Monday 28 May 2012

DWM 448

DWM have posted the cover for the next issue on their Facebook page - due out on Thursday.

Nice to see William Russell being, quite literally, covered this month. The annual awards are always interesting, as hopefully will be the interview with the author of the greatly unloved Timelash.

I'm not actually a Facebook person, nor on Twitter. Am more of an Anti-Social Networker to be honest.
It is nice that you can look at pages without having to join up, though. Arthur Darvill's tweets are very amusing (rattyburvill), including some wonderfully odd photos. Owl costume anyone?

Sunday 27 May 2012

Good news is no news...

Still managing to avoid the Spoilers!
Next issue of DWM is out on Thursday 31st May. Will there be any significant news therein? Probably some casting news I would imagine, maybe writers for the second half of the series.
We know that the Christmas episode is now being filmed, and that the new companion has started work on the series. No clue about her character yet - even her name.

Karen Gillan has been in Cannes plugging her new movie, whilst Arthur Darvill is on his hols in New York, judging from Twitter.
Moffat is due to get a special BAFTA later this very evening.

And of course, Matt Smith got to emulate Doctor Ten yesterday morning in Cardiff Bay, by running with the (real) Olympic torch.

Finally, it looks as if the October DVD release (the last Classic one for 2012) could be 1970's The Ambassadors of Death. The extras were recently passed by the BBFC - generally a sign of imminent release.
I am still going to assume a 'Series 7: Volume 1' release for Christmas, in lieu of the annual box set.

The Origins of Doctor Who - Part 2

Last week I took a look at the development process which led the BBC to consider a Sci-Fi adventure serial for Saturday evenings, and how that programme evolved into Doctor Who.
As the show moved towards production, several key ingredients had still to be decided upon.
Most importantly, the show had to be cast.

The young male school teacher who started life as Cliff had become Ian Chesterton. Chosen to play him was 38 year old William Russell, who had already played the heroic lead on TV in "The Adventures of Sir Lancelot" and various Dickens adaptations.

Fellow school teacher Lola McGovern had morphed into Barbara Wright. She was to be played by 33 year old Jacqueline Hill. She was married to a Canadian film producer / director named Alvin Rakoff, whom Verity Lambert knew socially.

The character which became Susan, the Doctor's grand-daughter, had been proving difficult to cast. Many actresses were seen. (one of whom was Jackie Lane, who would finally get the chance to become a companion - "Dodo" Chaplet - a couple of years later).
Lambert and Hussein were keen to cast someone who looked younger than they really were, and who had a certain "otherworldly" quality about them. Waris Hussein claims the credit for spotting the 23 year old Carole Ann Ford. He saw her by chance on a monitor at the studios and thought she had the physical qualities they were after - including being able to pass for 15.

She already had one Sci-Fi credential to her name, having appeared in the (not very good) film adaptation of John Wyndham's "Day of the Triffids".

Equally difficult to cast was the principal role of the Doctor himself. The character was to be an older man, though the actor chosen would need to be fit enough to handle some action scenes as well as a tough production schedule.
Eventually offered the role was 55 year old William Hartnell. Lambert saw him in the film "This Sporting Life", in which he played an old rugby coach, who formed a paternal (possibly something more) relationship with Richard Harris' up and coming young player. Hartnell's character - 'Dad' Johnson - regrets never having  made the big time, and so pins his hopes on finding a new star - a doomed exercise as Harris' character is too undisciplined on and off the pitch to ever achieve the recognition and success 'Dad' hopes for through him.

It was the fact that he could play this sympathetic role against type that drew Lambert to offer him the part of the Doctor.
Up until then he had become virtually type-cast in tough guy roles - Sergeants in "The Way Ahead", "The Mouse That Roared", the first of the Carry On films, and TV's "The Army Game".
He was also known for villainous characters like the petty gangster Dallow in "Brighton Rock", and the weak-willed and corrupt haulage company boss in "Hell Drivers".

So used to playing these tough guy roles was he that Hartnell initially couldn't understand why he was being approached about the part of the Doctor.
Fortunately, Lambert and Hussein convinced him, and he went on to make the part his own.

Friday 25 May 2012

Good As... Bronze.

