Monday, 4 July 2022

On This Independence Day... 4th July


I wonder what Paddy Russell would have thought about the obituaries emphasising her work on Doctor Who, over the work she did with Rudolph Cartier in the 1950's - including influential classics like the Quatermass serials and 1984
Today would have been her birthday.
She directed four stories, starting with The Massacre in 1966. She never helmed a Troughton story but did direct Invasion of the Dinosaurs with Jon Pertwee. The experience didn't put her off, as she then worked on two Tom Baker stories - Pyramids of Mars and Horror of Fang Rock. She had originally been pencilled in to direct earlier - on Edge of Destruction.

In case you are wondering, no Doctor Who episode, or any spin-off, has ever debuted on today's date. We are now well into the summer and almost all of the seasons have come to a close, so expect more days like this.
Looking for a tie-in with Independence Day in the USA, I have come across the death of actor William Hurndall today in 2019. He played Ike Clanton in The Gunfighters - the only story of the classic era to be wholly set in the US.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Episode 26: The Keys of Marinus


Synopsis:
Barbara receives a call from a terrified Susan, informing her that she will be killed if efforts to free Ian continue...
She notifies Sabetha and Altos but decides not to tell the Doctor, for fear it will distract him from his efforts to defend Ian. As it is now known that Aydan was involved in the crime, they decide to go and see Kala, in the hope that she might have some information about the people with whom he has recently associated.
She tells them that she cannot help, and sympathises with how they must be feeling since they heard from Susan. After they have gone Kala goes into a back room, where Susan is bound and gagged. Kala is going to kill her, as instructed by her mysterious partner in crime. As they walk away Barbara realises that Kala has given herself away - how could she possibly have known that Susan had spoken to her earlier? 
They return to the apartment and are just in time to stop Kala from killing Susan.
Later, they hear from Tarron that these events have still not helped Ian as Kala is claiming that he was her accomplice. Tarron no longer believes Ian guilty, but until the stolen key is located and Kala's accomplice revealed, his hands are tied.
With time running out for the school teacher, the Doctor has a sudden brainwave. All of the evidence is locked in a cabinet in the Guardians' office at night, including the murder weapon. The Doctor arranges a trap - waiting in the office in the dark until a masked figure sneaks in and opens the cabinet. This proves to be Prosecutor Eyesen, caught with the weapon in his hands. The Doctor opens a secret compartment in the club to reveal the missing key. He knew it had to be there all the time, but this information was useless until now.
The Doctor sends Sabetha and Altos on ahead to let Arbitan know of their successful mission, whilst he, Susan and Barbara wait for Ian's release. Tarron has ensured that they have been given the key from the museum.
At the island pyramid, the Voord have taken over. Their leader, Yartek, is going to pose as Sabetha's father to trick the TARDIS crew when they arrive with the final key. Hiding his face beneath the hood of his robes, he claims to have been disfigured by a discharge from the Conscience Machine. When he tells Ian that he doesn't know Altos, the teacher suspects a trick, and so gives him the fake key which Darrius had made. They find Sabetha and Altos locked in a cell and free them. When Ian tells them what he has done, they urge everyone to leave immediately as the Machine will overload and explode. 
On hearing that they have escaped, Yartek inserts the fake key, intent on using the Machine to subjugate them and bring them back. It explodes, destroying him and the rest of the Voord.
Altos and Sabetha decide to settle in Millennius. Whilst he greatly admired Arbitan, the Doctor tells his daughter that people were never meant to be ruled by machines. She gives him the surviving key as a souvenir.
The TARDIS dematerialises from the island...
Next week: The Temple of Evil


Data:
Written by: Terry Nation
Recorded: Friday 24th April 1964 - Lime Grove Studio D
First broadcast: 5:15pm, Saturday 16th May 1964
Ratings: 6.9 million / AI 63
Designer: Raymond P Cusick
Director: John Gorrie
Additional cast: Stephen Dartnell (Yartek), Martin Cort, Peter Stenson (Voord), Alan James (Guard). 


