. The Doctor witnesses a family seeking to have their relative released for a forthcoming mid-winter holiday - a young woman named Abigail. Kazran refuses to allow their request. He also refuses to heed the President's call to use his machine to allow the space liner to land safely. The Doctor is thrown out of the house, and has to think of a way to make Kazran change his mind. On hearing a Christmas carol playing over a tannoy, he has an idea. He will go back in time and try to make Kazran a less sociopathic man. Alone in his rooms, Kazran suddenly starts to experience different memories. He watches an old video diary he made as a boy - and sees the Doctor appear in it, addressing him in his present.
Young Kazran is bullied by his father. He longs to see one of the flying fish which sometimes descend from the ice clouds into the city, but his father never allows this. The Doctor decides to arrange for a fish to descend, using his sonic screwdriver to lure it to the house. It proves to be bigger and more fierce than he expected - a full size shark. It bites the end off the screwdriver, but then falls ill. The Doctor and Kazran must get it back into the clouds, and so they descend to the ice lake to use one of the people containers. The one they select is Abigail's. The shark recovers and attacks them, but Abigail's singing calms the creature. They place it in the the container and take it to the TARDIS, returning it to the skies. The older Kazran has fond memories of Abigail. The Doctor and his younger self decide to release Abigail every Christmas Eve, to spend the day travelling in the TARDIS. The Doctor has not noticed that there is a counter on her container, which is counting down towards zero after each trip. Kazran grows into a young man, and he falls in love with Abigail. They visit man places on Earth, including attending a party at Frank Sinatra's house where the Doctor gets himself engaged to Marilyn Monroe. Kazran knows the significance of the counter, and when the next Christmas Eve arrives, he shuns the Doctor - preferring to help his father perfect the cloud calming machine. He tells the Doctor that Abigail w as dying when she was put into hibernation. The counter indicates how many days she has left to live - just the one. The Doctor has tried the ghost of Christmas Past, and seemingly failed, so he next tries the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Kazran is visited by a hologram of Amy Pond, and is then projected on to the stricken space liner, where he sees the passengers and crew who he is going to let die. This fails to stir his conscience.
The Doctor then turns to the Ghost of Christmas Future - as he lets the young Kazran see what kind of man he will become. This finally does the trick. Kazran agrees to use the machine to clam the skies and allow the space liner to make a safe landing. However, the controls were isomorphic - responding only to Kazran - and he has been changed so much that they don't recognise him. The Doctor must find an alternative, and remembers how Abigail's singing had calmed the shark. Kazran knows that this will be Abigail's final day, but the Doctor points out that today - Christmas Day - is as good a day as any other. Abigail is released and sings to the sharks and fish, and the skies are becalmed. The space liner is able to land, and the Doctor is reunited with Amy and Rory. He must take young Kazran back to his own time, but the older Kazran intends to make this a Christmas Day to remember with Abigail...
A Christmas Carol was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 25th December, 2010. It was his first Christmas Special - and the first for Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. After his first one, Russell T Davies had inclined towards using guest artists as temporary companions for his Specials - Catherine Tate, Kylie Minogue, David Morrissey, and Bernard Cribbins. Amy and Rory do feature in this story, but only in limited fashion as they are trapped on the crashing spaceship. The Doctor instead teams up with various versions of Kazran Sardick, and Abigail. She is played by Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins. She hadn't acted before. The older Kazran is the main guest artist, Michael Gambon - best known these days as the second incarnation of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, when he took over the role following the death of Richard Harris for the third instalment. Playing Kazran as a young man is another newcomer to acting - Danny Horn. He had only just graduated from stage school when he landed the role. The youngest iteration of Kazran was played by Laurence Belcher (who has played the young Charles Xavier in two of the X-Men prequels). He also played Prince William in a biopic of Princess Diana.
It goes without saying that the inspiration for this story is there in the title and the Doctor even acknowledges it in the dialogue - Charles Dickens' festive tale of the redemption of the miser Ebeneezer Scrooge. The Doctor arranges for "ghosts" from past, present and future to make Kazran change his ways and become a better person. (The Doctor plays the ghost from the past, Amy the one from the present, and Kazran himself becomes the ghost of the future). He's from a family of money-lenders, and even uses some of Scrooge's language - talking about the problems of "the surplus population".
