Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Empty Planet - SJA 4.4

In which Rani Chandra and Clyde Langer wake up one morning to discover that they appear to be the only people on Earth.
The previous night at Sarah Jane Smith's house, Mr Smith had been monitoring strange signals emanating from space. Initially, they notice that their families have vanished, but when they take to the streets they find that the disappearances cover the whole area. TV and radio channels show only static. They move towards the centre of London, discovering that the disappearances are ever more widespread. When they decide to head back to Sarah's home they hear a noise, and spot a boy in school uniform. They pursue him and are led to a tower block where the boy lives. His name is Gavin and he tells them that he is an orphan, living here with a foster family, of whom he has had many. He seems scared of Clyde and Rani, rather than happy to see other people.

A strange noise is heard and Gavin runs off. Clyde and Rani look for him, but stop at a cafe to get some food. They hear the noise again, and a message comes over the TV, radio and their mobile phones - a voice demanding the sun and the air. Going outside they split up to look for Gavin, but both encounter giant robots - one red and the other yellow...
Gavin reappears and saves Rani, whilst Clyde also manages to evade his robot attacker. They go back to the cafe where Sarah's friends start to reminisce about their life since encountering Sarah Jane Smith. This leads them to realise something which makes them different from everyone else they know. At the conclusion of their encounter with the Judoon, they had been grounded - forbidden from leaving the Earth. This might explain why they have not been taken, but not Gavin, who claims to know nothing of aliens.
The robots burst in and corner Clyde and Rani, whilst Gavin slips away. The robots scan them, but don't harm them. They reiterate their demand for the sun and air.

However, it soon becomes apparent that what they are really looking for is the son and heir. Gavin is really an alien prince, who was sent to Earth as a baby for safety when his planet was attacked. The threat is now gone, and the robots have been sent to bring him home. Recalling Gavin's love of nature, they trace him to a local wildlife park, bringing the robots with them. However, the machines can't see him. He is wearing a bio-damper which was given to him to protect him. They convince him to remove it, and the robots tell him of his true nature, and show him images of the planet he is to rule. He agrees to go with the robots, knighting Clyde and Rani before ordering the robots to return the Earth's population.
Back on Bannerman Road they tell Sarah and Mr Smith of everything that has happened, as no-one knows they have gone anywhere apart from some lost time. Their solo adventure has brought the pair closer together.

The Empty Planet was written by Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast November 1st and 2nd, 2010.
The story is very much a character piece for Anjli Mohindra as Rani, and Daniel Anthony as Clyde, as every scene features one or both of them. It also starts to develop their personal relationship with each other - hinting at a blossoming romance. Had the series not ended prematurely the following year, this romance would have been developed further by the production team.
Lis Sladen only features briefly at the beginning of the first episode, and the end of the second - making it a Sarah-lite story, much as Mark of the Berserker had been in Series 2, and Mona Lisa's Revenge in Series 3.
The only other cast member of note is Joe Mason, who plays Gavin, though we also briefly see Rani's parents, and Clyde's mum Carla (Jocelyn Jee Esien), who has featured only a couple of times in the series.
The story is also notable for the extensive location footage, with very little studio work.

Overall, quite a nice little episode. The first section sets up the mystery very well, and you're really intrigued to know what has happened to everyone - and why Clyde and Rani haven't been affected. It's the nature of the series that the resolution is going to be a little bit twee, but it is still good to see Clyde and Rani get so much screen time. A special mention must be made of the excellent robot designs as well.
Believe it or not, but there are no things you might like to know about this story. Lots of little continuity references, but that's your lot.

Monday, 11 November 2019

H is for... Harkness, Captain Jack

An ex-Time Agent from the 51st Century who became companion to the Ninth Doctor, before leading Torchwood 3 based in Cardiff. Jack was born in a colony on the Boeshane Peninsula. The settlement frequently came under attack by alien creatures, and during one of these assaults his younger brother Gray was taken. As he had been looking after him, Jack felt responsible for this loss. He later joined the Time Agency as one of its operatives, forging a personal and working relationship with fellow agent Captain John Hart. Following one of their missions, the Agency deleted two years of Jack's memories, which caused him to resign.
He set himself up as a con-man, and one of his schemes involved the sale of a Chula Warship - to be sold under cover of the London Blitz. Jack took on the persona of a dead US RAF volunteer. His real name has never been revealed. The warship was really a Chula ambulance, containing millions of nanogenes designed to repair injured Chula warriors. They escaped into the atmosphere and began rewriting the DNA of anyone they encountered. When Jack rescued the Doctor's companion Rose Tyler, he assumed from her anachronistic clothing that she and the Doctor were the intended buyers.
Jack was prepared to sacrifice himself to carry a German bomb into space, before it could destroy the alien ambulance. He was rescued by the Doctor and Rose and accompanied them on their travels, visiting present day Cardiff and medieval Japan, before the TARDIS and its crew were captured by the Daleks and placed on the Game Station, around the year 100,100 AD.

