Friday 30 November 2012

Super Sonic?

For the first 5 years, the Doctor managed to get by without any particular tools or pieces of equipment. The First Doctor did have a ring which had strange properties - being able to open the TARDIS doors when power was drained by the Animus on Vortis, and useful for guiding a docile Zarbi in the same story. When he regenerated, this slipped off his thinner finger and he never felt the need to use it again.

Then, early in Episode 1 of Fury From The Deep, the Doctor produced the Sonic Screwdriver in order to open a gas pipeline inspection hatch. It appeared to be a stubby cylinder, about the size of a fountain pen, and it was simply a screwdriver - one that turned objects using sonic resonance. It fulfilled the same function in The War Games, when the Doctor used it to unscrew the grip of Lieut. Lucke's revolver - to prove they did not come from this time, and as a ruse to seize the weapon and effect an escape.

Between these two stories, however, we learned that the implement could do more than just help with the DIY. In The Dominators, it turns into a thermal lance - able to burn through a wall in order to reach a drilling hole down which the titular aliens were about to drop their atomic seed capsule.
The Third Doctor was cast in a Bond mould - with a penchant for different modes of transport and for gadgets - chief of which was the redesigned Sonic Screwdriver. The main difference was a strangely shaped headpiece.

The new Sonic was now used more as a form of key - able to open or close any kind of electronic lock. Two stories in particular demonstrate other attributes for the gizmo. In The Sea Devils, it can both detect and detonate land-mines, and the Doctor uses it to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow to sabotage the Sea Devil shelter's power supply. In The Carnival of Monsters, the Sonic demonstrates thermal qualities once more when it is used to ignite marsh gas - an event experienced by Professor Clegg when he handled the Sonic in The Planet of the Spiders. Of course the Sonic simply vibrates molecules - and vibration causes friction, which generates heat.
It is in the Third Doctor's era that the Sonic is first used as a scanner device - able to spot booby traps in both the Master's TARDIS and the Exxilon City.

With the Fourth Doctor, the Sonic continues to predominantly open locks - though the one at Fetch Priory is too simple for it, and the one in Borusa's study too complicated. The Doctor also uses it as a more general, all purpose tool for carrying out a range of repairs. Its heat generating properties were used to trigger the Zygon spaceship's fire alarm. Romana also had a screwdriver - one she made herself.
When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer, he felt that the Sonic Screwdriver - and K9 - were too useful. The Doctor should get out of trouble using his wits and whatever tools were to hand, rather than have these "get out of jail" cards. As such, early in the Fifth Doctor's era, the Sonic was destroyed by a Terrileptil.

After so many years, the Doctor felt it was like losing an old friend, but JNT stuck to his convictions and we would not see the Sonic again in the classic series. The Seventh Doctor did briefly use one, however, when locking up the Master's remains in The Movie.

The new producers were so keen to reference as many well known elements of the programme as possible - the Sonic, the Daleks, the Master, Skaro, jelly babies, the Eye of Harmony and so forth - that they forgot about the plot.
When the series returned in 2005, the TV landscape had changed. The new series would feature brisk 45 minute episodes (so no time for leaving the Doctor locked up for long periods) and there was a new eye towards marketing opportunities. Why couldn't every child (and quite a few grown ups) have their own Sonic Screwdriver? (In the same way, RTD vetoed the use of a specially designed TARDIS key, as any child could pretend that an ordinary Yale might be the key to the ship).

The new Sonic had a blue light, and appeared to be made of some kind of ceramic material as well as metal. Again, its chief purpose seems to be locking or unlocking doors, though it could also fiddle cash machines, scan for energy readings, and blow up Big Brother cameras. Its most bizarre new attribute was the ability to reattach broken barb-wire. We see the Doctor attempt to resonate concrete - but don't know if this would ever be successful as he's teleported away before he can finish. From now on, it can also upgrade companions' mobile phones to give them Universal Roaming.