Not sure where the shark comes from. Is Moffat thinking that Jaws is regularly shown at Christmas time on UK television? It may simply be that RTD had used up all the obvious Christmas icons to subvert.
Music plays a big part in the story, hence Jenkins' casting. Murray Gold had written songs for previous Christmas Specials, but here he writes a song - Silence Is All You Know - which is crucial to the resolution of the plot.
Overall, hard to go wrong when you follow Dickens' classic tale so closely. It was one of the highest rated Christmas Special in DWM's 50th Anniversary poll (No.97), beating the likes of The Next Doctor, The Runaway Bride, Voyage of the Damned.
Things you might like to know:
- This is the first Christmas Special in which no-one is killed (though Abigail's days are quite literally numbered).
- Despite hardly being in it, this is the first time that Arthur Darvill gets his name into the opening credits.
- Amy and Rory were on honeymoon when the Doctor had his recent reunion with Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Grant. He is dressed as a Centurion, and she a WPC - costumes we have seen them in during Series 5.
- Places which the Doctor takes Kazran and Abigail to include New York, Paris, Australia, Egypt and Hollywood in 1952 (Frank Sinatra's Christmas party) - according to Kazran's photographs.
- Moffat had previously written a short story in which the Doctor travelled back in time to change someone's behaviour and make them more likeable in his "present".
- And Paul Cornell had written a story in which the Doctor visited someone every Christmas Day.
- The Doctor gets rid of Kazran's servants by having them win the lottery. He had previously gotten the school teacher job in School Reunion this way, and would buy Donna a winning lottery ticket as a wedding present. In this instance, as Kazran points out, his city doesn't even have a lottery.
- Young Mr Belcher clearly recognises that the acting profession isn't a very secure one. He recently graduated from Oxford with a degree in classical archaeology. (Though I'm not very sure how many jobs there are in that field either...).
- And finally - this is my last post this side of Christmas Day unless some big news breaks, so I'll take this opportunity of wishing you all A Very Merry Christmas!!!
Thursday, 19 December 2019
Sad to say that it was reported yesterday that former Story Editor Donald Tosh passed away at the beginning of December. He was the third holder of that post on Doctor Who, taking over from Dennis Spooner in 1965 with The Time Meddler. He worked briefly alongside producer Verity Lambert, but is best known for his partnership with her replacement John Wiles. Both were keen to move the programme into new areas, with more hard science-fiction concepts. Unfortunately they were saddled with a 12 episode Dalek story and other scripts already commissioned which they were not happy with. Wiles also, famously, failed to hit it off with William Hartnell and the two hated each other. It was Tosh who was often called upon to placate the irritable star. It is said that The Ark is the one story which actually reflected the vision of Tosh and Wiles. Wiles resigned after only a short time in the role, and Tosh decided to go with him out of loyalty. He pretty much rewrote The Massacre, to make it more historically accurate, and he totally rewrote The Celestial Toymaker - though it was then overhauled by the incoming Story Editor Gerry Davis, leaving little of Tosh's work in the finished story.
Tosh has featured on only a few DVD extras, but he did make a cameo appearance in An Adventure In Space And Time, the 50th Anniversary drama, as one of the guests at Verity Lambert's leaving party.
Since 2005 the programme has been run using the Showrunner model but, back in the Classic Era, the creative force behind Doctor Who was the Producer / Story Editor partnership. Wiles / Tosh may not have the same high profile as Hinchcliffe / Holmes or Letts / Dicks, but they did oversee a particularly turbulent period of the show's development, attempting to guide it in new directions. Sad to say, none of the people who made up these partnerships from the 1960's and 70's now survives save for ex-producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Tosh was the last of the pre-JNT story editors, so an important part of the programme's history passes with him. RIP.