Jack found himself in a deadly version of the TV fashion show What Not To Wear, menaced by its robot presenters. Despite being naked, he somehow smuggled a compact laser about his person and was able to destroy them. He then joined the Doctor in attempting to defend the station from a Dalek assault. He was able to work out that the game show contestants were not being vapourised, but were really being teleported away to the Dalek fleet for conversion into Daleks. His efforts to halt the Daleks ultimately failed as the overran the station, and Jack was exterminated.
However, Rose had absorbed the Vortex from the heart of the TARDIS, and she used her powers to bring him back to life. The Doctor saved Rose but at the cost of his own life, and so he rushed away from the station with her before he regenerated - leaving Jack behind. As a Time Agent, he possessed a wrist-mounted device known as a Vortex Manipulator, which allowed him to travel in time. He used it to travel to present day Earth where he hoped to find the Doctor and Rose. However, the device left him in the Victorian era where it malfunctioned - leaving him stranded. He then discovered during a drunken brawl on Ellis Island, New York, that every time he was fatally wounded he healed, or if killed came back to life. Rose had not only brought him back to life, she had made him immortal.
He decided that he would have to live out his life on Earth until his path crossed once again with the Doctor, who might be able to help him.
Back in England, he soon came to the attention of the recently formed Torchwood organisation, who were set up to protect Britain from alien menaces - including the Doctor. Rather than be locked away, he was forced to work for them.

He was based in Torchwood's Cardiff Hub, built beneath the city's bay area, but went on missions all over the country. In the 1960's he was in Scotland, where he was tasked with handing over a number of children from an orphanage to aliens known as the 456. On the eve of the Millennium, his boss killed his entire team before taking his own life - bequeathing Torchwood 3 to Jack before he died. He had claimed that everything was going to change for the worse with the coming of the 21st Century, and believed that they were doomed. Jack then set about building a new team. In 2006 he came into the possession of the Doctor's severed hand - cut off in a duel with the Sycorax leader over London on Christmas Day. Jack kept this, as he felt it might lead to another meeting with the Doctor. When he recruited WPC Gwen Cooper to the team, it coincided with his having to kill his deputy Suzie Costello, who had become obsessed with an alien gauntlet which could revive the dead - prompting her to commit murders so that she could use it. Investigating an abandoned music hall, Jack and colleague Toshiko Sato were transported back to the Cardiff Blitz, where he met the man whose identity he had taken - the real Captain Jack Harkness.
Soon after Jack was almost killed when he faced the demonic Abaddon. On recovering from the ordeal, he noticed that the Doctor's hand was reacting, and he spotted that the TARDIS had arrived above the Hub to refuel from the space / time rift which ran through the city. He leapt onto the ship as it dematerialised, and his presence caused the TARDIS to fly to the end of the universe.

He was at last reunited with the Doctor, now in his tenth incarnation and travelling with Martha Jones. The TARDIS had recognised him as a temporal anomaly and had tried to avoid him - hence the trip to the end of time and the planet Malcassairo, home to one of the last remnants of the human race. The Doctor admitted that he could not help Jack. Jack helped the humans take off in their spaceship in search of a place called Utopia, where other survivors may have gathered. The elderly Professor Yana had declined to accompany them. He proved to be the Master, his identity hidden from himself by a Chameleon Arch. Earlier, the Doctor had been told by the Face of Boe "You Are Not Alone" - implying that he was not the last of the Time Lords as he had believed. The Master stole the TARDIS and used it to get to Earth, and the Doctor repaired Jack's Vortex Manipulator so that they could follow him. They arrived some months later - to find that the Master, as Harold Saxon, had just been elected British Prime Minister. he then arranged for the planet to be invaded by the Toclafane - cyborg remnants of the human race from Utopia. Jack was left chained up for a year in the Valiant, the Master's base of operations which had been a UNIT flying aircraft carrier.
The Master was eventually defeated and time rolled backwards to delete the year of his misrule for everyone except those on the vessel. jack was dropped off back in Cardiff, where he told the Doctor and Martha that he had once been nicknamed the Face of Boe, when he became the first person in the Boe Peninsula to join the Time Agency...

