Monday 20 May 2024

Inspirations: The God Complex

Steven Moffat had considered a story set around a huge, seemingly deserted hotel as a possible first Christmas Special. A woman staying at the luxurious hotel over the festive period would find that her family and all the other guests had vanished, and she was alone until she met the Doctor. Moffat even had an idea of who he might like to play the woman - Helen Mirren.
The inspiration had been Moffat's own stays in hotels, which he often found disorientating.
Moffat passed the idea onto Toby Whithouse - suggesting that the hotel should instead be run-down and that the rooms keep changing. The story was originally intended to occupy the sixth slot of Series 5.
The changing rooms and the corridors resembling a maze led inevitably to thoughts of the Minotaur.

The series had already featured the legendary half-man, half-bull on more than one occasion. The Doctor and Zoe had encountered the mythical creature in The Mind Robber, and then he and Jo Grant had met a real Minotaur - created by the Chronovore Kronos - in ancient Atlantis.
Former Script Editor Anthony Read, who favoured adapting works of literature for Doctor Who stories, later contributed a sci-fi adventure based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur - The Horns of Nimon
Rather than simply ignore the resemblance, Whithouse elected to explicitly make his Minotaur a relative of the Nimon.

Both the original myth and Read's adventure had seen the Minotaur being fed sacrifices, and this is carried on here.
Whithouse came up with the idea that the people who had once worshipped the creature had grown apathetic and turned their back on this religion. They therefore cast it out in a form of prison which would float through space, occasionally bringing sacrifices to it to continue to feed it.
He did not want the Minotaur to be purely evil, however. Knowing that people had to die to feed it, it had over time come to hate its existence and wanted to die itself. This would make it a sympathetic monster.

The nature of the hotel settled on a 1980's design - as this was the time when Whithouse had stayed in hotels on childhood holidays.
He was also inspired by the cult ITV series Sapphire and Steel, which had featured its characters trapped in seemingly mundane environments (such as the roadside café in the final story).
The story title is a play on words - in the same way that Tony Read had played with the term "power complex" in his story - it's both Soldeed's state of mind and the Nimon's lair.
A "god complex" is a psychological condition in which a person has an unshakeable belief that they are infallible - always right and can do no wrong. As well as having a story about a being which feeds on faith, it is also a god - albeit a redundant one - which lives in a labyrinth (or complex) of corridors.
Gibbis the Tivolian was created to act as a mirror to the Minotaur. He and his people exhibit the opposite of the "god complex" - being conditioned to fail and be perpetually conquered.
In the initial drafts, Gibbis was a human character named Edward.
The religious character was originally going to be a devout Christian, but this was changed to make them a Muslim to give the group more diversity.

The idea of the bedrooms containing personal fears came later. The executive producers were worried that the hotel setting might prove boring for viewers after a while, and so it was suggested that the rooms could feature bizarre characters - clowns and gorillas as well as people - to add some visual variety.
Whithouse had been thinking a lot about Hell and Purgatory / Limbo after writing the opening episode of his third series of Being Human, which had featured characters in a form of limbo.
The appearance of Weeping Angels was purely a cameo decision. 
The Doctor gets a room of his own, and it is obviously No.11. This was always going to be left open for fans to debate what it might contain, until Moffat revisited it for his final Matt Smith episode.
Amy's room, containing young Amelia Pond, was No.7 - the age she was when she first encountered the Doctor.

Cameos of a different kind were the photographs on the hotel walls of previous victims. These were simply standard publicity pictures of various creatures, plus members of the crew - including producer Marcus Wilson.
The reveal of the true spacecraft environment was inspired by the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
As part of the overall season story arc agreed with Moffat, Whithouse included the idea of the Doctor deciding that his adventures were going to get Amy and Rory killed, and it might be best to part company - helping facilitate this year's Doctor-lite episode.
Next time: Are you being converted? The Cybermen find the concept of Love mind-blowing in a sequel to The Lodger.

Saturday 18 May 2024

Boom - A Review

Boom is the first story of the new RTD era to be written by someone else - and it's by Steven Moffat. He is, of course, his original replacement as showrunner and the writer from his earlier tenure who scored the biggest hits as far as awards and many fan polls went. 
(This isn't a one-off, by the way. We've just heard this week that he's actually written the 2024 Christmas Special - a big thing, as showrunners have always kept the series opener, finale and festive specials for themselves).
Moffat was inspired by a sequence which appears in the opening episode of Genesis of the Daleks. Newly arrived in the middle of a battlefield on Skaro, the Doctor treads on a landmine. He's rescued by Harry Sullivan, and the whole scene lasts only a couple of minutes. Edited versions of the story have omitted this sequence altogether, as it doesn't contribute to the overall plotline. It's just scene setting, providing a bit of threat early on in the episode. 
Moffat takes this concept and runs with it for a whole episode.

