Wednesday, 19 February 2020

"James Stoker"

A spoiler of sorts, but not a terribly well hidden one. I think everyone is assuming that the Master will be back anyway for the finale of the current series. Well, apparently The Timeless Children has a character named Fakout, played by an actor named Barack Stemis, who apparently hasn't acted in anything before as his name fails to show up in any on-line search. I'm assuming Fakout is pronounced Fake-Out, and that's not the most subtle of anagrams...

Unseen Stories (4)

The Fourth Doctor - Part 1.
Once we get to the reign of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, we have many references to unseen stories - but the problem is that he is so flippant in his references that we really can't tell if he's being serious or not.
In his very first story we have the scene where he infiltrates the hall where the Scientific Reform Society are holding their meeting. He pulls out a huge wallet which contains a number of cards and other documents. One of these is a pilot's licence for the Mars-Venus run - or so he says. Then we have the Freedom of the City of Skaro. This must have been bestowed by the Thals, if that's what the document really states, as the Daleks would never offer such an honour. We've only seen the Doctor encounter the Thals once on Skaro up until this point, and the nomadic group he encountered way back in The Daleks didn't look the sort to issue honorary scrolls. Then there's his membership of the Alpha Centauri table-tennis club. He mentions them having six bats to go with their six arms - but the human game sees two-armed players armed with only one bat each, so they must play it differently there. Earlier, he thinks the Brigadier might be either Hannibal or Alexander the Great - suggesting that, like the Brigadier, he has met them before.
he claim his scarf was knitted for him by the wife of Nostradamus - a witty little knitter. This does sound as if it might be true. Could the Doctor in some way have been responsible for the prophesies? Was he investigating to make sure some alien interference wasn't going on? Sounds like something the Meddling Monk might have got involved with.
In trying to tie the Hand of Omega into continuity, some fans have posited that the Doctor already knew all about the Daleks before the events of The Daleks - that he must have set up the trap for them before encountering Ian and Barbara and departing hurriedly from Coal Hill, Shoreditch. However, he definitely hasn't heard of Davros until he meets him in Genesis of the Daleks. When captured by the Kaled scientist, the Doctor is forced to recount a number of Dalek defeats. One of these sounds similar to the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or its movie version, whilst the others are all new to us. This doesn't necessarily mean the Doctor was present - he may simply have heard about them during the course of his travels. He is linked to a truth detector, but there is every reason to believe that someone who can fool a mind probe can also dupe a lie-detector.
The Doctor's knowledge of the Cyber-War could also be something he read about, or heard about. Once again the Doctor mentions having learned some rope tricks from Harry Houdini whilst captive on Nerva Beacon - having previously claimed to have met him in Planet of the Spiders.
We know the Doctor spent some time in Scotland when he studied for his medical degree, and this might be how he comes to know a specific piece of bagpipe music in Terror of the Zygons. That, or Jamie taught it to him. He claims to have learned the trick of going into a breathless trance from a Tibetan monk. This could have been during his first visit to Det-Sen Monastery, or it might be another reference to his old Time Lord guru K'anpo.
Planet of Evil sees the Doctor's first mention of having met Shakespeare, whom he will later claim to have met in The City of Death. On that later occasion, he says that it was he who wrote out the First Folio version of Hamlet, Shakespeare having strained his wrist writing sonnets. In The Shakespeare Code, the Bard definitely hasn't met the Doctor by this point in is life, so these other encounters must have come after that meeting. Oddly, though, the Tenth Doctor behaves as if he's meeting Shakespeare for the first time as well - so these Fourth Doctor references might all just be made up.
The Doctor is known to have a passion for the period of the French Revolution, so it comes as no surprise that his lock-pick once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Perhaps if she hadn't given it to the Doctor then she might have escaped prison and not gone to her death on the guillotine. The Doctor's comment about previously being blamed for the Great Fire of London definitely comes across as a joke.
The Android Invasion sees the Doctor name-drop both the Duke of Marlborough and Alexander Graham Bell. The latter he advised not to use wires for his new telephone invention. Presumably the Duke he is referring to is the first of that title - John Churchill (1650 - 1722), the hero of the Battle of Blenheim.
In The Seeds of Death, the Doctor claims to be the President of the Intergalactic Flora Society. If such a body does exist, it is difficult to know how the Doctor could hold down such a role. Again, this sounds like a joke to make Sir Colin take his credentials seriously.
In San Martino, the Doctor tells Sarah that he is looking forward to meeting Leonardo da Vinci - suggesting that he hasn't had that honour so far. The City of Death, again, posits that the two have definitely met by this time, though we again fail to see the two meet onscreen.
Also in The Masque of Mandragora, the Doctor claims that the best swordsman he ever saw was a captain in Cleopatra's bodyguard.
The Deadly Assassin doesn't give us any references to unseen stories - instead giving us some of the Doctor's backstory whilst still living on Gallifrey, especially his Academy days. He claims not to have ever met the outgoing President, and yet he implied that Morbius was around during his lifetime - and he might even have met him.
The Face of Evil specifically deals with the aftermath of an unseen adventure - one of the very few occasions this happens in the series. At some point, in this current incarnation, the Doctor had visited this primordial planet, just after the Mordee Expedition had landed. He had repaired their computer using part of his own personality, unaware that the machine was developing a personality of its own - inadvertently giving rise to the unbalanced Xoanon. Unless he's been travelling on his own for a very long time since leaving Gallifrey, this must have taken place when he was still with Sarah, though there aren't many gaps where the story might fit, and it's odd that he seems not to have remembered it so easily. One fan theory is that he slipped away from UNIT HQ whilst still suffering post-regenerative shock, fixed the computer, then slipped back again. This might explain why he made such a hash of the job, but doesn't fit with what we saw in Robot, where he only discovers the hiding place of the TARDIS key prior to joining the Brigadier's investigations. His stated age in Pyramids of Mars and stories after this one also go against a very long period of travel between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil. This story also has the Doctor claim to have learned how to shoot a crossbow from William Tell. Like Robin Hood, he's a folk hero who probably never existed - and yet the Doctor would later encounter Robin Hood, never having believed him to be a real person.
The Doctor has seen vehicles similar to the Sandminer on Korlano Beta - specifically stating he has seen them rather than just knowing about them, so he has been to that planet at some point.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang mentions a few unseen adventures. The Doctor says he hasn't been to China for 400 years. That can't be a reference to Marco Polo, as he is a couple of centuries out. He seems to know a lot about Victorian Music Hall performers, suggesting a previous visit. The Doctor later informs Magnus Greel that he was with the Filipino Army during its final assault on Reykjavik, in the early 51st Century.

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Haunting of Villa Diodati - Review

One thing Doctor Who has always been successful at is the "mash-up" of two or more genres in a single story. A science fiction series, about a time traveller, offers ample opportunities for this, and it's what has made Doctor Who unique as a TV series. EastEnders can't have a UFO arriving in the middle of Albert Square one night. Coronation Street can't have a vampire prowling the cobbles of Weatherfield. But Evil of the Daleks was like The Forsyte Saga, but with Daleks. Love & Monsters was a rom-com with aliens. The Unquiet Dead was a ghost story, with aliens. We've also had pirate movies, westerns, war films and more over the decades, all with alien elements.
Last night's story - The Haunting of Villa Diodati - was another example of this mash-up - period drama, literary biography, ghost story, and Cybermen.
The problem was, it didn't quite mash.
I actually quite enjoyed it as I watched it, Gothic Horror being a particular passion of mine, and I was well acquainted with the real story behind these events. Byron I can take or leave, but I do like Shelley. Apart from the whole haunted house, spatial warping, and Cyberman, there were some historical inaccuracies. For a start, the story-telling competition took place over the course of three nights - not just the one. Byron was presented as a bit of a coward, hiding behind Claire Clairmont's dress at one point. This is a man who elected to go fight in Greece against the Ottoman Empire, not because he had to - because he wanted to. We heard about Polidori's insomnia and sleep-walking, but no mention of the fact that it was actually a discussion between him and Shelley which sparked Mary Godwin's imagination and inspired her to write her story.
It was only afterwards as I thought about the episode that reservations began to creep in. I think the problem is that there were two good stories here, that ought to have been told separately.
The whole Villa Diodati thing could have sustained a story in its own right, with an alien more suited to the ghost / haunted house theme.
The Cyberman felt rather tacked on, as though it had to be there just to set up the next two episodes, and for no other reason. Yes, there is the connection between the stitched together Cyberman and the Frankenstein Monster, though that connection was only briefly touched upon in the scene set in the cellars, by which time it was clear that this story existed only to set something else up.
My other problem was the Cyberman himself. The whole point about the Cybermen is that they have no emotions whatsoever. Ashad could have been any other sadistic alien, travelling back through time to find something. He didn't need to be a Cyberman apart from the set up for future episodes. Imagine this story, if you will, where it was a purely non-emotional Cyberman hunting for the Guardian / Cyberium - pursuing its prey with the same relentless purpose. It would have worked just as well. An emotional Cyberman isn't a Cyberman.
It was another good episode for Yaz, but Graham hasn't been served as well this series. He seems to have been reduced to pure comic relief, with nothing but the odd one-liner.
Jodie Whittaker was better served, for a change. No lectures or bland homilies about the theme of the week this time. We've seen her be a bit short with the companions a couple of times this year, and last night saw her firmly put them in their place. At the end of the day, she is the boss and she calls the shots.
I noticed this morning that there was a very slight rise in the ratings - of around 60,000 - on last week's instalment. Perhaps if they'd actually advertised the return of the Cybermen (we all knew it was coming) this might have done better. Roll on the finale.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