Jack rejoined his team, who were not happy that he had seemingly abandoned them. He resumed his relationship with team member Ianto Jones. He was reunited with Captain John and from him learned that his brother Gray was still alive. Later, he encountered an alien who called himself dam, who thrived on people's memories - needing to be remembered in order to exist. Adam tried to infiltrate the team by planting false memories, to make everyone think had always been with them. He was able to access Jack's memories of the day when Gray had been taken - memories which he tried to suppress. Jack was prepared to lose these again to destroy Adam, giving himself and the rest of the team the Ret-con drug, which caused memory loss.
Some time later, however, the team was lured into an ambush - a trap set by Captain John and Gray. Gray had become deranged following years of captivity and wanted revenge on his brother. He set off bombs around Cardiff, then abducted Jack and took him back to the city in the Iron Age, where John was forced to bury him alive. Jack remained imprisoned this way, dying over and over again, until a device planted in the grave by John attracted the attention of the Edwardian Torchwood team. Jack had them place him in cryogenic suspension in the Hub, to be reawakened on the day Gray attacked the city. Jack was able to overpower Gray and had him placed in cryogenic suspension, but the incident had already led to the deaths of Tosh and colleague Owen Harper.

Jack, Ianto and Gwen had no sooner got over the loss of their colleagues when the entire Earth was dragged across space to the Medusa Cascade, before being invaded by Daleks. Jack was reunited with Martha Jones, now with UNIT and who had been temporarily seconded to Torchwood. He also got to meet Sarah Jane Smith, whose exploits he had followed closely. He had left Ianto and Gwen to defend the Hub and gone off alone to help the Doctor. Jack allowed himself to be exterminated once again by the Daleks in order to remain at large on their space station - the Crucible. Here he would also be reunited with Rose, and Mickey Smith. Everyone was captured by Davros and the Daleks, but they were rescued by Donna Noble and a second Doctor who had grown from the severed hand which Jack had once kept, following a partial regeneration.
Jack returned to Cardiff after the Daleks had been defeated and the Earth restored to ts rightful location.
Whilst investigating mysterious deaths at the city's hospital, Jack was knocked out and awoke to discover that a powerful bomb had been sewn into his body. Gwen and Ianto managed to escape before it detonated, but Jack was blown to pieces and the Hub destroyed. The 456 had returned, and the British government was eliminating everyone associated with their earlier visit. Jack was rescued after he had come back to life, despite the government assassins encasing his remains in concrete. He, Gwen and Ianto went on the run, travelling to London. When they managed to get into the building where the 456 had materialised. Jack and Ianto were poisoned by toxic gases released by the creature. Jack returned to life, but Ianto perished.

Jack had had a number of relationships over the years. One of these had been with a lady named Estelle, where he later pretended to be the son of the man she once loved. Another relationship had led to a daughter, Alice Carter, and a grandson, Steven. A means of ejecting the 456 back out into space was discovered, a conflicting frequency, but it would require a child to deliver it - something which would prove fatal. Jack decided to use his own grandson to act as the conduit for the frequency. The 456 were expelled, but Steven was killed. Guilty and bereaved, jack decided to leave Earth for time - unsure if he would ever return.
The Tenth Doctor came across him in an alien bar as he visited old friends and companions prior to his next regeneration. He set Jack up on a date with Midshipman Alonso Frame, late of the Starship Titanic, who was also in the bar and feeling sorry for himself.

Jack returned to Earth, where he ensured that Gwen and her husband Rhys, with their baby daughter, were safely hidden in a remote farmhouse. Then one day, no-one on Earth died. Jack discovered that he was now the only person on the planet who could die. Gwen was forced out of retirement to accompany Jack to the USA to investigate what became known as Miracle Day. It transpired that it was created by an international conspiracy, centred on a group known as the Three Families. As Jack investigated, he discovered that he was the cause of the phenomena. On an earlier visit to the USA in 1927 he had become the lover of a young Italian immigrant named Angelo Colesanto. The two worked together and one night Angelo had seen Jack killed, before he was arrested and sent to prison for a year. On his return, he was shocked to find jack still alive, and believed him to be a devil. He stabbed him - and discovered that he could not die. He and some others - who would become the Three Families - took some of Jack's blood, and they had later used this to bring about Miracle Day - by feeding it into a strange rock formation which ran through the Earth. Known as the Blessing, this maintained a morphic field which stopped people dying. Feeding Jack's blood into both ends of the field, across the globe from each other, negated it - and mortality resumed.

At the time of writing, the present whereabouts of Captain Jack Harkness are unknown.

Played by: John Barrowman, Jack Montgomery (young Jack). First appearance: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005). Last appearance: TW: Miracle Day (2011).