Sunday, 15 December 2019
Patrick Troughton's very first story, Power of the Daleks, throws up some questions about unseen stories. A Dalek recognises him, despite his just having got this new face. Clearly the Daleks must have encountered him in this incarnation in his future / their past. The problem is that Troughton only met the Daleks twice on screen - and the other story was supposed to be set at the end of Dalek history. That was the intention behind The Evil of the Daleks, though most fans don't see it that way. The Daleks survived the civil war and rebuilt. The Daleks in Power come from a time well before the civil war on Skaro, however, so Evil doesn't necessarily explain how they recognise the Doctor. A later, unseen, adventure for the Second Doctor with the Daleks might also explain how they know he is travelling with Jamie in The Evil of the Daleks. Evil also has the Doctor seemingly knowledgeable about the layout of the Dalek city, which doesn't quite match what we saw in The Daleks - suggesting a possible return trip to Skaro.
We also have a comment from Ben that the Doctor is always going on about Daleks - despite them never being mentioned in any story Ben appears in. There are no gaps to put unseen stories in. The TARDIS goes straight from Fitzroy Square to 17th Century Cornwall, then to the South Pole, and then to Vulcan.
Very few of the unseen stories mentioned by the Second Doctor are likely to have taken place during this incarnation. He picks up Jamie in his second story, and he accompanies the Doctor right to the end of this incarnation, so if Jamie isn't aware of a previous visit to an alien world then it must have been during his first incarnation - or yet more adventures from before Totters Lane.
The Doctor's assertion that he studied medicine in Glasgow, under Lister in 1888, must certainly have been before he travelled with Ian and Barbara. A degree takes years, and it is highly unlikely that he took all that time off during his travels with any of his companions. A lengthy stay in Scotland might explain how he knows some Jacobite tunes in The Highlanders, and can quote Robert Burns in The Underwater Menace.
The Doctor claims to have personally witnessed the Charge of the Light Brigade, meaning an unseen visit to the Crimea on 25th October, 1854.
The Tomb of the Cybermen finally gives us the Doctor's age. He has to think about it, but it's about 450. The scope for many, many unseen adventures before Totters Lane is therefore opened up.
The Fourth Doctor will describe 750 as being middle-aged, but if the First Doctor lived to nearly 450, and a Time Lord can have 13 lives, then their life expectancy should be around 5850.
This incarnation is the one that suddenly starts using a 500 Year Diary. It contains notes on Cybermats, and the Doctor seems to have a vague memory of them. This implies an unseen Cyberman story. You'll recall how Polly identifies the Cyberman in The Moonbase, despite these more robotic Cybermen not looking anything like the ones who came from Mondas.
A definite unseen adventure is the Doctor's first visit to Det-Sen Monastery in Tibet. This was in 1630, and he helped defend the monastery against Chinese bandits. He appears to have left before the situation was resolved, as he has to ask what happened. He also took the Ghanta for safe-keeping, so the monastery must have still been at risk when he left.
The Second Doctor spends more time on future Earth than any other incarnation, yet doesn't know about the Ice Age around 5000 AD, and is unaware that a world dictator looks just like him in the 21st Century. He doesn't know about T-Mat either.
In The Dominators, we hear that the Doctor has visited the planet Dulkis once before. He liked it so much that he stuck around for a while, and thinks it's a great place for a holiday. This visit must have been long before the development of nuclear weapons on the planet, as he doesn't know about the Island of Death.
One of the most talked about unseen adventures crops up in The Invasion, as the Cyber-Director recognises the Doctor and Jamie from Planet 14. On screen, the Cybermen have only been seen on Earth, on the Moon, and on Telos. Planet 14 might just be Telos, although they will later refer to that planet by its name, rather than by a number. I think we can safely say that this must be a reference to another unseen story. (A Sixth Doctor comic strip posits that Planet 14 is actually Marinus, where the Voord became Cybermen - something which The Doctor Falls seems to confirm. That story suggests that Cybermen evolve spontaneously across the universe, so Mondas wasn't unique in producing them).
Before we go, there is the small matter of The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors. The Second Doctor in the first of these stories knows that Jamie and Zoe are just illusions as they had their memory of him wiped at the conclusion of The War Games. (Not strictly true, as they were to retain their memories of their first encounter with him, but certainly neither should know who the Brigadier is). For the Doctor to know this he must come from a point in time after the trial, yet he's seen visiting the Brigadier at his UNIT reunion. The Two Doctors actually has the Doctor working for the Time Lords, and Jamie knows who the Time Lords are - so they cannot come from a time before The War Games. These stories have led to a theory known as Season 6b, which claims that the Doctor was forced to carry out some missions for the Time Lords between his trial, and his eventual regeneration and exile to Earth, and he was allowed at some point to have Jamie and Victoria travel with him again. It's hard to reconcile these stories with the Troughton era unless you accept Season 6b.