The same Sonic continues with the Tenth Doctor. He has the annoying habit of frequently brandishing it as though it is a weapon. It still locks and unlocks but now seems to scan everything the Doctor comes across. Considering that it doesn't appear to have any kind of display screen, I'm not exactly sure how this works - though the Doctor does often seem to listen to it a lot. Does it have some kind of aural readout?  When the Sonic gets burnt out at the Hope Hospital, he gets himself another one. We'll find out later that the TARDIS makes them. Apart from general scanning and key duties, the Sonic once again can raid cash machines, as well as exciting the contents of a champagne bottle to pop the cork. A new attribute is to darken glass - whether it be the lenses of his sunglasses on San Helios, or astronaut visors in The Library. Sonic technology isn't unique to the Doctor, as Miss Foster had a sonic pen, and Toshiko Sato found herself a member of Torchwood after stealing the blueprints for a sonic device from UNIT.

The Tenth Doctor's Sonic is destroyed when the newly regenerated Eleventh tries to attract the attentions of the Atraxi. The newly rebuilt TARDIS gives him a new one - a much bigger version with a green light (the new production team having the same eye for merchandising as their predecessors). The Doctor once again seems to scan absolutely everyone and everything - waving it about almost instinctively - and again he brandishes it as though it were a weapon. In the climactic scene in The Day of the Moon - when Amy is rescued from the Silents' Time Ship - he actually uses it as such, whilst River sticks to an old fashioned ray gun. She, of course, has a Sonic of her own. Contained within is a neural relay which will enable the Doctor to download her into the Library mainframe when she dies. One new attribute of the Doctor's Sonic is the ability to sabotage guns - such as Silurian heat weapons. Quite why he has never used this function before we will never learn, or was it just lazy plotting on behalf of the writer? Talking of laziness, when it comes to the Sonic's locking / unlocking abilities, one thing that has always annoyed me is the way it opens the Pandorica. In the first part of the story, the cube is impregnable, but come the second part, Rory waves the Sonic and hey presto!
Which brings me to my conclusion. I have always thought of the Sonic Screwdriver as a wonderful concept, and when used sparingly works extremely well. However, in the last couple of years it has come to be used as the sort of universal problem solver which JNT always feared it had become - a sort of magic wand. I appreciate that the Doctor cannot be locked up for episodes on end as in the old days, but I would like to see him use his wits and ingenuity a bit more often - making use of whatever comes to hand. Whatever happened to solving problems with just a teaspoon and an open mind?

Radio Times Reminder

Just a quick reminder that the Radio Times always amends its release dates in December. The next issue, which is going to be featuring the Doctor Who Christmas Special (and I suspect may sport a DW cover) will be released tomorrow - Saturday 1st December - instead of its usual Tuesday.
"TV & Satellite Week" listings magazine has already featured a Doctor Who cover.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Cream Crackered...

Just got back from Cymru - and my first visit to the Cardiff Doctor Who Experience. A very long and tiring - but immensely enjoyable -  day. As you can see, after the recent floods etc, it was a beautiful day in the Bay, though a bit on the chilly side. I will be posting my views on the Experience on Saturday. Pop back tomorrow for my look at the love it or loathe it Sonic Screwdriver - introduced in Story 42 - Fury From The Deep...

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Story 42 - Fury From The Deep

In which the TARDIS materialises in mid-air above the sea, a few hundred yards from an English beach. The ship comes down to settle on the surface of the water, and the Doctor and his companions resort to a dinghy to get to dry land. Exploring, they come upon a pipeline which runs up the beach from the sea. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open an inspection hatch. It is a gas pipeline, and the Doctor hears a strange heartbeat sound. They are suddenly shot down by a sniper who fires tranquillising darts, and wake later to find themselves in the Euro Sea Gas Refinery complex. Chief Robson explains that they were on a restricted stretch of beach. Deputy Chief Frank Harris tells them that they have recently lost contact with one of their gas pumping rigs, and they have been plagued with unexplained pressure drops in the pipelines. The Doctor tries to warn about the noise he heard, but is ignored. Robson will not shut down production to investigate. Victoria sees a pulsating mass of seaweed and foam emerge from a ventilation grille. This same substance attacks Harris' wife, Maggie, at her home nearby. Two employees from the refinery - Oak and Quill - turn up and breath a toxic gas from their mouths which overpowers her.