H is for... Harding

Lionel Harding was  senior curator at London's International Gallery. He was obsessed with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, and after many years finally arranged for the painting to come to his gallery on temporary loan. His assistant, Phyllis Trupp, carried a torch for him, but her affections were unrequited, as Harding was more in love with the painted image. When Clyde Langer won an art competition his class was invited to the gallery for a special preview. When the picture was unveiled, Harding was shocked to find the Mona Lisa missing from the canvas, replaced by an image of Miss Trupp. One of the ingredients of the paint had been powder from a sentient meteorite. This had been activated by the proximity of another painting in the gallery made from the same material - a picture consigned to the vaults as it portrayed a creature known simply as the Abomination. Mona Lisa now wanted to find her "brother" and escape from the canvas for ever. Such was Harding's obsession that he agreed to help her. She could bring characters in paintings to life, as well as trap people within paintings - as she did with Sarah Jane Smith.
he finally came to see the error of his ways, and destroyed a puzzle box which she needed to free the Abomination. Once Mona Lisa was back in her canvas, Harding turned to Miss Trupp, but she had overheard him belittling her whilst she had been trapped in the painting, and so rejected him.

Played by: Jeff Rawle. Appearances: SJA 3.5: Mona Lisa's Revenge (2009).
  • Best known for a long-running role in TV News satire Drop The Dead Donkey, Rawle had previously played the young ruler Plantagenet in 1984's Frontios
  • In 2013 he portrayed Doctor Who's executive producer Mervyn Pinfield in the 50th Anniversary drama An Adventure in Space and Time.
  • He's also one of the many Doctor Who actors who have appeared in the Harry Potter movie franchise - playing Amos Diggory in The Goblet of Fire.

H is for... Hardin

A scientist from Earth who was working on experiments to help the inhabitants of Argolis. The Argolins were dying out as they had become sterile following a nuclear war with the Foamasi. Hardin's experiments were intended to hep them rejuvenate. He was working with a businessman named Stimson. When the Doctor and Romana saw a video of one of their successful experiments, they noticed straight away that it had been faked. Stimson tried to flee Argolis but was killed by a Foamasi agent, and blame for the death was placed on the Doctor. Hardin was convinced that with help from Romana he could achieve what he had set out to do. He was forced to conduct another experiment, this time on the Doctor, but instead of making him younger it caused him to age. Whilst Stimson had been motivated by greed, Hardin was in love with the new Argolin leader, Mena. His experiments were eventually successful, as he rejuvenated the dying Mena, and turned her hot-headed son Pangol, who was trying to launch a new war against the Foamasi, into a baby.

Played by: Nigel Lambert. Appearances: The Leisure Hive (1980).
  • Lambert is primarily a voice artist. One of his roles is as the Papa in the Dolmio sauce adverts. (Other pasta sauces are available).

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Death of the Doctor - SJA 4.3

In which Sarah Jane Smith gets a visit from UNIT. Colonel Karim has come to inform her in person of the death of her friend, the Doctor. Sarah refuses to believe he can be dead, as she always thought that she would somehow know if this happened, but agrees to travel to Wales with Karim for his funeral service. Rani and Clyde agree to go with her, worried that she is in denial. They are taken to UNIT's base built into the foot of Mount Snowdon. Karim explains that the Doctor's body was found by the alien Shansheeth - huge vulture-like creatures which act as undertakers. They scour battle fields for bodies in order to give them a proper burial. The TARDIS was not found with the Doctor. It is planned that his body will be fired into space in a UNIT rocket. Rani and Clyde are alarmed to find what they think are Graske working in the HQ. However, these are their blue-skinned cousins called Groske, who are not as troublesome. One of the creatures comments that Clyde smells strangely, and he notices a trace of Artron energy on his hand. Most of the Doctor's old acquaintances are unable to attend the funeral service. Liz Shaw is currently working at UNIT's moonbase, whilst the Brigadier is stuck in Peru. However, the Doctor's companion who immediately predated Sarah has been able to attend - Jo Grant.

Now a grandmother, she is still married to Cliff Jones, and has a huge family. She spends her time travelling the globe taking part in environmental protests. With her is one of her grandsons, Santiago. Sarah is overjoyed to meet her, having heard so much about her - and Jo tells her that she has heard all about Sarah too.
Later, in their quarters, Jo admits that she also has doubts about the Doctor's death - feeling that she too would have felt it. The Shansheeth, meanwhile are using a harp-like instrument which they played at the service to examine the memories of those who took part - agreeing that these are strongest with Sarah and Jo. Clyde, Rani and Santiago follow the Groske into some ventilation tunnels and come to his den. They hear the harp music playing, which is putting Sarah and Jo into a trance. They then overhear the Shansheeth plotting with Colonel Karim to create a memory weave - stealing Jo and Sarah's memories, which will kill them. Clyde suffers another attack of Artron energy, which attracts the attention of the aliens. Escaping into the corridor, Clyde suddenly starts talking with a different voice - that of the Doctor - and notices that his hand looks like it belongs to another person. Clyde suddenly vanishes and is replaced by the Doctor. Clyde finds himself transported to an alien planet, bathed by a red sun. The Shansheeth arrive in the corridor but when the Doctor challenges them they fire energy bolts at him from their claws...