"You've been a lovely audience..."

Take a look at Twitter or YouTube at the moment and you'll see lots of arguments about the ratings. I've written about this before - with Series 11 - and won't say much more on the matter, as both sides of the debate are right, and both sides are wrong. Those who say viewing figures are falling are perfectly right. Final figures (the +4-Screen ones, including all the various catch-up opportunities) show Spyfall Part 1 with 6.89 million, whilst Praxeus, the most recent episode with this figure, has 5.22 million. Only Fugitive of the Judoon has shown a slight increase on the previous week. The trend overall is downward. Overnight figures for the series to date started at 4.88 million, and last week's episode had 3.81 million.
Over in the USA, the only figures I've got are for overnights - Spyfall Part 1 launched with 0.79 million. Can You Hear Me? got 0.40 million watching, so almost half the viewership lost. Another significant figure as far as the US is concerned is the 18 - 49 demographic. 18 to 49 year-olds spend the most money, and this demographic is the one which the TV networks want to capture as it's the one which interests advertisers, merchandisers etc. Spyfall Part 1 had 0.19 million viewers in this age range, which has fallen to 0.10 million with Can You Hear Me?. Were Doctor Who to have been produced by a US network it would have been cancelled mid-season, let alone not picked up for a further series.
The counter argument to all this is always the percentages, or the placings in a week's or month's viewing tables. Doctor Who is still one of the most watched shows on British TV, getting just over 20% of the viewing public, and it remains in the top 30 shows for the month. The problem with this is that we are talking about reduced viewing for conventional television across the board. People are turning to streaming services, preferring to binge-watch box sets etc, or they're playing games instead of watching TV. It doesn't matter how big a percentage of the viewing public watches Doctor Who. A big percentage of a small number is still a small number. The 7th or 11th or 20th most watched programme of the night is a meaningless statistic, if hardly anyone is watching TV.
No matter what way you spin things, Doctor Who's viewing figures are going down. Hardly surprising for a re-booted programme that's been on the air for 12 series.
Of more interest to me - and of more concern to me - are the AI figures - the Audience Appreciation Index as was. You can argue about ratings until you are blue in the face. There is only ever one AI figure per episode, and it tells us how much viewers actually liked the thing. Sadly, this isn't good for the current iteration of the show at all.
The AI is a score out of 100. 91 or more is regarded as exceptional. 85 - 90 is excellent. Between 65 and 85 is good. Under 65 is considered poor.
The best we've had so far this series is an 83 for Fugitive of the Judoon. Both parts of Spyfall got 82. The worst to date, unsurprisingly, has been Orphan 55 with 77. The last two broadcast stories got 78, with the Tesla story getting 79.
Series 11 began with a score of 83, but had gone down to 79 by the series finale, with Resolution pushing it back up slightly to 80. The finale and The Tsuranga Conundrum were both on 79, whilst all the other stories were at 80 or 81.
This means that three of the current series episodes have fared worse than the lowest of the previous season - and we're only at Episode 7.
Going back to ratings for a moment, one of the things people argue is that they were falling under Moffat / Capaldi. As I've said, this can be debated. However, one thing which you cannot argue is that the stories have been better received since Series 11.
The lowest AI figure for Series 10 was an 81 for The Eaters of Light. World Enough And Time got an excellent 85.
The lowest AI figure for Series 9 was a 78 for Sleep No More. This was the only figure below 80, and four of the episodes had an 84.
The lowest AI figure for Series 8 was 82, for four episodes. Three episodes got an excellent 85.
Go back to Series 7 and ten of the episodes are 85 or above. In fact, Sleep No More is the only Moffat era story to go below 80 (and Russell T Davies never gave us anything that low), whilst Chibnall has so far managed to deliver six episodes in the 70's, out of eighteen broadcast to date, with not one considered excellent.
People need to stop this senseless bickering over ratings and concentrate on the AI figures.
Quality needs to count over quantity.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Inspirations - Snakedance

As you are no doubt fully aware, sequels were as rare as hens' teeth back in the Classic Era of the programme. Snakedance is one of those rarities. Kinda had concluded with Tegan apparently free of the Mara which had inhabited her body - first passing it on to the Kinda native Aris, before it was seemingly sent back to the dark places of the inside. Tegan was noticeably still troubled in the scene which opens the following story, which might just be an indication that there was more of this story to tell. Snakedance opens with the dormant Mara reawakening in her and causing her to unconsciously pilot the TARDIS to the planet of Manussa, where the Mara was first created. An ancient civilisation here experimented with their minds, focusing them through special blue crystals, which resulted in the unintentional creation of the creatures. In trying to develop inner peace, calm and harmony, all the negative emotions were shunted off to become the Mara.

Despite having a dreadful time with the development of his first story, Chris Bailey was encouraged to produce a second Mara story for the following season. The production team had liked the first effort, having more of a psychological menace (even if it did eventually materialise as a big pink snake). Bailey went into Snakedance much happier, being familiar now with how the scripting process for a show like Doctor Who worked. He was more comfortable working with Eric Saward, and felt with his new story that he could shape it more as he wanted it - better understanding the limitations of what could be realised.
Once again, his story was to be entirely studio-bound, with just a small amount of filming (the scenes in the wilderness featuring Dojjen). The director chosen was Fiona Cumming, who had helmed the metaphysical Castrovalva in Season 19. She had specifically asked JNT not to be offered any hard Sci-Fi robot / monster stories.
Mention to any fan a story with strong Buddhist inspirations, blue crystals with strange mental properties, and monsters based on common terrestrial creatures which people were particularly phobic about, and they might think you were talking about Planet of the Spiders. Saward would probably have been familiar with that story, but we can't say if Bailey was.

Snakedance continues the Buddhist theme, but adds some other religions into the mix. The Snakedancers sound like they might be Hindu or Jain sadhu, who have turned their back on worldly ways to live an ascetic lifestyle, and there are fundamentalist Christian sects which involve snake wrangling (subject of The X-Files Season 7 episode 'Signs and Wonders').
The whole notion of the Mara being born of the mind, and of how focusing the mind could then relegate them back into the dark dimensions seems to derive from Buddhist fables. The Doctor basically meditates them into defeat.
Buddhist references abound in the names once again - Tanha meaning "thirst, craving or desire" for instance. This is a little odd, as Tanha is Lon's mother, who shows no indication of such cravings, preferring instead to just show up and do her duty as the Federator's wife. It's Lon himself who is best described by these desires, greedy for anything which will relieve his boredom. Dojjen derives from Dogen - who was a 13th Century Zen Master.