Like the 1975 Dalek story, the TARDIS arrives on a bleak alien world which is in the middle of a long-running war. The combatants include our old friends the Clerics, from the Matt Smith era. 
The Doctor rushes off to help someone - and promptly steps on a fancy landmine.
The person whom the Doctor was going to help has already been killed by that over-used threat, the well-meaning medical apparatus. "Killing with Kindness" was already old-hat back in Moffat's day. He used it twice in a single series.
The dead man is named Vater, as in the German for father, and much is made of parenthood throughout.

Other Moffat tropes include a grotesque manner of death, and mention of the weapons manufactory of Villengard. (But wasn't it already established that this was destroyed by the Ninth Doctor - and we saw it in ruins in Twice Upon A Time).
The companion is killed - only to be brought back to life. 
Fish fingers and custard get a call. Just surprised we never heard anything about timey-wimey.
Moffat often likes to include fairly annoying children - despite no-one else enjoying this. This one is particularly annoying. And there was absolutely no reason for her to be there. Bringing a child into the middle of a war makes no sense whatsoever.
The love affair between the two Clerics is particularly saccharine as well. Episodes these days simply do not allow us enough time to invest emotionally in such roughly sketched characters.
The Doctor's suggested solution to the problem is lifted from Mummy on the Orient Express - end a conflict by surrendering.
Also from the Capaldi era we get mention of "the moon and the President's wife...".
It's a Moffat compilation album - but not necessarily his greatest hits.

Moffat takes a pop at capitalism, artificial intelligence and organised religion. 
The Clerics are too hidebound by dogma to think and act for themselves. They are also so incredibly stupid that they haven't realised that they don't actually have any enemy here. They're fighting their own weaponry, which kills them as well in order to prolong the conflict and ensure that they have to buy more weapons.
It's delivered in rather broad strokes. Another problem with the 45 minute format is the need to message very loudly. There can be little time for subtlety either.
Which is all a bit of a shame as it's actually a strong story - superior in my mind to the the new RTD stories.
Certainly nice to see Gatwa having something decent to get his teeth into. I've argued since Christmas that we will only get to judge him as a Doctor once we saw him deal with heavier material.

We got our first look at Varada Sethu, who will be joining the series next year as companion. I haven't read any reviews or interviews of the episode at time of writing, so don't know if her presence has been explained. Is it another case like Freema Agyeman's, where a guest artist impresses and is quickly snapped up to play a regular, or is this another "Soufflé Girl" situation? The fact that she plays someone called Mundy when the current companion is Sunday...*
Susan Twist's appearance this week was as the robotic Ambulance interface, and we had a repeat of the snow falling when something significant happens to Ruby.

So - big improvement over what has gone before this year. I would have rated it higher had it dispensed with the schmaltz. Just ditching the kid would have helped. 
I strongly suspect that certain sections of fandom, who haven't been impressed with Series 14 so far, are wishing that it was Moffat who had come back, rather than RTD.

*It has since been announced that she will be playing a new character, and was cast as such a year after making Boom.