Critique:
This episode is the one that provides the overall title for this story. Whilst the titles for many other early stories have caused some debate, this story is one of the few that has always gone under the same name.
The Keys of Marinus sees the conclusion of the courtroom drama of the previous week, then has to round off the story back on Arbitan's island. This means a return appearance for the Voord - including their leader Yartek, who was name-checked in The Sea of Death. (For fans of a certain age, he will always be known as "Yartek, Leader of the Alien Voord" - the description given by Terrance Dicks in his summary of this story for Target's The Making of Doctor Who).
In that opening episode Arbitan referred to "a man named Yartek", and when we see his mask in close-up we can clearly see signs of a human face beneath.
They are described as men, whilst Yartek himself describes his underlings as "my creatures" - but this is just a figure of speech denoting he has mastery over them, not that they are non-humanoid.
The only reason the Voord look the way they do is because they have had to travel to the island by submersible - hence their frogman-like appearance. We don't know if they look like this all the time, even in the location where they must be based. It's unlikely they would wear flippers all the time - unless they are supposed to be amphibious beings.
Yartek does not have the strange antenna-like shape on his helmet, as the character has to wear Arbitan's robes with the hood up.

Despite all the publicity, the Voord never returned to the series (but see my forthcoming "Episodes: Afterlife" post). The reasons for their failure to take off are simple - they only actually appear in one and a bit episodes, and don't have the sort of well-constructed backstory which the Daleks were given. Their true nature is never properly explained, and they just look like men in rubber suits. Maybe that's all they are, but we never get to find out. 
As they only feature in the opening and closing episodes, they only appear on the island where the Conscience Machine is housed. For the story's main villains, they aren't even mentioned by anyone elsewhere on the planet other than Darrius, who is a bit crazy anyway. And when he does mention them, it is to ask Barbara if she is one - so he doesn't even know for certain what they look like. They ought to have been made a stronger villain by being talked about as such in the other episodes - or by having them pursue the travellers through those middle instalments. 
Why should the audience take note of them, when no-one else does?
Another reason for the Voord failure to take off might also be the fact that they struggled not to trip over their own two feet. Martin Cort trips over his flippers in this episode, as he brings Sabetha to see Yartek.

We briefly mentioned when looking at The Sea of Death that this story was inspired by "Quest" tales, of which there are many in popular fiction - The Odyssey, Parsifal and the Holy Grail, The Lord of the Rings and so forth. Another inspiration we must address before leaving it is Terry Nation's love of cinema. As a child during the Cardiff Blitz he talked about taking refuge in the cinema as often as he could afford it. Amongst his favourite features were the Saturday morning serials.
Usually 13 instalments in length, each of 20 minutes duration, they always ended on a cliff-hanger save for the concluding chapter. Amongst the most famous of these serials were Flash Gordon (1936) which starred Buster Crabbe as the titular hero; Buck Rogers (1939), also starring Crabbe; and The Undersea Kingdom (1936) starring stunt man and sometime monster performer Ray "Crash" Corrigan, and which also featured Lon Chaney Jnr before he found Universal Horror fame. Flash Gordon, which is sometimes known as Space Soldiers, spawned two sequel serials - Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (1940).
As well as these sci-fi serials, there were many generic crime ones, featuring the likes of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Cheap to produce, most of the studios churned these out at a prodigious rate. And Nation loved them.
The trio mentioned above all featured different chapters set in varying locations - the more various the better - with different threats in each. You can clearly see how they would have inspired Nation in the writing of this story. We had already seen some of this in the second half of his earlier Dalek story, with Ian and Barbara accompanying the Thals through jungle, swamp and cavern.
One failing of Nation's quest story is its lack or urgency. There is no real deadline to be met, so the travellers can move at their own pace. As I mentioned above, it could have done with someone or something pursuing them - the Voord being the obvious candidates.