It was all going so well - until we found out the Weeping Angel's motivation... Human civilisation would collapse if the Olympic torch were stolen / destroyed?
Since it arrived in the UK 6 days ago, it has gone out at least twice, and someone was flogging their torch on e-bay on the very first day. (You can tell we're in the middle of a recession).
Of course this evening's Script to Screen, broadcast during Blue Peter (now ghettoised to CBBC) will never quite qualify as canon - unless some lanky guy in a long brown coat and a cod Dick Van Dyke accent comes along and nicks the torch from the poor athlete, totally redesigns it, and lights the flame in his place, with Huw Edwards gushing cloying sentimentality on the commentary. (Fear Her - I'm looking right at you...).
It was the Doctor's explanation as to why the Angel was trying to take the torch that sparked that horrible memory of one of Doctor Who's most cringe-worthy moments.
The opening section with the misbehaving TARDIS console, and the Doctor's mad hair, was actually very funny, but it went a bit downhill thereafter.
Still, can't over-criticise what was, of course, written by some school girls.
(Someone should have the heart to tell them female writers are few and far between in the world of Doctor Who - Moffat hasn't employed a single one).
Liked the fact it ended with a little cliffhanger.
Biggest gripe? No Rory!!! Not even a mention of why he wasn't there. Couldn't he have been off with Victoria Waterfield studying Graphology? Unforgivable IMHO.
God, I'm knocking well intentioned school kids...
A bronze star rather than a gold one - shows promise, but could do better.

PS. According to a BBC tweet, Matt Smith will be carrying the real torch when it passes through Cardiff this weekend. Will DT get a go with the real thing when it reaches Scotland? They could digitally add it to the Special Addition of Fear Her. No? I'll get me coat...

Monday 21 May 2012

Spoilers On A Monday

I always expect spoilers to crop up in the tabloids - hence why I never read them - but I was browsing the Guardian on-line today and came across a Doctor Who potential spoiler quite by accident. I can safely mention it here as I think it is complete codswallop.
It is claimed that there will be an episode called "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship" - a twist on that rubbishy Samuel L Jackson movie "Snakes On A Plane". Now we know that Episode 2 has a title "Something On A Something" - but that's the episode with the Pharaonic Egyptians and the big robots. Not a dinosaur in sight, and not sure about any spaceships either.
Ah - just re-read the piece - seems this originated in the Daily Star. 'Nuff said.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Jon Pertwee

Just reminded that it was on this date in 1996, during the excitement of what would prove to be the false dawn of the McGann Movie, that Jon Pertwee passed away.
I began watching Doctor Who towards the end of Patrick Troughton's tenure, but it was really with Pertwee that I became a dyed in the wool fan. I am still a big fan of this particular era (Courtney's Brigadier, Delgado's Master, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith - who couldn't be?).
I went on to watch Worzel Gummidge - just because Jon was in it. I watched Whodunnit? because he was in it. He also appeared in 2 of the very best Carry On's - Cleo & Screaming.
I love British horror films (Hammer and the 1970's portmanteau variety of Amicus and the like), so imagine my delight at catching The House That Dripped Blood - Jon Pertwee as a horror actor who gets turned into a vampire.
He was a fantastic ambassador for Doctor Who on both sides of the Atlantic, and continues to be greatly missed. Such a great pity he is so poorly represented on the DVD releases of his stories. He died long before commentaries could be recorded, but you would have thought more archive interview material could be found and included.

The Road to Doctor Who - Origins part 1.

When the programme returned in 2005 with Rose a lot of us would have noticed that the name of the electrician was a Mr Wilson. This was a little nod to Donald Wilson, who could be said to have started the whole Doctor Who ball rolling. Wilson was Head of the Script Department at the BBC in 1962, when the Corporation first started to consider Science Fiction material for possible production.

He commissioned a report from staff members Donald Bull and Alice Frick. They identified that Sci-Fi was primarily an American genre, with only a handful of British writers who could be approached for ideas.
Frick worked on a further report with colleague John Braybon. Various ideas were discussed, with a view to cost and feasibility. Audience identification was a big factor. Robots were out - too obviously men in suits. Bug eyed monsters were also off the menu. It was felt that the audience would not buy into the studio-bound realisation of alien planets.

One idea could have seen us all Doomwatch fans instead of Doctor Who fans, as it concerned a team of scientific trouble-shooters.
Another idea that did keep cropping up was that of Time Travel. It was this idea which was then worked on and refined, and would eventually evolve into our favourite programme.

Wilson brought in Sydney Newman, late of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and who had come to England to take on a senior drama department role with the commercial TV company ABC. Newman was head-hunted over to the BBC to become Head of Drama.

He was a Sci-Fi fan himself, and inherited the development of the BBC's own Sci-Fi product. The aim was to create a children-orientated adventure series to fill a Saturday teatime slot. In the afternoon you had the sports flagship Grandstand, and in the evening programmes for young adults / teenagers (such as Juke Box Jury) gave way to programming for adult viewers later on. Something was needed to fill the gap between the sport and the evening viewing - something for the kids in particular and the family in general.

Newman worked on further refinements of the programme concept with C.E.Webber (known as 'Bunny'. Not entirely sure why. Maybe C.E. stood for carrot eater?).
The central character would not be a time travelling alien at this stage. He was envisaged as someone from Earth's future for quite a while - a scientific rebel.
The first producer brought on board was Rex Tucker.