Episode 117: Johnny Ringo

The Doctor looks on helplessly from the jailhouse as Steven is threatened with being lynched by the Clanton brothers...
He desperately wants to go outside but Earp and Masterson refuse to free him. As the sheriff talks to the Clantons, Earp quietly slips out of the jailhouse by the back door. He knocks Phineas Clanton out cold and frees Steven. The mob are forced to disperse.
Charlie, barman of the Last Chance Saloon, tells everyone that the Doctor is not Holliday - as he has just witnessed the gambling dentist gun down Seth Harper.
Phineas has been arrested, and Earp no longer has any reason to keep the Doctor locked up so lets him go. He wants to leave the town immediately, but discovers that Dodo is no longer at the hotel.
Charlie tells him that she left town with Holliday and Kate.
Ike and Billy head for home to consult their father. Pa Clanton decides to call on the services of the notorious Johnny Ringo, and despatches his sons to locate him.
Holliday, Kate and Dodo have booked into a boarding house in a neighbouring town.
Later that night, Johnny Ringo arrives at the saloon in Tombstone. He learns of recent events from Charlie - whom he then feels compelled to shoot dead since he recognised him and seemed keen to tell Earp that he was in town.
The following morning, Dodo attempts to force Holliday into taking her back to Tombstone by holding a gun on him. He tells her that he was planning on returning anyway. She faints when she realises that he came close to shooting her with a concealed gun.
The Doctor and Steven meet Ringo at the saloon. On learning that Steven wants to find Dodo, and that she is with Holliday, the gunfighter agrees that the Doctor's companion can ride out with him to find them.
At the jailhouse, Earp's younger brother Warren has arrived. The Doctor informs them and Masterson of Charlie's death, and tells them of Ringo's arrival, having recognised him from his 'Wanted' poster.
After Holliday and Dodo have ridden off, Ringo arrives and encounters Kate. It transpires that she used to be his girlfriend, until she hooked up with Holliday. His hatred for the dentist is personal.
Warren is left in charge of the jailhouse as Masterson and his brother leave to go with the Doctor and view Charlie's corpse.
Ike and Billy Clanton seize the opportunity to spring their sibling. Billy shoots Warren when he tries to stop them, leaving him dying on the floor as they escape...
Next episode: The O.K. Corral

Written by: Donald Cotton
Recorded: Friday 29th April 1966 - Riverside Studio 1
First broadcast: 5:55pm, Saturday 14th May 1966
Ratings: 6.2 million / AI 36
Designer: Barry Newbery
Director: Rex Tucker
Additional cast: Laurence Payne (Johnny Ringo), Reed de Rouen (Pa Clanton), Martyn Huntley (Warren Earp).

After glimpsing him on a poster last week, this episode introduces a new villain - even getting the title to himself. The ironic thing is that, whilst he is a genuine historical character, Johnny Ringo had nothing whatsoever to do with the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
John Peters Ringo was born in Indiana in May 1850, of Dutch ancestry. He committed his first murder during the Mason County War in Texas in 1875 / 6, and was later associated with the Cochise County Cowboys gang. This operated around Tombstone and included members of the Clanton family.
His involvement with them led to his contact with Holliday and Wyatt Earp. The latter suspected him of the attempted killing of his brother Virgil, and the murder of brother Morgan.
At one point, when the Earps were on the wrong side of the law (as they often were), Ringo was deputised and joined a posse to hunt Wyatt down.
On 4th of July 1882 Ringo was seen riding out of Tombstone heavily drunk. A few days later he was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the temple. He was seated in a grove of trees. It has always been assumed that he committed suicide, though there are rumours that Holliday or Wyatt Earp had tracked him down and executed him.

The Cochise County Cowboys were a rough association of outlaws who engaged in cattle rustling, stagecoach robbery and murder along the Mexican border. Pa's name was Newman Haynes Clanton. He had three sons involved in criminal activity - Phineas (b.1843), Ike (b.1847) and Billy (b.1862). The Reuben whom Holliday is said to have killed in The Gunfighters never existed. 
The gang also comprised the McLaury brothers, Tom and Frank, who were the Clantons' neighbours. They are omitted entirely by Donald Cotton. Other figures like Ringo and Billy Claiborne were temporary associates. Claiborne will also be left out of the Doctor Who script despite having more right to be there than Ringo.
The gang had free rein for several years, aided and abetted by corrupt lawmen, until the arrival of Virgil Earp as Sheriff of Tombstone, who was determined to put them out of business - which set everyone on the path to the infamous Gunfight.

Peter Purves and Jackie Lane missed the Wednesday and Thursday of rehearsals as they were attending Ealing to carry out pre-filming for The Savages.
The day before, Tuesday 26th April, saw a press release from the BBC announcing that both would be leaving Doctor Who over the next couple of stories, to be replaced by new characters named Ben and Polly. Purves had another five episodes to run under his contract, and Lane seven.
During recording, the usual "Written By..." caption was amended to simply say "By...".
Gunshots in the episodes so far had been achieved through sound effects only, with actual guns being fired only in the Ealing filming. For this episode, blank rounds were fired in studio off camera for when Ringo shoots Charlie, and Billy shoots Warren Earp. Sound effects were still used for Holliday's off-screen shooting of an unknown person at the boarding house.