The courtroom drama ends rather weakly. For a "whodunnit" to work, there has to be a number of suspects with means, motive and opportunity. In this episode there is only one possible suspect left - Eyesen (unless it was going to be the old senior judge, but that would have been silly). Tarron is too much on the travellers' side to be the villain. The odd thing is that Eyesen messes things up at the end. Ian is about to be executed, so all he had to do was wait another hour or two. Also, as Prosecutor he would presumably be allowed access to the Guardians' offices at any time - so why sneak in at night? And what was the point of using a mask when he is wearing a distinctive uniform?
The whole motive for stealing the key is strange. They say it is because it is valuable - one of only five in the whole universe. So who could they sell it to? The only person who might be interested is Yartek, but he has his own plan to grab all five keys.

We've been following the trials and tribulations of Ray Cusick through this story. This week he was actually rather happy, as the sets were already designed from the first and fifth episodes. One issue he had to contend with, however, was damage to the Conscience Machine prop from the time it had been kept in storage.
The main problem for him in this story was actually the success of the Dalek adventure. Nation saw what could be achieved there, and assumed that anything he wrote could be realised on screen. Story editors would later take a firmer grip on this, informing writers of the maximum number of sets they were allowed.
The script for this episode was very late in coming from Nation. John Gorrie didn't receive a copy until Thursday 16th April, just three days before rehearsals were due to begin.

Trivia:
  • The viewing figures suffer another loss of 1 million from the previous week, meaning we have lost 3.5 million since The Snows of Terror. One reason for the drop this week was the fact that Juke Box Jury wasn't being shown.
  • Despite gaining the lowest audience figure, this episode had the highest AI figure for the serial. This will become a common occurrence over the years - fewer people watched, but those who did liked what they saw.
  • Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg of Amicus / Aaru were interested in making this the second of their Doctor Who films, after Dr Who and the Daleks. Presumably they dropped the idea when they knew that a second Dalek TV story was being prepared.
  • Stephen Dartnell will be back in just a few weeks time, playing astronaut John in The Sensorites. Such a quick comeback was easy as his face isn't seen in this episode, and he has altered his voice.
  • Martin Cort reported that he asked William Hartnell to soften the blow from his walking stick in a scene where the Doctor strikes down a Voord. Instead, Hartnell actually hit him harder for the recording.
  • We have mention of another adventure which took place before An Unearthly Child, as the Doctor states that he has met Pyrrho, the philosopher who founded the school of Skepticism. Pyrrho accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaign east into what is now India. An unproduced Season One script involved Alexander ("Farewell Great Macedon").

On This Day... 3rd July

 
Today in 1965 Steven Taylor became the series' second male companion, following the departure of Ian in the previous story. Peter Purves' character had featured in that previous tale - The Chase - but had last been seen wandering around the jungles of Mechanus. It was only with Part One of The Time Meddler - The Watcher - that we learned that he had found his way aboard the TARDIS.


Today we remember one of the key figures in the origins of Doctor Who. Delia Derbyshire never composed the iconic theme music, but she did create it. Ron Grainer did the composing, but it was Derbyshire, assisted by her colleague Dick Mills at the Radiophonic Workshop, who undertook the laborious task of realising it, quite literally putting it together note by note. Her arrangement has never been bettered.
She passed away on this day in 2001, aged 64.
We also remember the actor Earl Cameron who played astronaut Williams in The Tenth Planet. He died in 2020 at the age of 102.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

On This Day... 2nd July

 
The War Machines Episode 2, shown today in 1966, marked the end of the road for the character of Dodo Chaplet. After being hypnotised by WOTAN in the previous instalment, the Doctor broke the mental conditioning then packed her off to the countryside to recuperate - and that was the last we saw of her.