Monday, 9 December 2019
Before we take a quick look at the recent new series news, and that comment from Jodie Whittaker that Series 12 won't be her last as the Doctor, a word about the blog. As we are now well on the way to Christmas / New Year I will be taking a step back from the blog, in readiness for Series 12. There'll be another look at unseen stories later in the week, this time those mentioned in Troughton adventures, but then I'll be a bit busy doing other, more festive, things. Come January you'll be getting my musings on the new episodes, plus a continuation of other posts such as the Inspirations ones, the A-Z and What's Wrong With... The past story reviews won't pick up again until after Series 12 has finished, though I may squeeze in A Christmas Carol in Christmas week because of its obvious topicality.
So, onto Series 12's updates. First of all, there was the almost throwaway line in a piece in the TV Times mentioned above, where Whittaker lets it be known that she will be the Doctor in Series 13. The earliest that can be broadcast is in 2021 and, as I posted a few week's ago, it seems almost inevitable that she and Chibnall will stick around for the 60th Anniversary of the programme in 2023 - especially if there's another lengthy gap between seasons and Series 13 doesn't air until late 2021, or even into 2022. Chibnall is on record as saying that he has already got his writing team together for Series 13.
The Graham Norton Show had a clip from Spyfall, which featured Stephen Fry, who is playing a character called "C" (as in Bond's "M"). We know from on set photos that he works for the Cyber-Security section of MI6. Could this mean that the Cybermen will be in the background of other stories in the season, and not just the two stories in which they are supposed to feature more prominently?
The story's synopsis tells us only that agents across the globe are being attacked by an alien intelligence, their DNA being rewritten, and C co-opts the Doctor to help investigate. Struan Rodger (voice of the Face of Boe, and who also appeared in The Woman Who Lived) voices a character called Kasaavin, according to the cast list in the Radio Times. Presumably this is that alien. Yaz's family also appear.
It's believed that the 1943 Paris story will follow Spyfall - the one featuring SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan. This will then be followed by the one featuring Tesla (Goran Visinjic) and Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) and is the one with the scorpion creatures and Anjli Mohindra's Queen Skithra.
Then we might have the Judoon story, which is rumoured to be another two-parter.
For a while now there has also been the rumour of a Mary Shelley story, and Chibnall did say that there is a visit to Lake Geneva to come. I suspect that this will indeed be a Cyberman story. You'll recall that the trailer featured a Cyberman walking towards the camera surrounded by flames. The Cyberman was clearly made up of bits from different designs - including a Mondasian-looking right arm. This might tie in with the Frankenstein theme of a creature put together out of different body parts - Cyberman ones instead of human ones.
That still leaves us with some other elements from the trailers - such as the blue-skinned creature (is it the same one seen breaking through reinforced glass?), the alien breaking into the TARDIS, and the flock of black bird / bat things. There's also those medieval-looking Cybermen to fit in, which many think might come from the finale. That's at least 11 of the 10 episodes accounted for... Of course, some of these elements might double up in the same episode.
On the whole, I'm looking forward to this series more than I did the last.
Other things to keep you happy over the festive season include the three part Dracula, from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, which I'm really looking forward to. Pertwee fans might want to give the new version of Worzel Gummidge a try. It's based more closely on the books, so will be quite different to Pertwee's take on the character. There's also a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, from the guy behind Peaky Blinders - so definitely worth a look. I have a tradition of always watching the Alistair Sim version every year.
Funnily enough, just about everything I'm looking forward to is on the BBC. No need to expend energy channel hopping - more time to overindulge...
Thursday, 5 December 2019
What went before...
Regular readers of this blog will know that I concentrate my attention purely on televised Doctor Who. I don't cover the novels, comic strips or audio adventures, mainly because I haven't read or heard all of them. To me they aren't canon anyway - my choice.
I never refer to these off-screen adventures, but it is time I looked at unbroadcast stories that do need to be considered as part of properly canonical Doctor Who - namely those unseen adventures which are referred to in the dialogue of televised stories.