After two weeks of humorous material, things definitely take a darker turn in the third instalment - coinciding with the arrival of the title character. The episode opens with a threatened lynching - something which was certainly not confined to the past in 1966.
We then have the sequence where Ringo shoots dead the friendly, though slightly annoying, Charlie, just because of a figure of speech, then Billy Clanton guns down the young Warren Earp, a relative innocent whom we've only just met.
The Clantons had been presented as somewhat inept criminals up to this point, but now we see the cold-hearted murderers that they really are - important for what will be happening in the final episode.

Contrast this with the killing of a complete unknown by Holliday at the boarding house, which is played very much for laughs. He tells Kate and Dodo that he has run into an old friend in the dining room - someone who has just lost his appetite...
There's other humour to be had still, such as Dodo's farcical attempt to get the dentist to take her back to Tombstone. 
Hartnell gets the line: "Now don't be ridiculous. Doc Holliday's a great friend of mine. He gave me a gun, he extracted my tooth. Good gracious me, what more do you want?".
The Ballad, which remains irritating, does have the odd funny verse, such as "So pick him up gentle / Pick him up slow / He's gone kind of mental / Under Earp's heavy blow".

  • The ratings continue to fall, but manage to stay above the 6 million mark. The appreciation figure, however, drops to a new low.
  • Johnny Ringo was broadcast 5 minutes later than usual due to live coverage of the FA Cup that afternoon.
  • One actor whom Innes Lloyd was keen to work with was Patrick Troughton, and he was approached by Rex Tucker for the role of Johnny Ringo in this story. Unavailable, the producer would have something else to offer him soon after...
  • Future guest artists John Carson (Snakedance) and Philip Madoc (The Krotons, The War Games, The Brain of Morbius and The Power of Kroll) were also under consideration.
  • Laurence Payne will return to the series to play Morix in The Leisure Hive, and Dastari in The Two Doctors.
  • A 1960 US TV series titled Johnny Ringo saw him give up his life of crime to become a sheriff, presenting him as a hero figure. Amongst the regular cast was Terence De Marney, who will be appearing in The Smugglers) and Lost In Space's Mark Goddard.
  • Reed de Rouen was also an author and script-writer. One of his science fiction stories - Split Image (1955), about a mirror Earth - proved very successful.
  • In 1970 de Rouen collaborated with his friend Jon Pertwee on a Doctor Who script - "The Spare Part People". It involved Cambridge University scientists being abducted to a city hidden beneath the Antarctic ice, with the Doctor posing as an academic in order to be taken himself. The culprits are a dying alien race who need spare parts from humans to survive. The Brigadier would have joined him. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks opted not to commission it. The scale would have been hard to realise on a BBC budget, and it didn't fit their plans for the series at that time. Pertwee tried reworking the story to include the Master, but eventually dropped the idea.
  • Martyn Huntley had featured twice in the series before this - as one of the crazed Earth spacemen in The Sensorites, and as the Roboman encountered by Ian and Larry in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
  • Finally (courtesy of artist Oliver Arkinstall-Jones) - if The Gunfighters had been directed by Sergio Leone...

Friday 17 May 2024

The Art of... The Gunfighters

Donald Cotton wrote the novelisations of both of his own stories, as well as tackling Dennis Spooner's The Romans. In each case, he opted to include a lot of humour, and to play about with the story structure. Homer narrated The Myth Makers, and The Romans was presented as a series of letters and journal entries, and here we have the story as told by a dying Doc Holliday to a journalist.
Quite a few changes are made by Cotton, with a scene of the Clantons attempting to blow up the TARDIS with dynamite, Ringo meeting his end in a hotel bedroom instead of at the actual gunfight, and Ike being captured instead of killed. Kate Fisher is renamed Kate Elder - one of the real Kate's various names.
The book was published in January 1986, bearing cover art by Andrew Skilleter.
A common publicity image of Hartnell is amended to give him a stetson. We also get a gunslinger against a Main Street backdrop, a man who could be either Holliday or Earp. Both dress in black and sport moustaches in the story as broadcast.
1989 saw Star Books release this with The Myth Makers as one of their double volumes. It was the artwork for this story which graced the cover, set in a silver frame.

Holliday fails to feature on the colourful photomontage cover for the BBC Audio soundtrack release. Earp and Johnny Ringo feature alongside the Doctor and both companions. This was released in January 2007. 
Peter Purves plugs the gaps in the narrative and also contributes a short interview. Extra chapters were added so that the full rendition of the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon could be heard, for those masochistically inclined.
This was re-released in September 2013 as part of a box-set of complete Hartnell stories previously released individually.