The Doctor vanishes, but is replaced with Clyde. They swap bodies a couple more times then run off with their friends. The Doctor takes Sarah and Jo by the hand and all three are transported to the alien planet, leaving Clyde back at the UNIT base with Rani and Santiago. They retreat back into the ventilation shafts to avoid Karim and the Shansheeth - taking refuge once more in the Groske's den. On the planet, the Doctor explains that he has become separated from his TARDIS by the Shansheeth. he has built a device which should get him back to Earth but he needs help with it, to prevent Clyde being transported back here permanently. Jo is upset to have learned that Sarah has had some recent encounters with the Doctor, feeling that she wasn't good enough for him to have come and found her. He surprises her by revealing he knows all about her life since leaving UNIT. He has been keeping a discreet watch on all of his old companions, and went to see them all just before his last regeneration.
They operate the Doctor's device and return to UNIT's HQ complex. The Doctor must rescue the youngsters, as Karim turns up the heating in the ventilation shafts to danger levels, whilst the Shansheeth abduct Jo and Sarah and take them to the funeral chamber where the TARDIS is waiting.

They are strapped to the memory weave equipment, which begins to absorb their memories of travelling in the TARDIS. The Shansheeth do not have the ship's key, but a replacement can be made from these memories. They recall all of their initial adventures with the Doctor, and the key begins to form. The Doctor cannot get into the room, but he tells them that they should remember everything - including their lives since leaving him. The memory weave begins to overload and threatens to explode. Sarah and Jo break free and clamber into the lead-lined casket which was supposed to have been the Doctor's coffin - just as the memory weave explodes. Karim and the Shansheeth are killed in the blast.
The Doctor takes everyone back to Bannerman Road in the TARDIS, telling Jo and Sarah how proud he is of them before leaving to catch up with Amy and Rory, who are on honeymoon. When it is time for Jo and Santiago to depart, Sarah tells her of some of the other companions she has researched - teachers Ian and Barbara, who are academics at Cambridge, Ben and Polly who run an orphanage in India, Tegan Jovanka, who works with Aboriginal peoples in her native Australia, and a woman named Dorothy, who runs the 'A Charitable Earth' Foundation...

Death of the Doctor was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on 25th and 26th October, 2010.
This was the final TV script RTD wrote for the Doctor Who universe (at least to date), and it follows the previous season's The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith in having a guest appearance by the Doctor himself - in this case the new Doctor Matt Smith. That earlier story is referenced, as Clyde is still imbued with Artron energy from having come into contact with the Tenth Doctor's TARDIS.
As well as being a crossover with the parent programme in its current incarnation, Death of the Doctor is most notable for featuring the return of Katy Manning as Jo Grant - one time companion to the Third Doctor, but now grandmother Jo Jones. We learn that she is still married to Prof. Clifford Jones, and has become a fearless eco-warrior.
The story also makes reference to a number of other companions - Liz, the Brigadier, Ian & Barbara, Ben & Polly, Harry, Tegan and Ace. Some of what we hear totally contradicts what has featured in some of the novels and comic strips.
As their memories are accessed, we see a large number of clips from stories of the Classic Era which featured Jo and Sarah, plus SJA clips for Sarah's more recent memories. For Jo's more recent exploits we only get some ransacking of travel programme footage.

The guest cast is not a huge one. David Bradley makes his first appearance in the Doctor Who universe by voicing the Shansheeth leader. he'll be back in Series 7 as the villainous Solomon in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, before essaying William Hartnell in the 50th Anniversary drama An Adventure in Space and Time, then playing the First Doctor himself in Twice Upon A Time.
Santiago Jones is played by Finn Jones, who became a regular on Game of Thrones as Loras Tyrell.
Colonel Karim is Laila Rouass, who came to fame through Footballers' Wives.
Jimmy Vee is once again hidden under prosthetics as the Groske. Tommy Knight makes another Luke cameo, by appearing in a video call with the gang at the start of the story.