The Doctor gets a sample of the weed and he and his companions return to the TARDIS to investigate it further. It is alive. Victoria sees an image of a weed creature in an old book of sea legends. Robson is also attacked by the weed creature. He later meets Maggie on the beach and watches as she walks into the sea. Both are under the mental control of the seaweed creature. A Dutch technical expert named Van Lutyens calls in his boss, Megan Jones. More rigs fall silent. A helicopter sent to investigate finds them covered in dense foam. The Doctor deduces that the weed creature exudes this and uses it to travel around.

The weed then uses the pipelines to attack the refinery. It is a parasitical creature which can take people over. Oak and Quill attack Jamie, and Victoria screams. The two men collapse. Jamie assumes it was his physical prowess  - but the Doctor suspects something else. Robson abducts Victoria in order to force the Doctor to join with the creature - taking her to one of the rigs. Victoria's screams are found to affect the creature. The Doctor takes his companions back to the refinery by helicopter, where they record Victoria screaming. When amplified, this is broadcast throughout the refinery and through the pipes to the rigs - destroying the weed creature. Everyone infected by it is freed. Victoria has been increasingly unsettled of late, never having been happy with the hazardous situations which travel with the Doctor and Jamie have plunged her into. She decides to stay behind. Frank and Maggie Harris will look after her.

This six part adventure was written by Victor Pemberton, and was broadcast between 16th March and 20th April, 1968. No episodes exist in the archives though we do have the soundtrack and telesnaps to enjoy. One clip - that of the TARDIS landing - survives as it was reused  in Episode 10 of The War Games, and there are a couple of brief Australian censor clips - including the creepy attack on Maggie Harris by Oak and Quill. There are also a number of film trims and some behind the scenes footage from the climax to the story. These have been edited together and coupled with the soundtrack on the Lost In Time DVD set.
The story is significant for the departure of Victoria Waterfield - actress Debbie Watling moving on to other work - and for the introduction of a certain useful tool...
Pemberton took a radio play he had written - The Slide - as the basis for this story. In this, it is an intelligent mud slime which threatens humanity. He had, of course, already acted in Doctor Who (as an infected crewman in The Moonbase) and had story edited The Tomb of the Cybermen.

This story is often referred to as a lost classic, and it is certainly a very impressive production. The monster is not clearly seen much - usually shrouded in foam and in the dark - which makes it all the more effective. The "Laurel and Hardy" like Messrs Oak and Quill make for one of the programme's most unsettling villains - with black lips and malicious smiles as they go about the weed creatures' business. They are played by John Gill and Bill Burridge.
Performances from the regulars and guest cast are uniformly strong throughout. As Debbie Watling has said before, she screamed her way onto the programme and she screamed her way out. It is a nice idea to have the female companion's screaming actually intrinsic to the resolution of the plot.
These days, the Doctor can turn his hand to anything, and in this he has to pilot a helicopter. It's refreshing to see him struggle with the task - having to be guided by radio.
Robson is played  by the versatile Victor Maddern - equally at home in TV comedy (such as his work with Dick Emery) as he was in serious drama. Van Lutyens marks John Abineri's first appearance in the programme. He will return as General Carrington in The Ambassadors of Death, Railton in Death to the Daleks, and as Ranquin in The Power of Kroll. Megan Jones is played by the late Margaret John - who was the faceless granny in The Idiot's Lantern and is most famous as Barry Island neighbour Doris in Gavin & Stacey.
Episode endings for this adventure are:

  1. Alone in a store room, Victoria sees foam pour from a grille. Within can be seen fronds of seaweed thrashing about.
  2. Van Lutyens tries to convince Robson to stop the gas supply - claiming there is something alive, waiting in the darkness...
  3. Robson watches as Maggie Harris walks calmly into the sea.
  4. The Doctor observes the weed creature writhing in an observation pipe - the advance guard...
  5. On the rig, the Doctor and Jamie enter the control room and see Robson standing amidst the foam.
  6. The Doctor and Jamie observe Victoria recede from view on the TARDIS scanner.

Overall, a story for which that phrase "lost classic" can be used without any hint of hyperbole. Tense, atmospheric and unnerving - and yet no-one dies. As base-under-siege tales go, this is one of the best.
Things you might like to know:
  • Despite futuristic trappings, this story appears to be set in the 1960's, as Robson mentions pre-decimal currency.
  • Jamie mentions at the start that the TARDIS always seems to land on Earth. He's right, you know. Episode 6 of Fury From The Deep marks the 30th consecutive Earthbound episode.
  • The original story title was The Colony of Devils. The hypersensitive BBC didn't want a mention of anything remotely religious, so it was changed.
  • This is Victor Pemberton's only story for the programme - though he did later write the Tom Baker / Lis Sladen audio adventure The Pescatons.
  • As well as its rather unorthodox landing, the TARDIS appears to take off like a rocket at the end - judging by the way Victoria is looking up at it on the scanner, and is seen to recede.
  • These days, the sonic screwdriver would be the thing that generates the noise to destroy the weed creatures. In this, it just undoes screws.
  • Debbie Watling went on to become a regular in the ITV series Danger UXB - about an army bomb disposal unit in WW2. She also featured in movies alongside pop stars Cliff Richard and David Essex. If you want to know what Victoria might have got up to later - check out the unofficial video production Downtime. Directed by Christopher Barry, this forms a sequel to the two Yeti stories. In 1995, Victoria is Vice Chancellor of  The New World University - a cult-ish high tech college which is really under the control of the Great Intelligence. As well as Debbie Watling reprising her role as Victoria, Downtime features Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, Jack Watling reprising Prof. Edward Travers, and Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The Brigadier's daughter also appears - named Kate...

Monday 26 November 2012

Dating UNIT

The cast get their first glimpse of the dinosaur models for this story. Pertwee calls his agent...
These days, this blog has settled down into a pattern of covering new Doctor Who as it comes along, and going back to review the classic series whilst we are waiting. The classic posts tend to generate tangential posts - looking at the history of the Moon after The Moonbase or Mars after The Ice Warriors, Dalek and Cyber continuity after their initial appearances, mad computers after The War Machines, and so forth.
(My post on the Doctor's hats generated more interest than the review of The Power of the Daleks that prompted it. You are a weird lot...).
Before I settled on this pattern, I was going to dip in and out of things in more random fashion. As such, I have already posted my views on the UNIT dating controversy, which kicks off with the dates implied by The Web of Fear. The original post you may have already come upon - called "Continuity Conundrums No.1" back in May. If you haven't seen it yet, here is a link. I'm going to rename the post "UNIT Dating Controversy" - as I never did get round to covering Conundrum No.2...