The same Hartnell photo from the soundtrack release features on the cover for the VHS release. He's joined by Holliday and Earp, with a backdrop of a generic Western scene at sundown (or sun-up). This is a desert view, complete with iconic saguaro cacti, despite the story itself being totally town-bound and set within buildings or the odd urban street.
The tape was first released in November 2002 as part of a First Doctor box-set (with The Sensorites and The Time Meddler). 
US fans had to wait until October of the following year for this story, when it was released as part of the huge 11 tape "End of the Universe" set.

The DVD release also formed part of a bigger box-set when it arrived in June 2011. In this case, it was accompanied with just one other story, 1984's The Awakening
The connection was simply that both stories were set on Earth - hence the box-set title of "Earth Story". Clearly the BBC were keen to get the range finished, thought that The Gunfighters' reputation might lead to it not selling well on its own, and had a leftover Davison two-parter hanging about, so cobbled this set together.
Adopting a similar colour palette to the VHS, it's a fairly busy cover (courtesy of Clayton Hickman), managing to squeeze in five of the guest characters as well as the Doctor. Once again, the Region 1 version allows the cover image room to breathe - though the Region 2 cover allows Holliday to overstep the bottom banner.

The audiobook of the Target novelisation was released in February 2013, and features the original Skilleter artwork. The narrator is an actual guest artist for a change (the majority feature a companion actor or someone totally unrelated who has appeared in "NuWho"). In this case, it is the late Shane Rimmer, who portrayed Seth "Snake-Eyes" Harper.
It was later re-released as part of the second "History Collection" box-set.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

What's Wrong With... State of Decay

The fact that this story was originally intended for an earlier season doesn't show very much at all. Where it does, it's the later meddling by Mr Bidmead which shows up. There's all this talk of "the Wasting" for instance, which is never explained and goes nowhere. This was a leftover from when Bidmead attempted to turn the story into a hard sci-fi tale - ditching all the Gothic trappings.
However, director Peter Moffatt only agreed to do the story because of the Gothic stuff, and threatened to drop out. 
Keen to stamp his own mark on the show, JNT wanted no writers or directors from before his tenure, and was already reluctant to use a Terrance Dicks script, but he was keen to use Moffatt whom he knew from other series. He therefore ordered Bidmead to revert to the original Gothic version.

According to the rebels' computer which the Doctor gets working, the Hydrax crashed around the 12th December 1998...
We hear that the war against the giant Vampires took place back in the days of Rassilon, which is supposed to be in the earliest days of the universe. So what is a spaceship from Earth doing flying about in the middle of all this?
Was the Great Vampire capable of changing size? How else could it have infected the three crew and hitched a ride on their ship.

Why did the Three not utterly destroy all that technological equipment if it poses such a threat to them? They simply leave it hanging around for Kalmar and his friends to find and start putting together again.
The Doctor and Romana are a bit slow to realise that the Three are the original crew of the Hydrax and not descendants. The chances of three individuals having three identical future progeny who are still local and connected are surely pretty slim.
And yet they twig that Adric has stowed away almost immediately.
For someone who has lived in a small community on one planet, Adric seems to know a lot about E-Space.
Bit of a coincidence that a ship with -drax in its name should fall foul of Vampires.

The Three Who Rule have been in power for generations, and yet they haven't created a single new recruit in all that time. Aukon then states that the Great One will expect them to have built an army, but all they'll have to show for all those years of rule is Adric - and they don't even manage to convert him.
Aukon acknowledges that they have bred weakness into the population. How long has he known this, and why not done anything about it when he knows what the Great Vampire expects when it awakes?

The captain of guards asks Aukon to supply his bats when the castle comes under attack from the rebels, but the Chancellor refuses - claiming they are needed at the "Arising" ceremony. But when that takes place we see just a single bat attack Romana - with apparently no ill effects to her whatsoever.
The Great Vampire is seen to be moving around long before the ceremony (on the x-ray scanner). It's lying on its front, but when it starts pushing its way up through the ground it looks like it's now on its back.
If the scout ship goes up and straight back down again, shouldn't it crash into the castle where it started from? 
The model work for this shot is very poor.