Colonialism is another inspiration for this story - especially that of Raj-era India. Cumming seems to have picked this up for the look of Manussa and its inhabitants. The Federator is an off-worlder - a colonial governor. Tanha and Lon are obliged to visit and show an interest, which the Federator apparently lacks, in this place and its people and their quaint superstitions. EM Forster's A Passage to India features a trip by colonials to visit some caves, in which a young woman has a nightmarish experience.
Looking at the relationship between Lon and his mother, I'm also reminded of that between the Roman emperor Nero and his mother Agrippina. Hopefully his experiences on Manussa will cause Lon to become a better person, and thus a better Federator when his time comes, but you can imagine - had he experienced no life-changing event - he would have been plotting some bizarre fatal accident for his mum once as soon as he was in power.
Another inspiration is TS Eliot's Four Quartets poems. There are direct quotes from these - the repeated mention of the "still point" for instance - and aspects of the ritual Lon has to perform in the cavern. Eliot also liked to mix Christian imagery with that of other religions - borrowing ideas from Hindu texts such as the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita.
On a design point, we also have to look to the Star Trek episode 'The Apple'. That's the one which is also very similar to elements of Kinda, with a seemingly peace-loving tribe (one of whom is played by a young David Soul) on an idyllic planet. The tribe get everything from their god Vaal - who resides in a cave fashioned like the head of a snake, similar to what we see in this story.
Next time: the operatic start of another trilogy. A new companion tries to murder the Doctor, the Black Guardian adopts dead carrion as a fashion accessory, and we get two Brigadiers for the price of one...

Monday, 10 February 2020

Can You Hear Me? - Review

Not with your finger jammed in my ear'ole I can't...
I liked this episode for the most part, though there were some aspects which didn't work for me at all. I was particularly happy with the set-up, which is also what Praxeus had going for it last week. We were presented with a mystery and had to try to work out what was going on, and how seemingly unconnected things might be linked. It all fell apart with last week's story when the mystery was finally explained, but here the resolution to the mystery worked out okay.
Negatives out of the way first. The whole Aleppo thing was a pointless diversion. There was absolutely no reason for part of the story to be set there. The god-like immortals were attacking people in present day Sheffield, and that's where they eventually decided to go once the female one had been freed. Why also attack people in 14th Century Syria? The Doctor's section of the set-up could just as easily have been somewhere else in the city in the present day. Also, I very strongly doubt that the phrase "mental well-being" was ever uttered by anyone in 14th Century Aleppo, no matter how advanced the attitudes of medieval Syrian physicians were to public health.
Initially, the finger thing was weird and creepy, but the more you thought about it the more stupid it looked - especially when you see racks of fingers on the space platform. Surely there was a better way of getting this across. There are going to be helluva lot of "fingering" jokes about this episode, which it could well have done without.
Something else which annoyed was the use of the sonic screwdriver to first of all free Rakaya, and then to trap her and Zellin. The people of the two planets had to crash their worlds together to trap her, yet the Doctor did a quick wave of the magic wand to break her out, then put her back in again.
Good things included the focus on the companions and some much needed character development, though I feel this is all very late in the day. We should have had something like this last series. I did feel at times that Chibnall was stealing from one of his own stories here - The Power of Three. That focused more on the companions, and the people they had left behind, and featured the companions beginning to question their lifestyle and how much longer it might last. Back then, this was immediately followed by their departure. Could something like this be about to happen? Won't be next week - but probably in Episode 10. Whilst Whittaker has been talking of late about this not being her last season, Cole and Gill have been talking as if they are looking for other work recently. Either both are leaving, or there is another long gap between seasons planned.
Other positives were the villains themselves. Ian Gelder was excellent as Zellin, and even Clare Hope-Ashitey impressed despite only appearing towards the end. It was nice to hear the Eternals, the Guardians and the Toymaker mentioned. And no, Zellin and Rakaya aren't Eternals themselves, as some fans are claiming. He clearly talks about them as if he isn't one of them.
I also liked the use of animation to show their history (even if it was inspired by the Deathly Hallows). This could have been a rather dull bit of exposition.
Nice to see the Doctor being duped again, thinking she's on a rescue mission when she's actually helping a villain break out of jail.
I've noticed that one particular vlogger has started referring to Lectures instead of Episodes. (One of those who really hates the series in its current incarnation, but will insist on watching it just so he can publish negative reviews of it). This week's theme was obviously mental health, and it's not the first time the programme has tackled this subject. Nearly 10 years ago Vincent and the Doctor tackled depression, and also included a message about help-lines during the end credits, so I don't feel that this story should be attacked for covering similar areas. On the whole I think it was handled sensitively.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

What's Wrong With... The Crusades

There really isn't very much to say about this story, regarded by many as the best of the historical stories. Performances are fine across the board - even Hartnell managing to steer clear of noticeable fluffs. It has been argued that, when playing against a strong stage or screen guest artist, Hartnell always managed to raise his game. Here, he has Julian Glover to play against. Apart from some business with a cloth merchant, the script is also firmly on the heavy side - both in tone and in content. There's not much larking about in this episode. All the guest cast play this like it's Shakespeare, and writer David Whitaker has looked to the Bard when scripting his dialogue for them.
We could mention the blacking-up of some of the characters - like Bernard Kay portraying Saladin - but this was par for the course in 1965, and so only appears reprehensible when viewed from the present. Things only really changed in this respect in the 1980's, as more opportunities arose for actors from diverse ethnicities to gain more prominence in British drama.
If there is anything wrong with The Crusades, then it's in its historical accuracy, but even here Whitaker has got most of his facts right. Like Eric Morecambe's piano-playing, he has all the right notes - just not necessarily in the right order. For instance, Sir William des Preaux really was abducted and held hostage by Saladin's forces, but here Richard comes up with his plan to marry his sister to Saladin's brother Saphadin after this event, whereas he had already decided on this plan two months prior to the events of this story (said to take place in November 1191).
The version of Richard we see here is the romanticised one, such as seen in some of the adaptations of Robin Hood. He comes across as a man who longs only for peace, contrasted with the belligerent Earl of Leicester, and he longs to return to England. The Doctor fails to mention that when Richard recently captured Acre he slaughtered thousands of Muslim prisoners of war. Richard didn't speak English, and actually loathed the place - much preferring his French kingdom. He spoke French, and chose to be buried in France, and hardly set foot in England. There is no sign either in this story of Richard's ill health - he had been suffering from crippling scurvy for months.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Ascension Cybermen!

In an unusual move the BBC have issued images of the new look Cybermen which are due to appear in the Series 12 finale a couple of weeks early. We only get face and head / shoulder shots, but they are enough to let us see what's new about them, and what might have stayed the same. The bodies don't look like they've changed all that much, but you'll notice in the image below that some little spikes have been added to the shoulders, and the shoulder sections are bigger. The main change is with the helmet, which now has a face very similar to the Cybermen which appeared in The Invasion and Revenge of the Cybermen. What's more - the ear muffs are back. I think they look great, but we do need to see the whole costume to get the full look.

What is hugely significant about these images is that they bear no resemblance to the damaged Cyberman seen previously in the series trailer...

As you can see from this close-up shot, there is definitely a human left eye visible - suggesting that someone is wearing this like armour, or it is some kind of half-human / half-Cyberman construct (as in more hybrid than they usually are). If the latter, then this might still tie in with the Frankenstein / Mary Shelley story (Episode 8). The full version of this Cyberman glimpsed in the same trailer did show a body made up of different Cyberman versions, such as a Mondasian arm - so the alternative is that this relates to the fact that this Cybermen originates with the end of the Cyber-War (Episode 9) when they are simply using whatever parts they can get hold of.
It has also been announced that Ian McElhinney (Game of Thrones, Krypton) is in the finale, along with Steve Toussaint.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Series 12 Update & The Faceless Ones DVD (updated!)