To begin with, let's look at what the Doctor and Susan got up to prior to that cold and foggy evening when two Coal Hill schoolteachers pushed their way into the TARDIS.
The Hartnell era is one which affords few gaps between stories where other adventures might have taken place, partly because in the early days many stories ran into each other - with a cliffhanger at the end of the story setting up the next. A lot of the things which the Doctor mentions having happened to him off screen probably took place before Ian and Barbara joined him on his travels - because he's telling them about it and they obviously weren't there themselves at the time.
Not everything which the Doctor claims to be knowledgeable about may have come through personal experience, however, so we do need to add a caveat. Just because the Doctor knows all about a planet, a race, or a period of history, doesn't mean that he has visited that planet, or met its people, or visited that period of history. The Doctor must have spent many, many years back on Gallifrey studying other planets and cultures. We know he attended Prydon Academy, and what does he do in his downtime on the TARDIS? I suspect he does a lot of reading. If he has heard of Stephenson's Rocket, and knows the names of all the key figures of the Industrial Revolution, then it doesn't necessarily follow that he has been to late 18th / early 19th Century England and met any of them.
In The Web Planet he knows all about the planet Vortis and about the Menoptra, and he knows which galaxy Vortis lies in - but he clearly states that he hasn't been there before. He covered it at school perhaps, or simply read about it.
One of the first signs that the Doctor and Susan have had some adventures between leaving Gallifrey, and arriving in Totters Lane, Shoreditch, is when Susan starts to leaf through a book on The French Revolution, which Barbara has lent her. She immediately spots a mistake. Later, when the TARDIS arrives in France during this turbulent period, Susan informs the two teachers that this is the Doctor's favourite period in Earth's history. Most fans take this to imply that the Doctor and Susan have visited this time and place before. I'd argue that this isn't necessarily the case. Susan only has to be knowledgeable about the French Revolution to spot an error in a book - she doesn't have to have actually been there. Also, ask any historian what their favourite period is and they'll tell you - the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Tudors, the American Civil War etc. Again, it doesn't mean they've travelled back through time and visited it.
You can have a purely academic interest in something. A previous visit to Revolutionary France is a possibility, but not definite.
More concrete examples from the very first story are the Doctor's notebook, and the things which the TARDIS is said to have disguised itself as before becoming stuck as a Police Box. Susan states that the notebook contains notes on all the places they've been to - places, plural.
The TARDIS is said to have been an ionic column and a sedan chair. The column might at first glance appear to suggest a visit to ancient Greece or Rome, but such things went on to become architectural staples for centuries. A visit to any Georgian-built townscape in the present day might lead a TARDIS to assume the form of a classical column. The form may also be a default setting for a TARDIS. The Master's ship appeared as a column in Logopolis and Castrovala, despite it not fitting into the local terrain.
The sedan chair is more significant, as these weren't around before the 17th Century, and had disappeared by the mid 19th Century. They're named from the town of Sedan in France. The TARDIS disguising itself as a sedan chair might just mean that the visit to the period of the French Revolution really did happen.
In The Edge of Destruction, Susan confirms that one of the images on the TARDIS scanner is of the planet Quinnis, in the Fourth Universe. A primordial jungle planet, it is stated that they almost lost the ship there. This is the first indication that the Doctor and Susan have visited more than different periods of Earth's history. They've even visited an entirely different universe (something which the Doctor later claims was easy when the Time Lords were still around).
At the end of the same story, the Doctor gives Ian an Ulster coat, which he claims to have obtained from Gilbert and Sullivan. Their partnership lasted from 1871 to 1900, so the Doctor and Susan have visited the late Victorian era. Another caveat here. Some guide books maintain that the Doctor's name-dropping can't be trusted - that he's showing off or downright lying. Watching these episodes again, and listening to what the Doctor says and the way he says it, it is clear that he isn't lying. (The same can't be said of some later Doctors, however).
The Doctor isn't the only one who mentions previous TARDIS landings. In Marco Polo, Susan talks of seeing the metal seas of Venus. She also tells Ping-Cho that she has had many homes in many places, implying an itinerant lifestyle which didn't always involve staying in the TARDIS, unless she doesn't see the ship as her home.