Other substandard effects this story: the model castle / village is so-so in night scenes, but doesn't convince in daylight. 
The Great Vampire is poorly realised, both as a puppet and as an effects bloke wearing a monster glove; and we see distant stars in front of the TARDIS as it moves through E-Space.
And if E-Space is green - why is the sky on this planet not green at night?

Monday 13 May 2024

Story 290: Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror

In which the scientist Nikola Tesla discovers a dead man at his laboratory near Niagara Falls, just as he is trying to tempt investment in his projects. Investigating alone, he discovers that some components from one of his machines have been stolen. He then comes across a floating orb which emits a strange green light. He and assistant Dorothy Skerrit hear movement, and come across the Doctor.
A man named Brady, who had visited earlier as a potential investor, appears - only to be shot by a laser weapon.
The Doctor helps Tesla and Dorothy flee the building, taking to a train which is about to leave for New York. Graham, Ryan and Yaz are here, already in period costume for 1903. The unknown assailant is also on the train, so the Doctor is forced to unhook the carriages to escape from him. He proves to be another of the investors, but is armed with a Silurian weapon and has glowing red eyes.
He is left behind as the train carries the Doctor and her friends on to the city.
Tesla takes them to his city laboratories, but find a demonstration taking place outside. People are warning of his use of AC - alternating current - which they claim is dangerous. The mob are being incited by rumours being spread by rival inventor Thomas Edison.
The Doctor identifies the floating device as an Orb of Thassor, which has recently been altered.

She, Graham and Ryan set off to see Edison, whilst Yaz remains behind with Tesla and Dorothy.
He tells her about his Wardenclyffe project, from where he hopes to be able to broadcast electrical power wirelessly.
Edison tells the Doctor that he has no interest in stealing ideas from Tesla as he has plenty of his own. However, he has a reputation for taking other people's inventions and claiming them as his own after investing in them. Tesla had once worked for him, but left when he wasn't getting sufficient recognition.
They are attacked by the red-eyed man, whom Edison recognises as one of his employees. However, this is a non-human being capable of copying, as the real man is found dead nearby.
A fire is used to keep the being at bay, and they see him alter form into an insectoid creature.
Two other red-eyed beings arrive at Tesla's lab, and teleport Yaz and the inventor away. They find themselves in a cavernous chamber full of giant scorpion-like creatures. They are confronted by their queen, who is more humanoid in appearance, then learn that they are actually in a spaceship, hovering unseen above New York.
The Doctor retrieves the TARDIS, with Edison in tow. They travel to Tesla's lab where Dorothy tells them what has happened.
On the ship, the queen explains that her people are the Skithra. She adapted to Orb to seek out Tesla and gather information about the time period as she needs his help. She wishes him to improve the vessel and its weaponry.

Recalling Tesla's claim that he once picked up a radio signal from Mars, the Doctor decides that everyone should travel to Wardenclyffe once their friends are rescued. 
She uses the TARDIS to scan for the spaceship, and is then able to transport herself onto the vessel - appearing just as the Skithra were about to kill Yaz to force Tesla's compliance.
The Doctor quickly discovers that the Skithra are technological parasites. They have no real technology of their own - simply stealing that of other races, which they then use to plunder other civilisations.
They escape back to Earth, but come under attack by the giant scorpion creatures.
The Doctor realises that Wardenclyffe could be used to beam an energy bolt at the spaceship, crippling it, so all make their way there.
The Skithra lay siege. The energy beam is activated after the Doctor manages to force the aliens back onto their ship. Damaged, it leaves Earth orbit.
Impressed by his work, Edison tries to get Tesla to rejoin him - but is turned down. The Doctor informs her companions that history won't change. Tesla will still die penniless and almost forgotten - until being recognised after his death.

Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror was written by Nina Metivier, and was first broadcast on Sunday 19th January 2020. To date, this has been the writer's only contribution to the series. She had been a script editor in the previous series, working on The Woman Who Fell To Earth and It Takes You Away.
It's the first of this year's Celebrity-Historicals, featuring as it does the inventors Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943) and Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931).
The Tesla we have here is only partly historically accurate, though Metivier has obviously done her homework). He did die penniless, having made a fortune but spent it on further researches, but he was never a forgotten figure. He featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1931, to mark his 75th birthday, for instance.
He did think that he might have picked up radio signals form another world - but it was the media who claimed this to be Mars specifically. (It's believed that he was actually picking up Marconi's radio broadcast experiments). He wasn't obsessed with radio transmission as much as with the tuning of radio signals.
The scientist is seen as an innovator who sees the world differently to anyone else and who dreams up new inventions to tackle new challenges. He naturally bonds with the Doctor, seeing her as a kindred spirit. 