The last Doctor Who Magazine before the series ends hit the shops today, and it gives us some scraps of information about the remaining four episodes.
We already know a bit about this week's episode - Can You Hear Me? The synopsis states that it involves something from beyond space invading people's dreams, and some of the action takes place in 14th Century Aleppo. According to DWM this might be a Doctor-lite story, concentrating more on how the nightmare being affects the companions, who each get their own sub-story. No mention of Grace, but Ryan's friend Tibo (seen in Spyfall Part 1) appears, as does Yaz's sister. I can't help but be reminded of the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Nightmare Man.
The main guest actor, Ian Gelder, plays who I assume to be the villain of the piece - a character named Zellin. Despite Gelder voicing the Remnants in Series 11, who first mentioned the Timeless Child, it's claimed that this character has nothing to do with them.
The 8th episode is The Haunting of the Villa Diodati. Anyone who knows anything about the origins of Frankenstein will know that this confirmed the long-rumoured Mary Shelley story. DWM implies that this is a creepy ghost story, with no mention of Cybermen. The rumour had always been that the Mary Shelley story would feature at least one Cyberman - the parallels between the Cybermen and Frankenstein's creation being obvious. It might still be that there is a Cyberman in this story - possibly that "Lone Cyberman" Captain Jack referred to - leading into the two part finale.
Lili Miller is Mary Shelley, Maxim Baldry is Dr John Polidori, and Lewis Rainer is Percy Bysshe Shelley. Jacob Collins Levy is also in the cast - presumably he's Lord Byron.
The last two episodes have separate titles, despite being another two-parter - Ascension of the Cybermen and The Timeless Children.
The first part promises the closing days of a long-running war between humans and Cybermen. Julie Graham, previously seen as villain Ruby White in The Sarah Jane Adventures, guests. The title is odd - being just another way of saying the already used The Rise of the Cybermen - and it's set at the end of a Cyber-War rather than the beginning. Presumably this is all to do with Jack's warning about a dying empire being reborn.
We are promised that the final episode will answer at least some of the questions surrounding the Timeless Child. It promises some space opera and lots of Cybermen.
For fans of the Classic Series, the new DMW also has a couple of items on the late 60's script editor Donald Tosh, and the first half of a Timothy Combe interview.

Tucked away in the forthcoming releases column is the release date for The Faceless Ones DVD / Blu-ray, which Amazon and Zoom haven't got yet. It said Monday 9th March, but today (7th Feb) it has now been confirmed as the 16th March. Typical BBC - it's been delayed before they've even published the release date. The cover has also been released. The next issue of DWM will have a feature on the animation for its missing episodes.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Season 26 Blu-Ray Box Set - Review

I received this the day it was due - Monday 27th January. The reason I'm reviewing it now, 8 days later, is because I've only just finished working my way through it. Considering this season consisted of only four stories - 14 episodes in total - there is a heck of a lot of material on this set.
We'll get to the Extras shortly, but first a word or two about the stories themselves. Everyone knows that Season 26 is when Doctor Who finally got its groove back, after a rather disastrous few years - only to be cruelly scrapped by a BBC that had fallen totally out of love with it. We'd already had a failed attempt at cancellation between Seasons 22 and 23. The latter, and Sylvester McCoy's first season were not terribly good. Things started to look up with Remembrance of the Daleks and the arrival of companion Ace. This final season of the Classic Era is very much her season - with three of the four stories forming a sort of character arc for her. Things kick off with the one that isn't really part of that arc - Battlefield. It's a so-so story, which even its writer doesn't think much of. This was mainly because he was forced to expand it to four parts when it had originally been intended only to be a three-parter. I should say at this point that the only story I watched of this set in the format in which it was broadcast was the last one (Survival). Give me a Special Edition and I will generally choose that over the broadcast version every time (due to new VFX or additional scenes reincorporated). This box set offers you the chance to see up to three different versions of some stories, and Survival was the only one that didn't offer that choice. These Special Editions aren't always tidied up for HD, so I will revisit the set soon to watch the upscaled broadcast versions.
I won't pretend that I fully understood Ghost Light on first transmission. Even today, after reading so much about it and just having watched an extended cut of it, there are still some elements which aren't ever properly explained (e.g how can stuffed and eviscerated animals make noises, and why do their eyes glow? Why does the candle suddenly flare?).
Best of the bunch for me is The Curse of Fenric (the story that gets three different versions). Probably the best of the McCoy era. Survival lays a lot of the groundwork for what what was to come with Rose in 2005. Writer Rona Munro intended it to be set in a run down urban landscape, which would have been so much better than the rather leafy suburban setting she was given.
Even with the rather weak Battlefield (which at least has Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier in a prominent role) it's a good, solid set of stories.

Onto the Extras, of which there are many. The original DVD release of Survival had a second disc of material on its own - including the documentary "Endgame" which tells the story of the demise of the series and the immediate aftermath, with contributions from some of the people who had killed the show. This, and all the other VAM from the original DVD releases, is all present and correct in this set. The Seventh Doctor's "Tomorrow's Times" and "Stripped For Action" features have been moved to this set, seeing as how it sums up his era. As this rounds off the whole Classic Series, the Blue Peter documentary ("Who Peter") is included as well.
All stories get a "Behind the Sofa" feature. In the past this has been split between two groups on the sofa - the main set being people who were there at the time, and a second set of people representing other eras of the show. Here the action is split over three sofas. On Sofa 1 we have McCoy and Sophie Aldred, on Sofa 2 we get new writers Pete McTighe and Joy Wilkinson, and on Sofa 3 we get companion actresses Anneke Wills, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. Either 2 or 3 we could have done away with, as it means we don't actually get to hear much from McCoy and Aldred.
The Curse of Fenric is another original DVD release which had a whole extra disc of bonus material - but no Making-Of documentary. This is remedied by a new doc, directed by McTighe. McCoy, Aldred and Tomek Bork (Commander Sorin) revisit the locations from the story, interspersed with some talking heads. On visiting the church they are reunited with Nicholas Parsons, who had played the Rev Wainwright. This was rather poignant, as Parsons had just passed away a day or two before I watched this.
There's quite a lot of location and behind the scenes footage for all four stories, plus we get two Convention panels - the one for Fenric, previously released, and one with just McCoy and Aldred from 1993.
The final disc has two main new features. Matthew Sweet conducts a lovely interview with Aldred, recorded when she made the Blu-Ray trailer. For me, the highlight is "Showman" a feature length biography of John Nathan-Turner. It's worth buying this set for this alone. He was a very divisive figure, and could be particularly nasty at times - themes not glossed over in the documentary - but you cannot help but feel sorry for him by the end of this. His was ultimately a tragic life, after so much promise. We hear about his childhood and schooldays, move into theatre and then to the BBC. Things build towards his annus mirabilis - the 20th Anniversary year, with The Five Doctors and the Longleat event. Everyone agrees - including himself in an archive interview - that this is when he should have walked away from the programme into something else, soap opera or light entertainment. By allowing himself to be talked into staying on Doctor Who, because he was doing so well with it and he was still enjoying it, the seeds of his downfall were sown. His treatment by the BBC after the series was cancelled really makes you angry at them, and heartbroken for him.
Lots of photos from his life, and loads of archive footage, including convention appearances, illustrate this sad tale. It's an excellent piece.
Next up we have Season 14, due in April (so expect it in June)...

Monday, 3 February 2020

Praxeus - Review

Frankly, I'm not entirely sure why it took two writers to deliver us Praxeus. Chibnall's inclusion in the opening credits did make me think that we might get a little bit more story arc development. As of last night I was sure a lot of people tuned in because of the big revelations of last week - and would have been disappointed to see no mention of them whatsoever. However, on seeing the overnight ratings for Praxeus I don't understand what went wrong. 240,000 less people tuned in.
This was a perfectly okay story, but hardly a classic. There are obvious comparisons with Orphan 55 which I should get out of the way right from the start. As with that earlier episode, there were rather too many people cluttering things up. We could easily have done away with the Peruvian ladies, or the astronaut and his husband, without damaging the main plot - probably the former, as the inclusion of the astronaut at least kept us guessing for a while that he might have brought the alien infection down with him when he crashed. As with Spyfall, we had a lot of globetrotting - which again wasn't totally necessary. Back in 1970, The Silurians managed to convey the potential dangers of a global pandemic without setting foot outside Marylebone Station. We also had the big environmental issue - this time specifically plastics in the world's oceans. At least this time the story didn't preach to quite the same extent that Orphan 55 did. Two stories in the same short season, so close together, on the same theme was a mistake. In my review of Orphan 55 I mentioned that I believed that we fans are a generally enlightened lot, who already care about such things - so it was merely preaching to the converted. Defenders might argue that Doctor Who is a family show, watched by a lot of children, but I'm afraid under 4 million viewership probably means it is primarily fans who are watching - not a sizeable general TV audience. (If you want an environmental message to reach the widest possible audience, then you have to somehow get it into Love Island or I'm A Celebrity... Good luck with that...).
I could say a lot of nice things about the various exotic locations and sets - but if you're looking at the scenery then the story has big problems. I could comment on how nasty the deaths were, as people became petrified before exploding - except Quatermass did it far more shockingly back in 1979 (the John Mills one).
We didn't even get any decent aliens - just human-looking / human-sounding ones.
If you really wanted to do a story about the pollution of the Earth's oceans, then that should have been a job for the Sea Devils. They live there, after all, and we could have heard about the problem from their perspective, rather than listen to another lecture from the Doctor.
One of the best things about last week's episode was seeing the Doctor put on the back foot - not knowing what was going on for a change. Last night, we were back in know-it-all mode, which I find increasingly annoying.
Looking at some comments on-line today about this story, I see some people seem to think that having a married same sex couple is enough to render this story some kind of elevated status. Lesbian and gay couples get married all the time. It happens. Get over it. If you think that people should get a special pat on the back for including this then you aren't paying very much attention to the real world, or to dozens of other TV programmes, including soaps, which are already showing this.
I can just picture the writers sitting back when they had finished, smugly thinking how enlightened they were...
If all this sounds as if I hated Praxeus, that's not the case at all. Honest! I just found it ordinary.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Doctor Ruth - idle speculation