It would be fair to say that his heart was never really in the job. He certainly wasn't happy when Sydney Newman brought in a young production assistant with whom he had worked at ABC - Verity Lambert.

A relieved Tucker quickly moved onto other projects, and Lambert found herself producer of the show in her own right. Tucker would eventually return to the programme to direct The Gunfighters.

Initial story lines were coming together, and the principle characters were beginning to form. The main figure would be the Doctor, a mysterious old man who had a time machine which he did not know how to operate properly. Two school teachers - Cliff and Lola - would get caught up in his adventures. There was some debate about having a younger character. Some audience research suggested children didn't like watching characters of their own age - preferring more mature heroes and heroines. Newman felt a younger character was essential for the audience to relate to. As with most things, Newman got his way. The character that would evolve into Susan was at one point a human schoolgirl called Bridget - known as Biddy - and a royal princess from the Doctor's time.

The time machine would be disguised as an everyday object (a genius idea in concept as well as production costs and practicalities).
One story idea that almost became the first ever Doctor Who adventure involved the main characters becoming miniaturised. They would have to face various dangers traversing Cliff's science lab at the school.
It was quickly realised that this would be difficult to achieve in practical terms, so a trip to prehistory was pushed up the schedule.
The first director assigned to the programme was a young Anglo-Indian named Waris Hussein.

Quite what the rest of the BBC were making of all this can only be guessed at. The Corporation at that time was very much white, Anglo-Saxon, C of E, middle class, pipe smoking, ex-Spitfire pilot, tweed jacketed - and that was just the women. All this effort was going into a mere children's show, being made by a young woman and a young Asian man.
I am sure there was very little support or enthusiasm for the project, as it moved ever closer towards the studio.

Next: Radiophonics & Casting.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Script 2 Screen

New Doctor Who next week!
Today's Radio Times for Thursday 24th May says that the second schools-based Script to Screen competition winner will be shown during Blue Peter.
The last one formed part of the late lamented DW Confidential series - Death Is The Only Answer - which was strangely absent from the Series 6 box set. Not canon perhaps?
During the long off-season, I'll take any Who I can get.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Things to do while you're waiting...

Have tried everywhere but cannot find a subscription to "Knitting for Girls"...

So what else can we do while we wait for new series and anniversary developments?
With the 50th looming, I've decided to journey back in time and take a look at the Doctors, companions and stories that have made the programme what it is. I will also be considering some of the key production personnel who have especially influenced and shaped the series over the decades.

I was going to dip in and out of different eras in a random wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey fashion, but my poor ageing memory would quickly get confused and I'd lose track of what I'd covered and what was still outstanding. (Could your sanity really have withstood my musings on Time and the Rani - twice?!)

I'm therefore going to ignore timey-wimey randomness and go linear - starting right back at the beginning and working my way towards the latest stories and characters - commencing very soon with this lot:

The Ponds have left the building...

According to their own Tweets, Arthur Darvill & Karen Gillan have filmed for the last time on Doctor Who. Whilst they remain Rory and Amy in our heads until September / October, the actors themselves are moving on to pastures new (after a long  holiday no doubt).
Amy will have been the longest running (continuous) companion since the series returned in 2005. There will be a bit of debate about when Rory actually became a companion. I'm personally going to opt right from The Eleventh Hour as his story arc begins there, though most will only go from Vampires of Venice or even from The Big Bang.
I'm sure we will see them very much involved in the promotion of the new series come the Autumn (work commitments allowing).
I am particularly interested to see what Mr.Darvill gets up to next, as he has his musical interests as well as his acting ones - both writing and performing.
It is well known he once fronted a band called Edmund (check them out on You Tube. I don't believe they ever released anything).
I was lucky enough to see him (musically) in action twice last October - duelling lutes with Paul Hilton in the final performance of Dr Faustus at the Globe, and performing in the amazing 66 Books at the Bush Theatre (picture courtesy of rorys-revellers blog site)...

I wish them both the very best of luck in their on-going careers.

Friday 11 May 2012

Forthcoming DVDs

The covers for the next 4 DVD UK releases.

Death to the Daleks arrives on 18th June; The Krotons on 2nd July; Greatest Show in the Galaxy on 30th July; and Planet of Giants on 20th August.
The latest DWM also stated that the Vengeance on Varos Special Edition will be released on 10th September. There should be at least one more release in October. There tends not to be any new release in November / December - avoiding the busy Christmas market. Of course in previous years we have had a new series box set to look forward to in November. There won't be one this year - a Series 7 Volume 1 perhaps.

