Saturday, 26 November 2022

Monster Spin-Offs?

File under "Rumour" for now, as a UK tabloid is reporting that Doctor Who's most famous monsters might be getting their own spin-off series. This has come from the Mirror, and a reporter who is generally more often right than wrong. It is all part of the Disney+ streaming deal. Something which might lend credence is the fact that Russell T Davies has spoken before about creating a "Doctor Who Universe" akin to the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Aliens mentioned include Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and Weeping Angels. These episodes would not feature the Doctor at all, but would be designed to show what these creatures get up to when the TARDIS isn't around.
If this does prove to be more than rumour, it might also open the door for past Doctors to get an outing. There has always been a demand to see more of Paul McGann's incarnation, for instance. Some old companions might also get another outing.
Not sure if there would necessarily be room on BBC 1 for too many spin-offs, so if this does come off then some of it at least might be exclusive to Disney+.

William Russell - World Record Holder


Hot on the heels of his 98th birthday, William Russell has just made it into the Guiness Book of World Records. So reports the Radio Times. He has the distinction of having the longest span of appearances as the same character in a TV series. This had previously gone to a Coronation Street actor whose first and last appearances were 43 years apart. Russell (real name Russell Enoch) first featured in Doctor Who in November 1963, and his latest appearance was in October 2022 - a record-breaking span of 57 years.
The empty chair at the support group was not a tribute to the absent Lis Sladen, as some fans thought, but a place for Anneke Wills, who was due to appear as Polly. Unfortunately, she dropped out at the last minute. Had she featured, her span would have been 1966 - 2022, which would also have beaten that Corrie actor. Katy Manning's run is now 51 years (1971 - 2022). If the Guiness Record were to be divided into male and female categories, she would also be a record-breaker.

Friday, 25 November 2022

Inspirations: 42

As with last week's episode, the inspiration for this story can be seen the title.
In November 2001, the Fox network launched the thriller series 24, whose gimmick was that each instalment would cover one hour in real time - so the overall season of 24 episodes would combine to show 24 hours in the lives of the various protagonists.
This format meant that there was a built-in deadline to events, making it much more exciting for the viewers. The heroes, led by Kiefer Sutherland as counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer, had to defeat the villains within a strictly limited timescale.
It was decided for Series 3 of Doctor Who to attempt something similar - in the hope that it would capture the same sort of excitement. 
When you removed the opening and closing credits, the average episode of Doctor Who at the time comprised 42 minutes of drama - which just happens to be 24 reversed.
This provided the story with its title.
As it was, the episode was not played in real-time. There is a jump of a couple of minutes at one point.

Writer Chris Chibnall was working on the first series of Torchwood when he was asked if he wanted to write his first Doctor Who episode. Elements including an intelligent sun, glowing eyes and a spacewalk were handed to him by Russell T Davies. 
An early version had a space station setting, in orbit around the star and studying it for generations, but this was changed to a passing ship only recently arrived, to save on a more complicated backstory.
Chibnall was pleased to note that '42' also had great significance for Douglas Adams fans, being the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

The spaceship was going to be called the S.S. Icarus - after the mythological figure who was the son of Daedalus, architect of the Labyrinth on Crete. In order to escape the island they decided to make wings for themselves. Daedalus cautioned his son not to fly too close to the Sun as the heat would melt the wax holding the feathers on. Icarus failed to heed dad's advice, and plunged to his death.
A problem arose when the Danny Boyle sci-fi movie Sunshine was released in 2007. 
This had used the intended spaceship name (an Icarus I and an Icarus II), so it had to changed. It became the S.S. Pentallian - a name derived from Revenge of the Cybermen, where a "Pentallian drive" had been an essential component of the transmat.