Overall, it's a love letter to Doctor Who of the 1970's, for many its Golden Age.
Things you might like to know:
  • The Shansheeth are quite effectively realised, but once you see them tending to only wave one arm around, you quickly spot how they were done.
  • RTD had previously considered Death of the Doctor as a title for what became The End of Time Part II.
  • This is the second time that UNIT has featured prominently in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and on both occasions the commanding officer turned out to be a villain. Major Kilburne had been a disguised Bane in Enemy of the Bane.
  • Torchwood had previously found a spaceship at the foot of Mount Snowdon, yet this is where UNIT Base 5 is located. As the Torchwood organisation was over a century old, they may have obtained it long before UNIT arrived in the area.
  • It is said that Ian and Barbara haven't aged since the 1960's. Nothing we saw on screen of their travels with the Doctor might have caused this. They are both professors at Cambridge University, though a couple of years later we find that Ian is Chairman of the Board of Governors of Coal Hill School (The Day of the Doctor).
  • Ben and Polly are still together in India, running an orphanage. The location might be a reference to the fact that Anneke Wills resided at an Ashram for a number of years.
  • In an earlier SJA story Sarah seemed to indicate that Harry Sullivan was dead. She says "Poor Harry..." when remembering him. Here she mentions his work with viruses but does so in the past tense, confirming that he is no longer with us.
  • The novel Eternity Weeps has Liz Shaw working in a moonbase for UNIT, but has her die in the early 2000's.
  • The recent trailer for the Season 26 Blu-ray box set also features Ace running the 'A Charitable Earth' Foundation. Whilst that is hardly canon, this story clearly contradicts the comic strip in DWM where she is killed.
  • During Tom Baker's time, Nicholas Courtney's absence was usually explained away by having the Brigadier stuck in Geneva. Since 2008, it is Peru where he has got himself stuck - starting with The Sontaran Stratagem. It had been hoped that Courtney could have made a cameo appearance in this story, but he was too ill. He passed away four months after it was broadcast.
  • Jo's memories include clips from Carnival of Monsters (one featuring Ian Marter in his earlier guise of Lt. Andrews in that story), The Three Doctors (including glimpses of the First and Second Doctors), The Mutants, The Sea Devils and Frontier in Space (including Roger Delgado's Master).
  • Some of Sarah's memories include clips from Masque of Mandragora, Genesis of the Daleks, The Android Invasion, Invasion of the DinosaursThe Monster of Peladon, Pyramids of Mars and The Hand of Fear.
  • A minor continuity matter is cleared up as we learn that Jo Grant did indeed visit Karfel with the Third Doctor (Timelash refers to this unseen adventure. No mention is made of who the Doctor's other companion was at the time).
  • Sarah recalls events from The Five Doctors, yet speaks of Tegan as though she has never met her. This was a problem thrown up by School Reunion, in which, despite having her owning K9 Mark III, she acted as though she hadn't seen the Doctor since The Hand of Fear.