So... Chris Chibnall says that Dr Ruth is categorically a Doctor. RTD lied. Moffat lied.
Ergo, we can't necessarily read anything into what Chibs says.
The press has been trumpeting the first black female Doctor, so for Chibnall to backtrack on this would be a huge mistake.
Ergo, she is a Doctor.
The big questions is: what kind of a Doctor?
Before we look into this, let's look at the story so far:
  • The First Doctor is the First Doctor. The Time Lords said so in The Three Doctors, and subsequent stories confirmed this (such as the Eleventh believing he was the last, but getting a new regeneration cycle at the conclusion to Time of the Doctor).
  • The Second Doctor.
  • The Third Doctor.
  • The Fourth Doctor. Things go slightly awry here, as The Brain of Morbius seems to imply that there were other, male, Doctors prior to the First Doctor - but only 8 faces are seen. This might be the first clue as to Dr Ruth's origins.
  • The Fifth Doctor.
  • The Sixth Doctor.
  • The Seventh Doctor.
  • The Eighth Doctor.
  • The War Doctor - so actually the Ninth Doctor.
  • The Ninth Doctor - who's technically the Tenth Doctor.
  • The Tenth Doctor - who's technically the Eleventh Doctor.
  • The Metacrisis Doctor - who's technically the Twelfth Doctor.
  • The Valeyard - who is said to come between the twelfth "and final" incarnation of the Doctor (in this regeneration cycle?). That "and final" opens a whole can of worms, as he could come from anywhere after the twelfth - which is actually the Metacrisis Doctor - so another possibility for Dr Ruth's origins.
  • The Eleventh Doctor - who has now become the Thirteenth Doctor.
And relax...
  • The Twelfth Doctor is actually the first of the new Doctors - or the Fourteenth Doctor,
  • And the Thirteenth Doctor is the second of the new Doctors - or the Fifteenth Doctor in old money.
Three possibilities are apparent from what is already canon. The first is what we have been hearing about lately, rumour-wise, and there really were Doctors before the First. Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes certainly wanted to imply this, and everyone adores them, but present day fans might not be so accepting...

The Cardiff DWAS local group request a meeting with Chris Chibnall...
Now Hinchcliffe and Holmes at that time weren't arguing for a whole new regeneration cycle - that only came later when they were running out of Doctors thanks to Holmes' own self imposed "12 Regenerations" limit. They simply thought that the Doctor could have lived a lot longer than we had seen on TV, and there were some prior to William Hartnell.
If Chibnall is going to go down this road to damnation, then he could argue that he is merely following in the footsteps of giants - just as he has been doing for all of this series so far with its blatant RTD and Moffat steals... (God forbid anyone should ever accuse Chris Chibnall of originality).
The second opportunity to slip Dr Ruth in comes with the Valeyard. What if she is what used to be he? The Valeyard is an intermediate Doctor, but a Doctor nonetheless - and potentially one that can regenerate. Dr Ruth is rather aggressive and violent, which is more fitting for someone like the Valeyard. 
The third opportunity is the Metacrisis Doctor. What if he wasn't as human as everyone thought, and regenerated into Dr Ruth? This would tie in with the other main speculation that Dr Ruth derives from an alternative universe, as we know that the Metacrisis Doctor was sent off to Pete's World with Rose. In The Rise of the Cybermen, the Doctor seemed to be saying that the Time Lords transcended these dimensional barriers - so weren't bound by them, and the Doctor is the only UNIT member not to have an evil doppelganger in Inferno. An alternative universe Doctor is still a Doctor.

There is still one further option, which is a little bit "out there" - so naturally I think it might be possible...
What if it isn't Dr Ruth who's the alternative one? What if it's Thirteen herself?
What if, when the Doctor regenerated at some point, the Doctor(s) we saw were the alternative universe ones, split off in some way, and the real Doctor who started with the First, as played by William Hartnell, went on to become Dr Ruth?...
People commented at the time that there didn't seem to be much character development between Missy and the Sacha Dhawan Master - so maybe this is an alternative Master. Gallifrey might still exist in our universe and only be destroyed in the alternative one - or vice versa.
Who knows, the Doctor's next regeneration might be a realignment, when we get the Doctor we were supposed to get - rather than the one we got...

Friday, 31 January 2020

H is for... Harper, Seth

Seth Harper was a gunslinger recruited by the Clanton brothers of Tombstone, Arizona, when they plotted to kill Doc Holliday - in revenge for his killing of another of their siblings. On visiting Holliday's new dentist shop, Harper mistook the Doctor for the infamous gunman - pretending to befriend him so that he would walk into a trap at the Last Chance Saloon.
Harper was later gunned down in the saloon by Johnny Ringo, who had just come to Tombstone and who was also out to shoot down Holliday.

Played by: Shane Rimmer. Appearances: The Gunfighters (1966).
  • Canadian actor Rimmer was best known for his collaborations with Gerry Anderson - most notably providing the voice of Scott Tracey in Thunderbirds. He also voiced characters in Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and appeared in UFO and Space:1999. Rimmer featured four James Bond movies - the most significant role being the commander of the US submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me. He also featured in the first three of the Christopher Reeve Superman films.

H is for... Harper, Owen

The resident medical officer with Torchwood Three, based in Cardiff. After his entire team had been killed by his boss, who then took his own life, Captain Jack Harkness had to build a new team from scratch. Owen was engaged to be married but his fiancee was suffering from some sort of brain tumour. When surgeons operated, it was found that she was actually host to an alien parasite. It released a toxic gas as a defence mechanism which killed her and the team of surgeons. Jack saved Owen, who was initially angry with him as he had known about the parasite. He eventually talked Owen into joining the team to help combat similar alien threats.
Following the death of his fiancee, Owen's personality changed - becoming something of a womaniser. On one occasion he stole some alien pheromones from the Torchwood Hub, which made him sexually irresistible to anyone who came into contact with it. He could be argumentative with Jack, the only one of the team who would stand up to him and question his actions. Owen also liked a drink, and on one occasion he was too hungover to visit London to investigate the "space pig" which had crash-landed a spaceship in the Thames. Toshiko Sato had to cover for him, bringing her into contact with the Ninth Doctor. Tosh was secretly in love with Owen, but he never showed any signs of reciprocating, and was often cruel towards her.
He became obsessed at one point with an alien artefact which could allow its user to witness events from the past  - including sensing the emotions of those involved. This led him to hunt down a murderer who had escaped justice decades ago.
When Gwen Cooper joined the team, she had a brief affair with Owen. The relationship ended when a pilot from the 1950's - Diane - arrived out of the Rift and Owen became besotted with her.
Diane had elected to risk going back into the Rift rather than stay in present day Cardiff, and this deeply affected Owen, causing him to become even more belligerent and unsettled. Going undercover he became involved in a businessman's operation to stage a fight club with the savage alien Weevils. At one point Owen almost let himself be killed by a Weevil, so depressed was he at losing Diane. He later discovered that he could exert a strange influence over the normally aggressive creatures, causing them to cower in his presence.