Today we wish Peter Kay a happy 49th birthday. He portrayed Victor Kennedy / the Abzorbaloff in Love & Monsters. After a long period away from the spotlight he has started to make the odd appearance again.
We also remember writer Don Houghton who passed away on this date in 1991, aged 61. He wrote Inferno and The Mind of Evil, the latter of which featured his wife Pik-Sen Lim as Captain Chin Lee. His was a very varied career - from writing latter Hammer Horrors like Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, to creating the Scottish soap opera Take the High Road. It was his work with Hammer which prevented him from writing any more Doctor Who.
Two actors with links to The Two Doctors also passed away on this date. James Saxon played Oscar in the story. He died in 2003 aged only 48. Elizabeth Spriggs was cast as Chessene, but was sacked when she refused to attend rehearsals for the overseas filming. She was later cast as Tabby in Paradise Towers. She died in 2008, aged 78.

Friday, 1 July 2022

What's Wrong With... The Curse of Peladon

 
This story begins with the Doctor believing he has fixed the TARDIS, and is so confidant in his abilities that he is using it to take Jo Grant to her date with Captain Yates. Why so sure when he knows for a fact that the Time Lords will always ensure that he cannot leave Earth on his own?
Ever since Season 7 he has concentrated on making a new Dematerialisation Circuit, as if that will sort everything out, when he knows that the Time Lords have blocked certain mental processes as well.
If the production team wanted another off-world story, all they had to do was make it another Time Lord mission like Colony in Space. At the conclusion, the Doctor tells Jo that it was a Time Lord mission all along - so once again we have to ask why they insist on sending him places without giving him a clue as to why he's there and what's expected of him. For all he knows the Time Lords might have wanted Peladon not to have joined the Federation.
And why have the Time Lords parked the TARDIS on a narrow ledge overlooking a sheer drop? They might have killed the Doctor before he had even started on his mission.

When the Doctor and Jo arrive in the citadel, they are mistaken for the delegates from Earth. 
Surely there ought to have been some communications in advance about who would be attending - their name at the very least.
Talking of names, why are some delegates named after their home planets whilst others have proper names? The Doctor isn't referred to as "Earth", and Izlyr isn't called "Mars", yet Alpha Centauri and Arcturus get called after where they come from.
Things aren't helped by the fact that the King of this planet is named after it as well.
We learn that the delegates' communications devices have been smashed, but not until quite a bit into the story. Was Amazonia's ship not keeping in touch to say that they were running late but still on their way, so please don't start negotiations without her?

What exactly are the villains' plans? 
High Priest Hepesh has entered into a deal with Arcturus in order that his planet doesn't get exploited by aliens and loses its old traditions... That's Arcturus, an alien who wants to exploit the planet and doesn't give two hoots about the old traditions.
Arcturus seems to be trying to provoke a fight with the Ice Warriors - even though this could lead to Peladon being destroyed in the cross-fire. Why do something which will destroy the planet whose mineral resources you are so desperate to obtain?
Hepesh keeps telling the Doctor that he doesn't want him harmed, as that will provoke a terrible retribution from the Federation - then goes out of his way at every opportunity to harm the Doctor.
In the fourth episode he tells the delegates that he does not want them as either guests or hostages, and yet he has done everything he can to cut them off from their means of departure.
How does Arcturus shooting down the Doctor in cold blood in the arena, in full view of everybody, help throw suspicion onto the Ice Warriors?
Hepesh throws a fresh sword down to Grun, the Doctor's opponent, yet no-one gives the Doctor a fresh weapon. Is Hepesh allowed to intervene in this way? If yes, why is the Doctor not helped equally. If not, it's a rather blatant show of treachery by the High Priest in front of witnesses.

We're lead to believe that Hepesh is doing what he is doing mainly because of his religious beliefs, yet he knows that Aggedor is not a deity because he's got one of the creatures secreted in the caves near his temple. He is a total hypocrite, yet this aspect of his character is never touched upon.
Surely the appearance of a real Aggedor creature would totally undermine Hepesh's position and destroy the planet's entire belief system. A massive risk to keep it alive so close to the citadel.
If he was able to placate and manipulate it then obviously someone else might be able to do it - which is exactly what happens.
We know that Hepesh argued against Federation membership, yet when Torbis is killed it is he who is elevated to the dead Chancellor's position in the negotiations. Why has Peladon not replaced him with someone else from Torbis' faction? Not only is he never going to change his views on membership, he is likely to actively work against it. 
Then again, the King seems to have been guided by only the two men - there is no sign of any kind of council on the planet.