Sunshine sees a space mission to reignite the dying Sun. (Considering the derivation of the name, it is pushing luck somewhat to name the ship after a failure - especially when the first ship was lost several years before). One of the inspirations for his film cited by Boyle was the Russian movie Solaris (1972) which featured a sentient planet. Ridley Scott's Alien was another influence. Both have elements which can be seen in 42 - a crew trapped on a spaceship with an alien killer in both, and the sentient celestial body in the former. Like 42, Sunshine has a major action set-piece revolving around the ship's airlock.
There is also a hint of the 1997 film Event Horizon, in terms of a spaceship encountering a natural phenomenon (in this case another dimension) which proves to be sentient and which affects a crewman, turning him into a killer.

The masks worn by the infected crew were inspired by Cyclops of X-Men. His eyes fire beams of energy, which he controls behind a dark visor.
The Doctor upgrades Martha's phone so it has universal roaming. He had earlier offered this to Rose in The End of the World.
We see that Francine Jones is allowing people to monitor her daughter's calls. They are employees of Harold Saxon - this series' story arc - and we saw in the previous week's episode Francine falling under their corrupting influence. Then, it had been a man played by Bertie Carvel, but his career suddenly took off and he was unavailable for later episodes and so his place was taken by a blonde female character, played by Elize Du Toit.

The story was going to be set at the same time as The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, and at one point was going to have Ood amongst the crew.
Riley's surname was going to be Kinkade, but that name had already been used as middle name for Brannigan in Gridlock.
The star system was going to be called the Peony System, but was changed as it sounded like people were saying "penis".

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Countdown to 60: Inside the Spaceship...

Today is Doctor Who's 59th birthday, so it's an apposite date on which to begin a countdown to next year's Diamond Anniversary. I did something similar for the 50th, selecting my personal fifty most significant stories from the series' history up to that point.
This time round I will be selecting sixty specific scenes - or, as the Valeyard might say, I intend to adumbrate sixty momentous instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum...
The first is an obvious one - the moment in the very first episode (An Unearthly Child) when school teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright push their way through the doors of a battered old Police Box which they've come across in a junkyard, and find themselves inside the TARDIS' amazing console room.
We've spent the first half of the episode getting to know them, but Susan and the Doctor have been presented as mysterious figures, clearly sharing some great secret. Here we first get an inkling of just who or what they might be. The two Earth people begin their journey into the unknown - taking all of us along with them...

L is for... Light

Light was a powerful alien entity, capable of taking on any form. It set out to catalogue every single lifeform in the cosmos. On arriving on a planet, it would capture examples of the dominant native species - such as a Neanderthal man on prehistoric Earth. Two crew members accompanied Light. One would set out and survey the region, whilst the other would remain in Light's ship to act as an experimental control. The Survey unit would interact with the environment and other creatures and so change and adapt - and the changes could then be measured against the Control.
After its arrival on Earth, Light went into hibernation in central Africa - being glimpsed only occasionally by natives and explorers. One such was the Victorian adventurer Redvers Fenn-Cooper. 
The spaceship could travel at the speed of thought and was transferred to the basement of a house in Perivale, to the west of London. The Survey unit killed the owner and assumed the identity of a Victorian gentleman named Josiah Smith. In order to evolve fully, he planned to use Fenn-Cooper to assassinate the Queen and assume power over the Empire. He kept Control locked up in the ship.
She escaped and freed Light. It took the form of a man in silvery robes. He began to investigate the inhabitants of the house - killing them in his experiments to understand how they worked. 
He soon discovered that life had not only evolved, but it was continuing to evolve, even as he observed it. This began to drive him insane. The Doctor gave the process a push by telling him about fictitious creatures such as dragons, basilisks, 'bandersnatches' and 'slithy toves' which he had failed to catalogue. Light threatened to wipe out all life on Earth with a fire storm to put a stop to evolution, but self-destructed and dissipated before he could do so.

Played by: John Hallam. Appearances: Ghost Light (1989).
  • Hallam's time on the production was extremely limited as he was making The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Trader for the BBC at the same time.
  • He had many genre performances, including King Vultan's lieutenant in Flash Gordon and roles in Lifeforce and Dragonslayer.
  • Light's costume was based on artwork by the visionary poet and artist William Blake. The back of the robes looked like an insect carapace, to tie in with the evolutionary theme. Writer Marc Platt had hoped that the character would have wings.