He's positioned in opposition to both the Skithra and with Edison, who are both portrayed as scavengers in different ways. The aliens have no technology of their own, and this is very much shown to be a bad thing. They steal what they need and are incapable of even fixing what they have.
Edison was an inventor in his own right, but he has gained a reputation as a man who sometimes exploited the ideas of those whom he got to work for him, or that he simply refined the work of earlier inventors. Tesla is seen as a lone wolf inventor - an individualist - whilst Edison heads a factory / production-line set-up. This was one of his strengths, though it's not treated as such here.
Reference is made to the "War of the Currents". This actually took place in the latter years of the 19th Century and was pretty much resolved by 1903. Tesla had championed alternating current, whilst Edison have favoured DC - direct current. There were stories spread that AC caused earthquakes and other horrors. Edison actually electrocuted an elephant to prove AC dangerous.
However, prior to the events of this episode, Edison had already been usurped as senior shareholder in his own electricity production company, with the new controlling board wishing to look at both AC and DC.
The episode is helped by overseas filming, with the New York street set at the Nu Boyana Film Studio in Sofia, Bulgaria being used. This had previously featured in The Return of Dr Mysterio.

Goran Visnjic was extremely pleased to be cast as Tesla, as he was one of his boyhood heroes. Visnjic came to fame playing Dr Luka Kovac in US medical drama E.R. He has since featured in genre shows Timeless and The Boys.
Playing Edison is Robert Glenister - returning to the series after a 36 year gap as he had previously played Salateen in The Caves of Androzani. That had been only his second ever TV appearance - the first being sitcom Sink or Swim in which he played Peter Davison's brother. He had been a regular in Hustle in the interim, amongst many other roles.
Under a lot of make-up and prosthetics as the Skithra Queen is Anjli Mohindra - Rani Chandra in The Sarah Jane Adventures and partner of new Master, Sacha Dhawan. (The pair featured on the sofa together for The Collection - Season 8 Blu-ray box set). She has played several roles for Big Finish audios, as well as voicing the ruling Mechonoid in the Daleks! animated series.
Dorothy is played by Haley McGee. She has appeared in Canadian period detective drama Murdoch Mysteries - a series which has also featured Tesla and Edison.
The principal red-eyed man is played by Paul Kasey - regular monster performer since 2005 who has now taken on the creature choreographer role once held by Ailsa Berk for the new RTD2 episodes, as well as featuring in recent Star Wars productions.

Overall, a huge improvement on the previous week, with a more conventional pseudo-historical story. Great cast and good monsters. The Skithra are well designed and really ought to be brought back.
Things you might like to know:
  • There is a subtle reconfiguring of the companions here. Yaz begins to mirror the Doctor, becoming more of an independent character, whilst Ryan compares notes with Dorothy - both saying how their lives totally changed when they met their respective scientist friends. In Ryan's case he's thinking about his old life - prefiguring his departure at the end of the year.
  • The date is never mentioned on screen, but can be worked out as 1903 from JP Morgan's decision not to invest with Tesla, and the completion of the Wardenclyffe project, begun in 1902.
  • Dorothy Skerritt (with two t's) was one of three secretaries who worked for Tesla - but did not join him until 1912, nine years after the events of this episode.
  • Paul Kasey's character, Harold Green, is named for a real figure - Harold Brown.
  • We are told of a tunnel linking Tesla's New York lab with Wardenclyffe, which is in Long Island. That's some 70 miles, so highly unlikely.
  • The disguised Skithra saboteur uses a Silurian weapon. Which is odd, as we see them capable of firing energy bolts from their hands.
  • In the last decade of his life, Edison became increasingly obsessed with spiritualist matters, and looked into creating a form of "spirit phone" that might communicate with the dead.
  • Despite having guest starred in the SJA story - Day of the Clown - which introduced Rani Chandra, Bradley Walsh failed to recognise Mohindra in costume.
  • The Skithra spaceship is said to be Venusian. We've never seen them in the series, but the Third Doctor often made reference to them.
  • An early draft was simply titled "Tesla" and a scene recorded but then deleted saw Edison save Dorothy using one of Tesla's inventions.
  • Other actors who have portrayed Tesla include Nicholas Hoult, Ethan Hawke, John C Reilly and David Bowie.
  • Edison has been played by Spencer Tracy and Benedict Cumberpatch (with Mickey Rooney playing the young inventor).