Susan also mentions another alien planet - Esto - where the plant-life had telepathic abilities. This might be the same place where she heard plants screaming. She specifically states that she and the Doctor visited Esto, so not something she read about or studied at school.
Some more name-dropping from the Doctor leads us to believe that he met Pyrrho, the father of Skepticism. He says this so emphatically, that it does sound as if it is true. Pyrrho lived in Greece around the 3rd Century BC. Perhaps this is when the TARDIS disguised itself as that ionic column.
The Doctor also claims that Beau Brummell always said he looked good in a cloak. Brummell was the fashion trend-setter of the Regency period, friend of the future George IV until the two fell out and Brummell ended up in self-imposed exile in France, dying there in poverty in 1840. Had the Doctor claimed to have given Brummell all his fashion ideas then that might indicate showing off, but he merely states that the man complimented him, so I think we can accept that this meeting took place.
The Doctor's story of being sent to the Tower of London by Henry VIII after throwing a parson's nose at the king is corroborated by Susan. Another adventure corroborated by Susan is the experience of a zeppelin air raid, which most take to mean a visit to London in 1917. However, Rise of the Cybermen had zeppelins in an alternative universe contemporary England, and some alien planets might have retained zeppelin-like airships as warships.
When Susan leaves the Doctor, he mentions how both have looked after each other for many years, again indicating a long passage of time between leaving Gallifrey and meeting Ian and Barbara.
The TARDIS next arrives on the planet Dido, and the Doctor has been here before. This might not necessarily have been with Susan. He may have made some field trips to other planets prior to leaving Gallifrey as part of his studies / work there. We know next to nothing of what the Doctor did between leaving the Academy and running away in the TARDIS.
Some more name-dropping. The Doctor studied boxing and / or wrestling with the Mountain Mauler of Montana. This isn't a known historical figure, so he's unlikely to be making it up. It might suggest a visit to the USA, but the name could just as easily be the stage name of a British fighter, encountered during one of the visits to England already mentioned above. The fact that the Doctor can't quite recall James Watt's name suggests that this isn't showing off either. He claims he was with Watt when he was inspired to develop his improvements to the steam engine by observing a kettle boil. The only problem with this is that the story is often regarded as just a myth, something which might have happened when he was a boy or later when he was a young man.
Then we have him claiming to have given Hans Christian Andersen the idea for the Emperor's New Clothes fable. If true, then the Doctor was in Copenhagen around 1837, when the story was first published.
On encountering the Monk in Northumbria, in 1066, the Doctor mentions that the time-meddler's TARDIS is some 50 years ahead of his own - i.e. he left Gallifrey at least 50 years before the Monk did - another indication of how long he and Susan had been travelling together.
The Doctor later tells Steven and Sara that he has seen celebrations in Trafalgar Square before - but they were for the Relief of Mafeking, which was in May 1900.
We ought, at this point, to mention the First Doctor's outfit. It isn't contemporary with 1963, which might suggest he spent rather a long time in turn of the last century England. If so, it's strange that he doesn't recognise cricket when he sees it.
Knowing that the planet of the Elders and Savages is in a time of great peace and prosperity, and having knowledge about Mondas and the Cybermen, doesn't necessarily suggest that he has had personal experience of them. This might just be learned knowledge. The last definite unseen adventure, as far as we learn in the Hartnell era, is an encounter with the Celestial Toymaker. There's no indication of how long ago this was, except that it wasn't recently, as Steven doesn't recognise him. It may have been after leaving Totters Lane, or it might have been yet another adventure he and Susan had before they settled in London, 1963.
Monday, 2 December 2019
Confirmation this afternoon that Series 12 of Doctor Who will indeed begin on New Year's Day, 2020. The Mirror report was right about that, and that the first story would be a two-parter. What it got wrong is that all subsequent episodes are remaining in the Sunday slot - so no move back to Saturday nights.
We've also got a name for the first story - Spyfall. We knew that the opener was going to have a bit of a James Bond vibe, and this title is obviously a pun on Skyfall, the 23rd Bond outing from 2012.
What isn't clear is if this name goes across both parts.