Monday, 4 November 2019

What's Wrong With... The Dalek Invasion of Earth

London, some time after 2164, looks exactly like the London of 1964. Even the fashions are the same, despite the passage of two centuries. Battersea Power Station has been given an upgrade with a nuclear reactor attached alongside, even though the real power station is currently being turned into luxury flats. One of the problems of trying to depict the future. In 1964, the future looked like it would involve bases on the moon, or even further afield, hover cars, jet packs etc. (Many Doctor Who stories suffer from this failure to get the future quite right - e.g. The Enemy of the World being set in 2017.
We do hear mention of moving pavements and astronaut fairs, but there is no sign of any of this in the street scenes we see on screen.
The Doctor will claim in a later story that the Daleks invaded in 2157. If that's the case, why would people be printing 2164 calendars?
London is supposed to be pretty much deserted, with the resistance in hiding and only Daleks and Robomen patrolling the streets in broad daylight - yet we see a vehicle passing by St Martin in the Fields church (by Trafalgar Square), and there are people strolling in the distance by the Royal Albert Hall.
Just what was that Dalek doing in the middle of the Thames? Do the Daleks regularly patrol the river bottom?
The Doctor claims that this is the middle history of the Daleks, and that their encounter with them on Skaro is millions of years in the future. But those Daleks were clearly the original ones, survivors of the war with the Thals and technologically stunted - not even able to move outside their city. Common sense should have told him that these must be more advanced Daleks - so ones from the future in relation to the events on Skaro.
People familiar with London geography would have winced at seeing dock areas of east London presented as being in the west of the city, where the TARDIS has landed. It should be in Pimlico to get the view of Battersea Power Station, but the first episode is called World's End (an area of Chelsea).
Everyone seems to take a long time to spot the massive poster forbidding the dumping of bodies in the river. The Doctor comes up with a great understatement about the poster - claiming that dumping bodies is "near murder".
Why do the Daleks set elaborate tests for people if they are going to turn them into mindless Roboman drones? If it is to weed out the smart ones who might pose a threat to them then why robotise Craddock, who's a bit thick?
We all know about the Dalek Saucer Commander, with its distinctive half-black, half-silver colour scheme in the second episode. This was basically made up by fans to explain why the Dalek Supreme only had a partial paint job, and why it is fully black in all the subsequent episodes, and we never see the Saucer Commander again.
We hear that the Daleks have started to fire bomb London, yet see no sign of this having taken place. Why plant the bombs manually, rather than simply drop them from their saucers.
David's strategy for disarming a bomb capable of destroying a quarter of the city - pour acid on it then hit it with a crowbar.
The alligator in the sewers is clearly a baby one.
If the Daleks really did invade in 2157, then where did Barbara and Jenny manage to get enough petrol to get them from London to Bedfordshire?
The Daleks choose Bedfordshire to dig their mine. That's one of the most geologically stable parts of the United Kingdom. Lots of other parts of Britain would have been better for drilling.
The biggest problem with this story is the Dalek plan. Why are they wanting to pilot the Earth out of its orbit in the first place? What do they actually want to do with it once its movable? It would take thousands of years just to get to the next galaxy. Surely there are a lot more planets between Skaro and Earth that could have suited their purpose.
The Doctor also seems to think that Earth is the only planet in the universe to have a magnetic core.
The Doctor states that moving the Earth out of its orbit will disrupt the entire constellation. A constellation is just a pattern of totally unconnected stars seen from a certain position.
The Slyther changes appearance between episodes, sprouting a number of new tentacles.
The Dalek Supreme decides to announce their plan over the tannoy - thus enabling Ian to sabotage their bomb. (Later the Daleks will broadcast their Master Plan over a tannoy as well, so this is something they do a lot).
Despite all their technology, the Daleks don't have a mechanism for tracking the bomb's descent down the shaft, so don't notice that it is stuck only part way down, right under their base.
As the Daleks file out of their control room, one of them looks straight at the Doctor, yet seemingly fails to notice him.
At the conclusion, as the slave workers rebel, you can clearly see the set for the TARDIS landing site at the end of the corridor leading from the Dalek control room - even though one's in London and the other's in Bedfordshire. (That dumping bodies poster is visible).
No fluffs this episode - just some awful dialogue, such as the Doctor's threat to give Susan "a jolly good smacked bottom", plus his plan to "pit our wits against them and defeat them".
As far as the production is concerned, there was one thing which went seriously wrong. Hartnell damaged his back when Richard McNeff, playing the rebel Baker, lost his footing coming down the ramp from the Dalek saucer whilst half carrying him - causing Hartnell to collide with a camera mount. The ramp, as can be seen on screen, was quite flimsy and bounced (wobbly bridge syndrome), causing the accident. Hartnell was able to complete that evening's recording but then had to take the following week off to recuperate - which is why the Doctor suddenly faints, with his back to camera, at the beginning of the the fourth episode, but is up and about again at the start of the fifth.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Inspirations - The Visitation

The Visitation is the first story to be written by Eric Saward, and it was on the strength of this submission that he was offered the full-time post of script editor on the programme. That role had been temporarily filled by Anthony Root, who worked on a number of stories but never actually commissioned any of them - being only in post for three months or so on secondment.
Saward had mainly worked in radio before this, including a couple of plays featuring an actor character named Richard Mace.
The Richard Mace who appears in The Visitation is an out of work actor who has turned to highway robbery to make ends meet. His namesake in Saward's radio plays may have the same profession, but he is from the Victorian era. He is actually an actor-manager, and he gets himself involved in solving various mysteries - not a million miles away from Henry Gordon Jago, from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. The two Maces do share similar character traits, though Saward was reportedly unhappy at the casting of Michael Robbins (best known for the ITV sitcom On The Buses), as he did not meet the image he had of his character.

The reason this Richard Mace is out of work is because all of the theatres have been closed down. This is because of the plague. Plagues of one kind or another were frequent visitors to our shores. The Black Death of around 1340 wiped out whole villages of people, but other forms of pestilence arrived in Britain, via trade and travel with the continent, on and off until the year in which The Visitation is set - 1666. Our best information about this outbreak comes from Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. This isn't a first hand account of the outbreak, which decimated London throughout 1665, as Defoe was only 5 years old at the time, but it is believed that he was using the accounts of his uncle who did experience the Great Plague. Much of the data in the book comes from the parish registers of the City of London churches, which produced weekly Mortality Lists - giving the numbers who perished in each area and the cause of death. Theatres were closed down, along with all activities which would bring large groups of people together, in a bid to stop the contagion from spreading. The playhouses also relied on the patronage of wealthy attendees - and the rich had the money to get out of town at the first sign of illness, to the relative safety of their country estates. We know that Shakespeare, of an earlier theatrical era, would often go on tour with his company. This wasn't all about bringing theatre to the provinces - it was usually about getting out of London during a plague outbreak when the theatres were forcibly closed. Shakespeare's brother Edmund, also an actor based on Bankside, died at the age of 27 during one such outbreak.
In 1666, the theatres had only recently reopened after a long period of closure during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell -  a devout puritan. He died in 1658, though the Protectorate limped on for one more year under his son Richard before Parliament invited Charles II back from exile to restore the monarchy.
The Great Plague features in The Visitation in a couple of ways. Not only is Mace out of work because of it, but the villagers who initially attack the Doctor and his companions are burning sulphurous fires to keep the pestilence at bay. It was believed that the infection was purely airborne - deriving from some obscure miasma. The villagers also attack the TARDIS crew as they fear that strangers might bring the plague into their neighbourhood. The Terileptils plan to create a more virulent form of the plague through genetic manipulation, infecting dozens of rats which they intend to release onto the streets of London.
In all, London lost 15% of its population to the plague - 68,596 deaths being recorded. Allowing for other deaths unrecorded, it is believed the true scale to have been around 100,000 deaths in total.