L is for... Li H'sen Chang

As a young peasant in his native China, Li H'sen Chang had witnessed the arrival of a scientist named Magnus Greel, who had travelled back in time from the 51st Century. Badly injured and disfigured by the process, Chang looked after him and shielded him from the troops of the Emperor. They seized his time cabinet and gave it to their master. The young man believed Greel to be the god of abundance - Weng-Chiang.
Greel was able to bestow on Chang special mental abilities, such as formidable hypnotic powers. After the Emperor had gifted the cabinet to a foreign diplomat who had taken it away with him, Greel had Chang use his powers to set himself up as a magician and illusionist. By embarking on a European tour, they could track down and retrieve the cabinet.
Chang headlined the Palace Theatre in London when the cabinet was traced to the home of pathologist Edward Litefoot. He was compelled to seek out young women from the neighbourhood, who had their life-force drained by Greel to keep him alive.
When he abducted a young woman who had featured in his act one night, it brought attention to the theatre, which angered Greel. Chang hypnotised the theatre manager - Henry Gordon Jago - but the Doctor discovered this.
Chang met the Doctor at the local police station where he had one of his men kill himself with scorpion poison, after the man had been arrested. Greel and Chang made use of the Tong of the Black Scorpion. He also used the Peking Homunculus - a lethal cyborg creature from Greel's time - as his ventriloquist dummy, Mr Sin.
Greel ordered Chang to kill the Doctor, but he failed. His god then abandoned him - disgracing him in front of an audience when he murdered a stagehand and left the corpse in Chang's trick cabinet.
Chang fled from the theatre via the sewer system, but this was guarded by rats grown to enormous size by Greel to guard his lair. 
Chang was badly injured by them, losing a leg. He managed to get to a nearby opium den and gave the Doctor a clue as to Greel's new hideout before dying from his injuries.

Played by: John Bennett. Appearances: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1976).
  • Bennett had earlier featured as General Finch in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
  • He had earlier starred opposite Jon Pertwee in the film The House That Dripped Blood, as the detective who encounters Pertwee's vampire.

L is for... Lexa

Lexa was High Priestess of the Deons - a religious sect from the planet Tigella. Tigellan society was split between the Deons and the science-rationalist Savants, with a neutral elder named Zastor acting as mediator and leader. Many years before, a strange object had fallen into the jungles of the planet - a 12-sided power source known as the Dodecahedron. The Deons believed that this had been sent by their god Ti, whilst the Savants suspected a more secular origin. The Dodecahedron was harnessed, and its energy powered their subterranean city.
When the Dodecahedron began to fail, putting the city at risk, Zastor called upon the Doctor to come and help. He had visited the planet in the past. Lexa was angry at this, and only agreed if the Doctor swore allegiance to Ti before he would be permitted to enter the inner sanctum where the object was housed.
The Doctor became trapped in a time loop with Romana and K9, and his place was taken by the alien Meglos - last of the Zolfa-Thuran race who were the original owners of the Dodecahedron. It powered a vast energy weapon, and he wanted it back. Meglos stole it by shrinking it, and when the Doctor finally arrived he found himself arrested by Lexa and her people, who sentenced him to be sacrificed to Ti.
When she discovered the truth, Lexa decided to help. She sacrificed herself to save Romana when she was fired upon by Gaztak mercenaries.

Played by: Jacqueline Hill. Appearances: Meglos (1981).
  • Hill had previously portrayed Barbara Wright, companion to the First Doctor in Seasons 1 and 2.
  • She had given up work to concentrate on raising a family and had only recently returned to acting.
  • Oddly, when director Graeme Harper wished to cast Michael Craze (who had played companion Ben) in The Caves of Androzani he was told by John Nathan Turner that companion actors could not be brought back as different characters.