When Jack and Tosh became stranded in time, stuck in a World War Two dance hall, Owen decided to open the Cardiff Rift to rescue them - bringing him into conflict with Ianto Jones who advised against this. Ianto even shot and wounded him to stop him using the Rift Manipulator, but Owen proceeded anyway. This led to all manner of space / time distortions across the globe, but concentrated in Cardiff. Owen was forced to confront the consequences of his actions as people from the past materialised in the city bringing long extinct diseases with them. An argument with Jack led to Owen shooting him - and this is when the team discovered that their leader was immortal. Owen was sacked from the organisation, but Jack relented and allowed him to come back instead of wiping his memories with Retcon.
When an alien being who called himself Adam infiltrated the team, changing people's memories, he caused Owen to become the opposite of his true nature - a weak-willed, nerd.
Some time later, UNIT's Martha Jones joined the team on a temporary secondment. Investigating a pharmaceutical company which was using captured alien creatures to develop new drugs, its director shot Owen dead. Jack decided  to use the Resurrection Glove to bring him back to life so the team could make their goodbyes, but somehow Owen remained alive. He was still technically dead - with no bodily functions working. He had no heartbeat, no body heat, didn't breathe, couldn't eat or drink, and his body could never heal from injury. The lack of body heat made him the perfect person to break into the home of a reclusive millionaire - Henry Parker - who was collecting alien artefacts, one of which was generating powerful energy signals. His home was protected by heat sensors. Whilst Parker was fighting to stay alive, Owen at this point only wanted to die properly. The encounter changed his perspective and he elected to make the most of his new existence, going on to save a young woman from committing suicide. When Cardiff became infested with Weevils, Owen found that his influence over them related to his new state - as though they had sensed he would change. Only he was able to confront a being which was death personified, as he couldn't be killed by it. The creature had originally gained its presence in the city through him.
When Jack's brother Gray launched an attack on the city, Owen went to stop a nearby nuclear power station from exploding. As he spoke to Tosh over the radio, talking him through what he needed to do to stop a meltdown, he finally admitted that he did love her in return - she having told him of her feelings when he was brought back to life. She was dying when she spoke to him - having been stabbed by Gray. Owen became trapped in the power station control room, which was about to be flooded by disintegrating radiation. He managed to stop the meltdown, but perished from the radiation.

Played by: Burn Gorman. First appearance: TW 1.1 Everything Changes (2006). Last appearance: TW 2.13 Exit Wounds (2008).
  • Burn Hugh Winchester Gorman had appeared in the BBC's 2005 adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House prior to landing the role of Owen Harper. Since his departure from the show he has gone on to regular roles in Game of Thrones, The Man in the High Castle, and The Expanse. He also featured in the two Pacific Rim movies - playing a character not unlike the nerdy version of Owen we saw in the Torchwood episode Adam.

H is for... Harmony Shoal

A parasitical race of brain-like creatures, which planned to take over the Earth. Their intention was to have themselves transplanted into the heads of the world's most powerful and influential figures. They infiltrated a global company - Harmony Shoal - which had constructed headquarters buildings in most of the Earth's major cities. A derelict spacecraft was in a hidden orbit, programmed to crash onto the city of New York. The Harmony Shoal building was built especially to withstand such a catastrophe, whilst the rest of the city would be destroyed. The plan was that all the leading figures in each country - politicians, businessmen and military leaders - would observe this and take refuge in other Harmony Shoal buildings, in fear of further attacks from space. There, they would have their brains removed and replaced by the aliens.

Those already taken over exhibited a livid scar running diagonally across the face, and they sometimes bled a blue fluid which was secreted by the creatures. The head could be opened along this scar-line.
The Doctor and his companion Nardole were investigating the New York operation, when they encountered an investigative journalist named Lucy, who was similarly suspicious of the company and its boss, Mr Brock, who had been converted by his colleague Dr Sim. They were rescued from Sim by the arrival of the city's masked superhero, known only as The Ghost. Brock and Sim became determined to capture the Ghost so that one of their number could be transplanted into his body.
The Doctor scuppered their plans by crashing the spaceship prematurely - knowing that the Ghost would save the city. UNIT were then called upon to raid all Harmony Shoal buildings across the planet. The Sim alien escaped, however, by transferring into the body of a UNIT soldier.

The Doctor had met this species before, in the far future, when he and River Song had rendezvoused with potential buyers for a fabulous diamond on the spaceship Harmony and Redemption. River had stolen this diamond whilst it was still embedded in the skull of her latest husband - the cyborg King Hydroflax - by removing his head from his robotic body. What the Doctor and River didn't realise was that the buyer - a man named Scratch - was a member of the Shoal of the Winter Harmony, a branch of the same parasitical aliens, and they worshipped Hydroflax like a god. All of the guests at the restaurant where the exchange was to take place exhibited the same diagonal scarring. The Doctor and River only escaped by deliberately crashing the spaceship onto the surface of the planet of Darillium - killing all on board, including the members of the Shoal.

Played by: Robert Curtis (Scratch), Tomiwa Edun (Brock) and Aleksandar Jovanovic (Sim). Appearances: The Husbands of River Song (2015), The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016).
  • Moffat elected to bring back these aliens in their own story for the 2016 Christmas Special, following their brief appearance towards the end of the previous year's festive special as he felt they had the potential to carry a story on their own, where he could develop them further.
  • The second appearance has Brock simply disappear, and Sim escape in a different body, so the option was there for further appearances.
  • The question has to be asked: if the creatures have to be transplanted into other people's heads by someone else, how was the first one created?

H is for... Harkness, The real Captain Jack

When Captain Jack Harkness and colleague Toshiko Sato were transported back in time to the Second World War and the Cardiff Blitz, they found themselves in a dance hall which was derelict and reputedly haunted in the 21st Century. The venue was still full of life in this time zone, frequented by many servicemen and their girlfriends. Tosh found herself under suspicion from some RAF men, due to her Japanese heritage, but their commander stepped in to save her. Tosh was shocked to hear him introduce himself as Captain Jack Harkness. Jack later admitted that he used an assumed name - one he had taken from a real Captain Jack Harkness who had died during the war. Jack realised that this was the last night of his namesake's life. In the morning he and his men would set off on a mission from which he would never return. He turned out to be gay, and Jack convinced him that, in wartime, everyone had to live each day as if it might be their last. The two men danced together, to the bemusement of Captain Jack's men - before Jack and Tosh were transported back to their own time.

Played by: Matt Rippy. Appearances: TW 2.12 Captain Jack Harkness (2007).

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Inspirations - Arc of Infinty

With the 1983 season being the 20th one, producer JNT asked his superiors if transmission of the series could be held back to the autumn so that it would be broadcast around the time of the anniversary on 23rd November. His BBC bosses declined the request, but plans were initiated to produce an anniversary special for later in the year.
In the meantime, scripts were developed by JNT and script editor Eric Saward. JNT would later claim that the decision to have some element of the show's past in every story was a conscious one, and was used in publicity for the season - but we now know that it was only later that this coincidence was pointed out to JNT by Ian Levine, the fan who was beginning to make his presence felt as a sort of unofficial continuity adviser.
The 10th Anniversary season had featured The Three Doctors, though this wasn't the actual anniversary story. (It began broadcast in December of the year before the anniversary, and technically it was the interconnected Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks which were felt to be the real anniversary episodes).
The Three Doctors had as its villain the legendary Time Lord Omega (though strictly speaking he was blasted into the anti-matter universe before the Gallifreyans became Time Lords). To launch the new series, it was decided to bring him back. The character was fairly fresh in people's minds, as The Three Doctors had been one of the repeats shown as part of The Five Faces of Doctor Who run, just before Davison's first season. Now the obvious people to resurrect the character were his creators - Bob Baker and Dave Martin. However, their writing partnership had broken up a couple of years before, and besides JNT had an aversion to using writers who had worked on the show prior to him taking over the producership.
The task of resurrecting Omega instead fell to Johnny Byrne, the creator of Nyssa, who had previously written The Keeper of Traken and who had been JNT's first choice as script editor when he took over.