One reason often given for the ending of the Great Plague is the Great Fire of London, which also features in this story. The fire certainly helped, but the mortality rates were already on the decline by the time that the fire broke out on the night of Sunday 2nd September, 1666. It began in the baker shop of one Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) in Pudding Lane. The street name doesn't refer to Thomas' profession at all. Puddings in this context were piles of offal from slaughtered animals, as Pudding Lane ran from the butchers' district of Eastcheap down to the Thames.
The winter of 1665 / 66 had been an exceptionally dry one, and the summer of 1666 a very hot and dry one. This, along with the design and layout of the houses and streets of the still mostly medieval City of London, meant that a fairly minor fire could expand to become one which would consume 32,000 houses, 87 parish churches, and St Paul's Cathedral. Some 70,000 of the city's 80,000 population were made homeless. Surprisingly, only 6 deaths were recorded. However, it is believed that many poor victims may not have been counted, and the heat of the blaze was such that some bodies could have been completely incinerated - up to 1250 degrees at its fiercest.
The fire did not come under control until Wednesday 5th September.
In The Visitation, the Terileptils are using the bakers shop as their London base, from which to release their plague-infected rats. They would have known about the shop as they are mentally controlling the local miller, who sends his wheat there from the country estate where the bulk of the story is set. The aliens rely on a highly flammable gas to compensate for Earth's atmosphere. A burning brand is dropped onto straw in a struggle, starting a fire into which one of the Terileptils' energy weapons falls. This explodes and ignites the gas - starting the Great Fire.
We're only told that this is the fire that will become the Great Fire in the closing moments, as the TARDIS dematerialises to reveal the "Pudding Lane" street sign - but fans were not daft and knew what a setting of 1666 would entail.

The Terileptils have an android, which they disguise as the Grim Reaper, presumably to scare away the superstitious villagers whom they aren't mind-controlling. The Grim Reaper is, of course, a personification of Death. He appears as a skeleton, draped in a black hooded cloak and carrying a scythe - the agricultural implement used to cut down crops. The Grim Reaper harvests souls, in the same way a farmer harvests his crops. The scythe also symbolises the cutting of the bond between life and death. The particular image of Death we have here, replete with scythe, comes from the Middle Ages, probably originating in the Low Countries.
The Terileptils get their name from a conflation of terrifying reptiles.
In Episode 3, the Doctor's sonic screwdriver is destroyed by the Terileptil leader. This came about because John Nathan-Turner didn't like the device - believing that it allowed the Doctor to get out of trouble too easily (one of the reasons he was quick to get rid of K9 as well). JNT felt that the Doctor should use his wits to get out of scrapes, improvising with whatever came to hand. You could try pointing this out to today's showrunners, but with 45 minute storylines and lucrative merchandise sales, you wouldn't get very far.

I don't know if Eric Saward ever saw it before he wrote The Visitation, but many people have pointed out the similarities to The Time Warrior. Both are examples of what we generally call the pseudo-historical genre of Doctor Who stories - adventures set in Earth's past but with science-fiction elements. Both stories begin with characters witnessing the landing of a spaceship, which they take to be a falling star. The alien sets up their base in the cellar of the home of a local big-wig. The alien employs a killer robot. The alien employs some form of mind control over humans to act as slave labour for them. The Doctor offers to take the alien away from Earth, only for his offer to be rejected.
Lastly, we should mention that the Doctor has referred to the Great Fire of London once before. At the conclusion of Pyramids of Mars, when his actions have resulted in the burning down of the old priory building, the Doctor tells Sarah that he hopes he won't get the blame - having had enough of that in 1666. Some fans have taken to this to mean that he had been there in an earlier incarnation, but to me it sounds as if he is merely joking with her.
Next time: the return of the purely historical story, after a 14 year absence, and the first two part story for 6 years (and we have K9 and Sarah Jane Smith to thank for that). There's a murder mystery at a country house, a case of mistaken identities, lots of dancing, and a game of cricket. Howzat?