The UNIT Dating Conundrum

One of the biggest continuity headaches in Doctor Who is that of UNIT dating. In some ways, this is all William Russell's fault. Why? Let me explain...
We have to go back to the Troughton story The Abominable Snowmen in1967. This story is set in 1935. It proved so successful that a sequel was hurriedly put into production - 1968's The Web of Fear.
Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling) returned from the earlier serial, now an old man.

He refers to the earlier events taking place "over 40 years" before. That puts The Web of Fear somewhere around the mid to late1970's. This story introduced Brigadier (then Colonel) Lethbridge-Stewart. He returned later that year in The Invasion, UNIT's first outing. The Brigadier says that the Yeti adventure was some 4 years ago - meaning that in UNIT chronology we are at the end of the 1970's.
Producer Derrick Sherwin and his successor Barry Letts have both stated that they believed the UNIT stories to be set in a "near future".
So far, so good.
A problem soon emerges during the Third Doctor exile era. All of the car registration plates are 1970 - 1973, and some calendars appear on screen that imply similar dating. (Maybe all those alien invasions stopped people buying new motors, but doesn't explain not keeping your calendar up to date).

Take The Green Death (1973) for example. This has a very confused chronology. Early on in the story we see a calendar which shows a 29 day month - a leap year February. 1972 when it was filmed, or 1980 when UNIT chronology should place it? (In a later episode we see another calendar showing April. The story takes place over a couple of days only - so what on earth has happened to March this year?).
A 1980 date for this story is reinforced by the arrival of Sarah Jane Smith in the next adventure (The Time Warrior).
In 1975's Pyramids of Mars the Doctor takes her, and Lawrence Scarman, forward in time to see what would happen to the Earth if Sutekh were freed from his captivity - to 1980 to be precise.

Says Sarah: "But I'm from 1980..." Apart from the car number plates and eccentric calendars, everything points so far to near future dating for the UNIT stories. And then Mawdryn Undead happened...
This 1983 story screwed everything up - and it needn't have had William Russell been available. He, of course, played one of the first human companions of the Doctor - school teacher Ian Chesterton - from 1963's An Unearthly Child to 1965's The Chase.
1983 was the 20th anniversary year and producer John Nathan-Turner wanted some element from the past in each story of the season. For Mawdryn Undead it would be an old companion from the first years of the series, in a story set at a Boys' Public School - Ian Chesterton. William Russell proved unavailable, so the Brigadier was drafted in as a replacement. Problem was, they decided not to make any amendments to the story.

The story is set over two time periods - 1977, during the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations, and 1983. The 1977 Brigadier says that he retired from UNIT in 1976!!! The Continuity Continuum collapses.
The only way that previous chronology now fits is if both Prof. Travers and Sarah were generalising about dates and were not being specific at all. It means those number plates and calendars were right.
Things suddenly go back to the future with the Brigadier's final story Battlefield in 1989. There is a king, and £5 coins - implying near future once again.
RTD playfully acknowledged the UNIT dating conundrum in their first proper outing of the new series - 2008's The Sontaran Stratagem two-parter.

When Donna learns that the Doctor used to work for UNIT he admits that he did: "Back in the 70's. Or was it the 80's?..." And he quickly moves on.
Present tense or future imperfect? You choose. Me? We can't just pretend that Mawdryn Undead didn't happen, so it has to be contemporary with broadcast I'm afraid.

New series in September?

It has been announced that the first episode of the new series will debut at the Edinburgh Television Festival at the end of August. A festival screening isn't the same as the press launch. I suspect Edinburgh, followed a week or so later by the press launch in London or Cardiff, then broadcast a week or so after that. This means we will have 5 episodes through  September and October, then a break until episode 6 on Christmas Day - allowing the special to be, well, special - rather than just the next episode in the series.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Series 7 updates courtesy of DWM.

Surprisingly little news on the forthcoming series (would have expected at least some more casting news at this stage of production).
Episode 1 will feature about 25 different Daleks (the most ever assembled) and the biggest set created to date (a record previously claimed by Episode 2). The Special Weapons Dalek (from 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks) will be appearing, as will a 1970's one loaned to the production by one Russell T. Davies.
Please note that the cover below does not relate directly to the episode (so don't expect every one of these to appear). The cover relates to a light-hearted article about each of the Daleks' schemes down the years - from their own viewpoint.

Episode 4 is being filmed at the moment (remember to avoid those Spoiler sites!). It will concentrate very much on the Ponds' relationship, as a lead into their departure in the following story. The episode is supposed to be quite SFX heavy.
The Ponds have definitely left the TARDIS as permanent travelling companions (as seen in The God Complex). Their presence in these last few stories will come about through visits from the Doctor - social calls or when he needs them.
Episode 6 (the Christmas one, introducing the new companion) will start filming this month.