Omega's inclusion pointed towards a Gallifrey setting for the story, but JNT also wanted to film abroad. The City of Death had been very successful, and canny budgeting (by JNT himself) had meant that a story could be filmed overseas so long as it entailed minimum cast and crew, and they didn't venture too far afield. The BBC already had a production base set up in Amsterdam, thanks to the soap opera Triangle. This rather unglamorous soap was set around a North Sea ferry service, going between England, France and Holland - hence the name.
It was therefore decided that Byrne's story should be set partly in the Dutch city, with the script designed to show off as much of Amsterdam as possible, so as to justify going there. The problem was that Byrne then had to come up with a reason for the city's inclusion. The earlier Paris set story had revolved around the theft of the Mona Lisa, so the location was intrinsic to the plot. The best that Byrne would manage was that some piece of technology vital to Omega's plan had to be operated somewhere below sea level.
Something else Byrne had to incorporate into his script was the return of Tegan. It had looked as if the Doctor and Nyssa had run off without her at the end of the previous season - never to be seen again - but it had always been planned that she would be reunited with them at the start of the following season. She has now lost her job - the one he was always going on about over the last year - and so has decided to cheer herself up by joining her cousin Colin, who is travelling around Europe with his friend, Robin, when they hit Amsterdam. A lot of stories rely on coincidence, but this pushes that a little too far. The backpacking youths are reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London and other horror movies, and their decision to spend a night in a creepy crypt only adds to the horror vibe.

The other half of the story is, as we've  said, set on Gallifrey. It links directly with the two previous Gallifrey stories in that it features the character of Borusa - now President proper, rather than just the power behind the throne. We also have another Castelan, who is not terribly nice (as with his predecessor Kelner). What we don't get is Leela or Andred, though the Doctor does at least ask after his old companion. K9 is absent as well. Byrne instead comes up with two entirely new old friends of the Doctor - the technician Damon, and Hedin, member of the High Council. Once again, as with two of the last three visits to his home planet, the Doctor finds himself on trial from his own people (The War Games and The Deadly Assassin).

Arc of Infinity is also another of those evil doppelganger stories. Every Doctor apart from Pertwee had met an evil version of himself (whilst Pertwee had to make do with evil doppelganger of all his friends). Omega needs a body in the universe of matter in order to cross over between dimensions, and he elects to use that of the Time Lord who had defeated him last time. Prior to Davison taking on the double role, Omega is played not by Stephen Thorne as you might have expected but by Ian Collier, who was last seen playing dippy hippy Stu in The Time Monster. We also don't get the same costume as seen back in the 1970's. This naturally annoyed fans at the time, and since. If you're going to bring back a classic villain, then do it properly. The only reason for not having Omega look or sound like Omega is that they wanted to keep the fans guessing as to who this villain might be. They simply name him as "the Renegade" for the first two episodes (remember that the series was being shown twice weekly at this stage, so the Radio Times covered two episodes per week). It's just a pity that at least one tabloid newspaper stated who the villain was going to be when they printed the publicity photos of the TARDIS crew messing about on bicycles in Amsterdam several months before broadcast.

Another failed attempt at engendering mystery was with Omega's secret helper on Gallifrey. Out of a relatively small cast of characters who it could have been, it was far too obviously Michael Gough's Councillor Hedin.
One unintentional nod back to The Three Doctors was in giving Omega a poorly realised monster as an accomplice - then the Gellguards, and here the boney chicken-like Ergon. The Doctor even comments on how rubbish it is.
Next time: one of the series' rare proper sequels. Lots more Buddhist references as the Mara make their return...

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Fugitive of the Judoon - Review

Blimey! What a lot to take in.
It all starts off looking like it's going to be a fairly light-hearted runaround, in the style of a Russell T Davies episode, or a story from The Sarah Jane Adventures, with a platoon of Judoon arriving in the city of Gloucester in search of the titular fugitive. So far, so Smith and Jones. We knew that someone was gong to be returning to the show this episode, thanks to a BBC America tweet earlier in the week, and it looked as though this might be the Master, as the Doctor is searching for him as we first see the TARDIS and its crew. However, the returnee proves to be the surprise reappearance of Captain Jack Harkness. Sadly, he never gets to meet the Doctor, let alone interact with her. He scoops up the three companions accidentally, and only just has time to warn them about an upcoming storyline, before vanishing. This was a great shame, as we would have loved to see how Captain Jack would have interacted with the latest Doctor, though I think a Barrowman / Capaldi meeting would have been the one most fans would have loved to have seen. Jack promised he would be back, and hopefully we'll see this later in the season, when the character is properly integrated into the plot and not just some fan-pleasing bolt-on. The suspicion is that he won't be back this season, though, as Chibnall has spoken of a 5 year plan for the series. Let's hope the ratings give him the opportunity...
Question: if Jack knows all about the "lone Cyberman" from her future, why doesn't he know that the Doctor is now female?
Then, just when you think that was the big surprise of the episode, we get the big reveal of tour guide Ruth's real identity. She's used a chameleon arch to hide her real self - a hitherto unseen incarnation of the Doctor which must predate the Hartnell one. A previous regeneration cycle, or some sort of alternative timeline one? Time, as it always does, will tell.
Question: if the Ruth Doctor does predate the Hartnell one, why does her TARDIS look like a Police Box?
Frankly, the whole thing was a bit of a dog's dinner, not entirely sure of what sort of a story it was telling. We were simply whacked on the head with revelation after revelation - none of them particularly satisfying.
Question: how much of this story was written by Patel, and how much by Chibnall?
All these big developments meant that the Judoon were under utilised, Neil Stuke was under utilised, and Captain Jack was under utilised. Even the city of Gloucester was under utilised. It could have been filmed anywhere, with the cathedral only appearing in a couple of scenes. They could have filmed inside Landaff Cathedral and saved some money, for all we saw of it.
Question: what is it with all these badly acted old ladies getting killed these days?
The Ruth Doctor's TARDIS was nice, and the opening TARDIS sequence was also very well done, with a more brooding Doctor, snapping at her companions. A shame we haven't seen more of this.
And even if he wasn't properly integrated into the proceedings, it was great to see Jack again.
I've asked a few questions above, but there are obviously lots of big questions thrown up by this series so far. Series 11 deliberately avoided any story arc, beyond the dropping of a reference to the "Timeless Child" way back in the second episode, then having the villain of the first episode reappear for the final episode. Perhaps we've gone too much the other way with this series - and we're only half way through. There's been the return of the Master, the Judoon and Captain Jack. The Timeless Child has been mentioned again. Gallifrey has been destroyed due to some dark secret in its history. A new earlier / alternate Doctor has been introduced. We've got Cybermen on the way (and more Daleks in the next festive special), and the Doctor is now hinting that something is coming for her, manipulating time around her. Chibnall had really better deliver an exceptional pay-off to all this.