Sunday 12 May 2024

The Devil's Chord - A Review

The second of the new episodes is our first Celebrity-Historical of the RTD2 era. Ruby asks to see the Beatles record their first album, so it's off to Abbey Road, St John's Wood, in 1963.
The street chosen for filming looks spot on - though why there would be a 1967 Volkswagen present I don't know. (It has also been pointed out that London was in the middle of a blizzard when this episode is supposed to be set).
The Doctor and Ruby have donned period outfits and we get some appropriate music - except for anything original by the Fab Four due to the heavy rights costs.
The episode is all about music, much of which is diegetic (meaning it isn't just on the soundtrack, but heard by the characters within the drama themselves. The Doctor even comments on this).
The episode is 10 minutes longer than its predecessor, and this is pretty much taken up by three musical sequences.

In the 1920's a frustrated composer has found the Lost Chord, and when played it unleashes Maestro (Jinkx Monsoon). 
They turn out to be the offspring of the Toymaker. Whilst he was the embodiment of games, Maestro is the embodiment of music. 
Cast a drag queen as an evil god-like figure and you are in serious danger of an over-the-top performance totally unbalancing an episode. Luckily, this doesn't happen. 
It's certainly a huge performance, but the affectations match the nature of the character.
God-like beings are this year's running theme, alongside the secret of Ruby's parentage and identity. How the two will fit together (if at all) is unclear so early on. All we know is that there's a bigger villain (the boss / the one who waits) still to be seen. (And we've been promised a link with UNIT history and a big name guest for the finale).

Maestro's scheme is to reduce the universe to silence, so music is being stamped out. The Beatles record childish nonsense, as does Cilla Black. 
We get a Pyramids of Mars sequence as the Doctor takes Ruby to her own time to show her what will happen if Maestro succeeds.
Much of the episode is taken up with confrontations between the Doctor and Maestro - something which was sorely lacking with The Giggle. Then, the actual meeting of the Doctor with the Toymaker proved underwhelming. Davies makes sure that Gatwa and Monsoon get a better deal than Tennant and NPH did.
Naturally, the climax involves a musical duel. 

With a 1963 setting, there are lots of references to the series' earliest days. The Doctor points out that he is living in Shoreditch with Susan at the same time (though why the First Doctor wasn't already investigating Maestro we'll never know). The Doctor suggests that Susan may be dead - speaking about the Master's genocide of the Time Lords rolling through all of time and space. However, he only thinks this, and isn't sure - which is strange. RTD2 is basically saying that the Doctor hasn't tried to find out.
Look out for the posters for "Chris Waites and the Carollers" - the band which preceded "John Smith and the Common Men".

Actress Susan Twist has been appearing in small roles since the Specials. She was Newton's servant, and the Steeleye Span fan at Ruby's Christmas gig, for instance. Here she is the studio canteen tea lady.
The episode ends with a musical number - one which might have worked better had it been integrated into the story - i.e. part of the duel which defeats Maestro.
This is introduced by the Doctor pointing out that many of his travels often involve a twist in the tail. (The episode has a lot of breaching of the fourth wall, from the Doctor and Maestro, as well as the role of music).
This sequence has resulted in some interesting theories. Does a mention of Susan prefigure her return? Is having "Susan Twist" in every end credit sequence RTD2's way of hinting at her appearance forming some sort of twist in the series - hiding something in plain sight? It was suggested by the Meep that the Big Bad might be two-hearted after all...
There's a hint that we may see Maestro again, as her harbinger / prelude - a young schoolboy - was still around after her defeat.

For me, the musical number was a bit of fun and I didn't mind it in the least. I actually enjoyed it better when I watched the episode a second time. The only thing I will say is that the final sequence on the famous Abbey Road crossing was quite unnecessary. The director simply didn't know where to draw the line.
Some people to look out for: Tom Baker era costume designer June Hudson as the old lady, and composer Murray Gold and Strictly personnel Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe cameo in the musical number.
For me, a huge improvement on Space Babies. (I gave that a second watch as well, but it still did nothing for me).
Hopefully something less fantastical next week, as Moffat returns with an episode inspired from a sequence from Genesis of the Daleks. Whimsey and fantasy are acceptable paths to explore, but not all the time. We do need to see some decent hard sci-fi in the series as well.