The one everyone always talks about - where does Ssorg sleep? The Ice Warriors appear to share a room, with a single bed.
Jo gets locked in this room. She escapes by climbing out of the window - surely making herself look even more guilty as far as Izlyr is concerned.
(And is there some invisible force-field around Peladon's unglazed windows, which keeps the seemingly permanent gales from getting into the bedrooms?).
How does the Doctor think that the Ice Warriors managed to extract that tiny device from Arcturus' life-support system with their big pincer hands? (A problem with this race ever since their first appearance - just how do they manipulate delicate equipment?).
The Doctor says Aggedor would simply have smashed the protective dome - but wouldn't the Ice Warriors have just done the same thing? As it is, whoever sabotaged Arcturus did so in such a way that he would not die - so flagging up his complicity from the outset.
Lastly, Alpha Centauri is described as a hexapod - having six feet. It appears to have six arms, but moves about on what looks like a single foot, like a snail. So shouldn't it be a hermaphrodite unipod or pseudopod instead?

On This Day... 1st July


Season Four drew to a close today in 1967 with the final end of the Daleks, in Episode 7 of The Evil of the Daleks. At least that was what we were being lead to believe, as Terry Nation was taking them off to their own series. The BBC turned him down and he was prepared to go to the USA and sell the idea there.
This season had started with William Hartnell, but ended with Patrick Troughton. When they finally get round to releasing it as a Blu-ray Collection box set, it will be presented as a Patrick Troughton season, as he is Doctor for most of it, though it will have two Hartnell stories at the beginning. It will also comprise a heck of a lot of animation. There isn't a single complete story in the archives from this season.
Back in 1968 Nation had forbidden any story in which the Daleks met the Cybermen. This no longer applied in 2006 when Army of Ghosts was produced. It made its debut on this date.
Another season ending was the 10th of the revived series in 2017. Peter Capaldi was all set to regenerate at the conclusion of The Doctor Falls, after first being electrocuted then shot by Cybermen - but he held it off until after Chris Chibnall had got his act together and actually written something.
Fans weren't complaining as it meant we got to see the meeting of the First and Twelfth Doctors that Christmas.


Had Nation been successful with his plans for a Dalek TV series, it may well have included the character of Sara Kingdom, despite the fact that she had been killed off in Doctor Who. Whether Jean Marsh would have agreed to play her again or not, we don't know. Today just happens to be her 88th birthday - so we wish her many happy returns.
Marsh also played Princess Joanna in The Crusade, and Morgaine in Battlefield. She also turned down the role of Chessene in The Two Doctors.
She shares her birthday with Ace Bhatti, who played Rani's dad in The Sarah Jane Adventures Series 2 - 5. He is 52. 
Matthew Jacobs, who wrote the 1996 TV Movie, also has a birthday. He turns 66. His dad played Doc Holliday in The Gunfighters.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

On This Day... 30th June


Another season drew to a close today in 2007 - the third of the revived series. The Last of the Time Lords saw the apparent death of the Master, but things were left hanging as someone removed his signet ring from his funeral pyre...
Earlier that morning you could have seen a compilation of the animated adventure The Infinite Quest, which had been a feature of that year's Totally Doctor Who.


Today we remember actor Edward Burnham, who cornered the market in eccentric scientists for a time. He was Professor Watkins in The Invasion, and Professor Kettlewell in Robot.
He passed away on this date in 2015, aged 98.
We also lost David Ellis - co-writer with Malcolm Hulke of The Faceless Ones - in 1978, aged 60; and actor Glyn Houston, who made two appearances in the series. The first was as Prof. Watson in The Hand of Fear, and the other was as Colonel Ben Wolsey in The Awakening
He died in 2019, aged 93.

Amongst today's birthdays we have Rupert Graves (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) who turns 59, and Ashley Walters (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS) who is 40.