What's Wrong With... The Web Planet

The surprising thing about this story is that so much more could have gone wrong - but didn't. In a season where only the Daleks get six part stories, having another story of that length in which no human characters appear other than the regulars, set on a moonscape planet entirely confined to a small studio, was a massive gamble. Many would argue that the gamble failed, but I wouldn't, and there were 13.5 million viewers for The Web Planet - a record not broken until Tom Baker's tenure.
Anyway, this is about what didn't quite go to plan, so let's go.
The history of the planet Vortis is rather confusing. The Menoptra speak as if they were only forced to flee the planet relatively recently - a year or two at most. However, the Doctor thinks that the Animus must have been growing for at least a century, and it doesn't recognise what a Menoptra looks like - asking the Doctor if he is one.
The Optera also talk as if the Animus has been around for centuries. Presumably they diverged from the Menoptra well before they were forced off the planet, as evolution couldn't possibly account for them being a more recent development.
If the Menoptra have been away for a lot longer than a few years, why do they want to return? Vortis is now a barren world, with hardly any vegetation left. What's more, the air is very thin, which begs the question of how they are able to fly now.
Pictos is described as not suitable for them, so why not find a new home elsewhere altogether?
We hear that the Animus is growing very very slowly at the planet's magnetic pole. Vortis is a big planet, so why couldn't the Menoptra just have relocated to another part of the planet to establish a base there?
Some stories seem to imply that the TARDIS materialises out of the Vortex momentarily before landing. This is presumably what happens here, otherwise the Animus is really very very powerful indeed, so why would it want to master the human race's ability to travel through space - a primitive form of travel in comparison to what it can already achieve.
As mentioned, there are no humanoid species on Vortis. The Zarbi actually look okay on screen, there obvious means of construction and operation more visible in static photographs. The Menoptra are more impressive, but you can see where they decided to change the design between the filming at Ealing and the studio sessions. On film the faces are just makeup rather than masks.
The Optera aren't anywhere near as effective, their subsidiary limbs clearly being costume parts. The Venom Grubs, or Larvae Guns, or Sting Grubs can't work out what they want to be called... Easy to see how they are operated by an extra down on all fours - except when they whizz along the wooden studio floor, pulled along on a trolley.
How do the Menoptra know that the Animus has a "dark side"? As it happens, when we finally get to see it, it doesn't really have any particularly dark side.
The Menoptra seem to accept the Doctor and his companions fairly readily, and yet insist on the correct password from their own kind.
Time we said it - one of the Zarbi rushes towards a camera, and crashes right into it.
The Doctor's Astral Map is clearly hollow, the images on it printed on card.
When Ian and Vrestin fall down the chasm to the lair of the Optera, you can hear Roslyn De Wynter laughing hysterically as the dust falls on them.
Hartnell has some problems in the first episode with his dialogue, throwing William Russell a couple of times. Ian has to rather awkwardly ask which galaxy Vortis is in, to get Hartnell back on track with the script. We then have the scene where Ian asks the Doctor how they are going to open the TARDIS doors without power. Watch Russell's face as Hartnell hums and hahs over his ring.
Some Hartnell fluffs:
"The question is, is it some natural phenomena or... is it intelligent or deliberate, or... for a purpose? Hmm?".
"... if I can only trick her into neutralising this section of area...".
And: "We have been on a slight exploitation...".
It is said that it was during the making of this story that William Russell decided to quit the show. If it was down to the production rather than for off screen reasons, then there is fun to be had working out which scene might have acted as his final straw...

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Unseen Stories (3)

As far as references to unseen adventures are concerned, things change with the arrival of the Third Doctor. For a start he has had his memory tampered with by the Time Lords - dematerialisation codes, temporal flight equations, etc. He surprises himself when introduced to Liz Shaw by recalling that the people of the planet Delphon communicate with their eyebrows. This doesn't necessarily mean that he has been there, however, but if his eyebrow wiggling really does mean "how do you do?" in that language then it might just suggest he has personal knowledge of the species, who have never featured in the series.
He tells us in The Silurians that he has been potholing before, but not recently, and intimates that he has seen dinosaurs in the flesh. He'll encounter a lot from this incarnation on, but again they haven't been seen on screen before. This story also features the infamous line where the Doctor seems to be suggesting that he is thousands of years old. What he actually says is that his experience covers thousands of years - as in he has witnessed that sort of time span in his travels.
On hearing the alien signals being beamed to and from the aliens in The Ambassadors of Death, he clearly states that he recognises them, but just can't recall the details. He has encountered them before, but the Time Lord-induced amnesia is interfering with that recall. Strange, though, that there doesn't seem to be any trace of recognition when he finally sees their spacecraft and meets the aliens in person.
Another vague memory is of the noise heard when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, as mentioned in Inferno. He may have been there in a multi-Doctor adventure, as we know that the Ninth Doctor was also there at the time of the eruption. He mentions meeting the Queen's grandfather in Paris. That would be George V, who reigned 1910 - 1936. We know he visited France during the First World War, as he suffered a serious accident when he fell from his horse whilst inspecting troops there in 1917.
It should be pointed out that all of these references must relate to his First or Second incarnations as, of course, he is stuck on Earth at this period.
His familiarity with the technology and physical attributes of the Lamadines might just be learned knowledge, but his memory doesn't fail him when it comes to recalling his youth on Gallifrey, and his schooldays with the Master.
That "thousands of years" line makes a comeback in The Mind of Evil, when he is about to claim he has been a scientist for that length of time. This one is harder to square, however, as he really does seem to be suggesting it is his lifespan to date - despite only being around 450 in Tomb of the Cybermen, and travelling uninterrupted with human companions since that story.
This story also has the Doctor telling Jo Grant about the time he was locked in the Tower of London with Sir Walter Raleigh, who would go on about this thing called a potato he had brought back. Raleigh was imprisoned by both Queen Elizabeth and King James, so this is at least his second time spent in the Tower, as he previously told Ian and Barbara that King Henry VIII had sent him there.
The Third Doctor is the first to really name-drop at any opportunity. Saying that he is a personal friend of Chairman Mao might simply have been a way of ingratiating himself with the Chinese peace conference delegate, so doesn't necessarily mean he has met him, let alone count him as a friend.
The Daemons suggests that he has some clouded memory of the titular creatures, the mere mention of Devil's End sending him running off into the night to stop the archaeological dig. Hearing the Master talk of world domination makes him think about Hitler, or possibly Genghis Khan - he can't remember which - suggesting he may have heard both of them speak. Whilst the former could be from a recording, the latter means he must have seen him in person. (He does later claim that the Khan's assembled hordes failed to break into the TARDIS).
Another name-drop is Napoleon Bonaparte in Day of the Daleks. He claims to have given "Boney", as he was entitled to call him, the phrase about an army marching on its stomach. This one does sound a bit more made up for Jo's benefit.
More royal connections: he claims to have attended the coronation of either Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria - again he can't recall which.
His claim to be a personal friend of Lord Nelson does sound as if he means it, but his other claims in The Sea Devils to have been at Gallipoli and El Alamein are clearly just attempts to coax someone into lending him their boat. He also mentions the Crimean War, and his Second incarnation had previously said he witnessed the Charge of the Light Brigade, so there may be a kernel of truth hidden in the lie.
In The Time Monster we get more references back to his childhood - schooldays with the Master once again, plus the story he tells Jo of his encounter with the hermit who lived in the mountains above his home. The odd thing about this latter reminiscence is that he says something along the lines of "I laughed too when I heard it" - suggesting it isn't even his own recollection. (It is pinched wholesale from a Buddhist text after all). Was he simply telling Jo an uplifting parable to raise her spirits?
Unless it took place during the potential Season 6b, the banning of Miniscopes occurred before he left Gallifrey. He has visited Metebelis III before, and recognises a Plesiosaur when it attacks the SS Bernice - again suggesting he has seen dinosaurs before. We know that he has claimed to have trained with the Mountain Mauler of Montana, who sounds like a wrestler, but in Carnival of Monsters he also says that he was taught some boxing techniques by John L Sullivan, who was most active in the 1880's. He won 40 of his 44 fights, and only lost one (the other three being two draws and a "no contest"). Sullivan was the last of the great bare knuckle fighters, but the Doctor insists on Queensbury Rules for his fight with Lt Andrews (drawn up by the Marquis of Queensbury - Lord Alfred Douglas' father, and so a key player in the fall of Oscar Wilde).
The Doctor definitely visited the planet of Draconia before - assisting the Fifteenth Emperor in combating a space plague. His story about attending an intergalactic conference and being captured by the Medusoids does sound like another of those made up stories told to cheer Jo up - certainly the description of the other delegates whom he encountered (horses with purple spots etc).
The Doctor finally gets to Metebelis III in The Green Death, and it's not the paradise he has previously described, so he obviously visited a different part of the planet, or he went there at a different point in the planet's history - presumably much later as it seems quite primordial here.
His comments to Sarah about the Vandals having a bad reputation might imply an encounter with them, or it might just be learned knowledge about their culture.
He tells Sarah that he has been to the planet Florana more than once in Death to the Daleks - another good place for a holiday - and also informs her that he has seen a temple in Peru which reminds him of the Exxilon city.
Finally, we get some more name-dropping in Planet of the Spiders - learning some escapology tricks from Harry Houdini (someone he will mention a couple of times in later incarnations, so presumably a real encounter), and he tells Sergeant Benton that some of the best coffee he ever tasted was made by Mrs Pepys. However, in his famous diaries Samuel Pepys states that his wife couldn't stand coffee, much preferring tea. It's possible she might have been good at making it, just never drank it herself. Pepys was also a notorious womaniser, and the lady introduced to the Doctor as his wife might have actually been one of his many mistresses.
The Doctor once again mentions the Gallifreyan hermit story to Sarah, in front of K'anpo (the hermit himself), so this suggests that his story to Jo was a genuine recollection after all.