In other news recently we've been told that this isn't the only two-parter. There's at least one other, as two-parters were mentioned in an interview in the plural. The episode count for the series is still 10, so that means there may only be 8 separate stories in all.
Also today, to go along with the broadcast date announcement, was a second trailer. This does include new clips, but doesn't really add much to what we already got a week or so ago. Some of the clips appear in both trailers. An ominous voice-over talks about the Doctor losing all of her lives, and the dialogue about something coming after the Doctor is repeated
Jodie Whitaker will be appearing on the Graham Norton show on Friday (6th December), so we might get our first proper episode clip then - presumably something from the first part of Spyfall.
For some fans, what's wrong with The Romans is the humour. It's a story which contains a lot of humour - including some broad farce as Nero chases Barbara around the palace, and she continually fails to see the Doctor and Vicki, who equally always manage to miss her. The problem is that this humour sits in amongst a lot of death and destruction - assassinations, murders, poisonings, and someone getting a burning torch shoved in his face. The tone is very uneven. The general viewing public weren't all that keen on a funny Doctor Who story, as its broadcast just happened to coincide with the national tragedy of the death of Winston Churchill. Episode 3 was actually shown on the day of his funeral.
On to the story itself, and let's start with historical accuracy.
The Emperor Nero - Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus - was born in December 37 AD. The Great Fire of Rome took place in July 64 AD, so Nero should be 26 years old. Derek Francis, who portrays the Emperor here, was a far from youthful 42 when this story was recorded.
Tigellinus is presented here as some sort of slave, who is killed when Nero forces him to drink poisoned wine. The real Tigellinus - Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus - was one of Nero's most trusted advisers, a Prefect with the Praetorian Guard. He survived Nero's death by suicide in 68 AD, when he switched allegiance to Galba. Unfortunately, Galba only lasted 6 months, replaced by Otho during what would later be known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Otho ordered Tigellinus' execution, but he died by committing suicide.
Locusta is seen being dragged away to feed the lions in the arena, after Poppaea blames her for failing to assassinate Barbara. The real Locusta also outlived Nero. She was executed by Galba in 69 AD.
Whilst it was believed later that Nero had started the Great Fire so that he could make space for his huge new palace, according to Tacitus he was not in the city at the time. He was in Antium, 32 miles away. The fire actually burnt down the new palace addition he had already built - the Domus Transitoria on the Palatine.
Other things that aren't quite right include the writer's belief that a villa is just a big house, like a mansion. The Doctor and companions are seen to be relaxing in a villa for a whole month - the owner supposedly being away campaigning in Gaul. Apart from the fact that no Roman army was campaigning in Gaul in 64 AD, the villa is presented as just the house. A villa was at the heart of a huge agricultural estate, where slaves lived all year round. There's no way the Doctor and company could simply take over the house for a month, with no evidence of any slaves in attendance.
The pool in the courtyard appears to be lined with polythene - something noticeable now on cleaned up video, but wouldn't have been spotted on initial broadcast.
Something else that wouldn't have been so noticeable at the time was the use of metal washers for coins, as seen when Nero throws them on the ground for his fire-starters to collect.
The slave trader Sevcheria starts off as just that - a rather down at heel slave trader. Midway through the story he suddenly becomes Nero's chief henchman, able to order the Praetorian Guards around. He doesn't even smarten himself up for this new role.
If everything is being translated by the TARDIS then surely the Centurion would have seen through the Doctor's lyres / liars pun. 'Liar' in Latin is mendax, and 'lyre' is lyra.
Something out of character for Vicki is that she simply switches the chalice from the palace, rather than getting rid of the poison - so she's quite prepared for someone to be murdered through her own actions.
Nero wouldn't have enjoyed an evening watching gladiators kill themselves. He had actually banned gladiatorial combat, as it offended his aesthetic sensibilities. His idea of a fun night out, apart from orgies and marrying eunuchs, was music or poetry recitals. The thumbs down for execution is also wrong - a mythconception from Hollywood movies. The Emperor kept his thumb in his fist if the defeated fighter was to be spared, and put the thumb up if he was to die.
Tavius, the secret Christian, has a crucifix. This is anachronistic. The symbol for the early Christians at this time was the fish symbol - the ichthys.
One good Hartnell fluff: "That, your excellency, would be an impossibissity".