Story 41 - The Web of Fear

In which Professor Edward Travers comes to regret getting a Yeti control sphere operational again. It is some 40 years after events at Det Sen Monastery in Tibet, and Travers is now an expert in electronics. He had given a Yeti robot to the private museum of Julius Silverstein in London. The reanimated sphere has gone missing - and Travers suspects it will try to reunite with a host body. Silverstein refuses to return the Yeti. The sphere breaks in and reanimates the creature - and it kills the museum owner before vanishing into the night. Soon after, a strange glowing web substance starts to appear in London - forcing the city's evacuation as anyone who ventures into it is found dead, smothered in web. The army sets up a base in an old WW2 fortress at Goodge Street Underground station. The tube tunnels are the only way of getting around - and now they are also under threat. Travers joins the army at the fortress, along with his scientist daughter, Anne. The TARDIS is also attacked by the web substance in space. The Doctor breaks free and the ship materialises in the Underground at Covent Garden. Jamie and Victoria are found by Staff Sergeant Arnold and his men, who are about to blow up Charing Cross station to halt the web's advance. They are taken to Goodge Street. The Doctor finds himself at Charing Cross and sees Yeti use web-spitting guns to smother the army explosives - containing the blast.

Travers is amazed to see Jamie and Victoria hardly changed. and orders that the Doctor be found and brought to him in order to help. The Doctor meets the survivor of an ambushed munitions convoy - Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. He had been on his way to take command of the Goodge Street fortress. Once at the fortress, Travers explains recent events. The Doctor deduces that the professor has inadvertently offered the Great Intelligence another opportunity to form a bridgehead here on Earth. As with Tibet, someone will be under the Intelligence's influence - and suspicions run rife as to who it may be. There are numerous acts of sabotage. When the Colonel leads a raid on an electronics store near Covent Garden - to get equipment for the Doctor - they find the Yeti waiting for them.

The Doctor builds a device that can deactivate a Yeti, and he uses it to gain one of the robots. Its sphere is replaced with one that he can control. The Yeti break into the fortress and Travers disappears. When he is next seen, he is under the control of the Intelligence. The Doctor must give himself up to the Intelligence at Piccadilly Circus station. Here, a pyramid device has been set up in which the Intelligence plans to absorb the Doctor's mind. Travers is freed - as it has been Staff Sergeant Arnold who has been host for the Intelligence all this time. The Doctor has sabotaged the mind-draining machine to work in reverse - draining the alien entity - but his friends are unaware of this. The Doctor-controlled Yeti attacks the others and the Doctor is pulled free before the machine can do its work. Arnold dies as the Intelligence is once more expelled into deep space, and the Yeti are rendered lifeless.

This six part adventure was written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, and was broadcast between 3rd February and 9th March, 1968. Only episode 1 survives in the archives, though we can still enjoy the soundtrack and telesnaps for lost episodes. There are a couple of very brief Australian censor clips from later episodes - including Yeti in the Underground tunnels and some of the Covent Garden battle.
Peter Bryant becomes full time producer, and the Story Editor from now on will be Derrick Sherwin.
The story is significant for the speedy return of the Yeti, who had proved extremely popular just a few months before, and for the introduction of one of Doctor Who's most iconic characters - Lethbridge-Stewart, who will soon be promoted to Brigadier.
The story is also significant as the first true sequel in the history of the programme. Previously there had been recurring monsters like the Daleks and Cybermen, or characters like the Monk, but this is a direct continuation of the earlier The Abominable Snowmen - with the character of Edward Travers as well as the Great Intelligence and the Yeti, and events in the second story are directly driven by elements from the first.

Travers is once again played by Debbie's dad, Jack Watling. Whilst a bit gruff and unsociable in his first appearance, in this he is a cantankerous - but loveable - old so-and-so. He plays grumpy old man extremely well. Daughter Anne is played by Tina Packer. She has a nice line in put downs of sexist army banter.
Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is, of course, played by dear old Nicholas Courtney who became one of the programme's greatest ambassadors. Lethbridge-Stewart's influence remains to this day, with his daughter Kate now a leading part of UNIT. For a while we actually suspect the Colonel of being the Intelligence's host.
Other actors worth mentioning are Ralph Watson as Captain Knight, who is running the fortress at the start of the story; Jack Woolgar as Staff Sergeant Arnold; and Jon Rollason as the unctuous reporter Harold Chorley - another Intelligence suspect. Watson will return to the programme as the firebrand Pel miner Ettis in The Monster of Peladon.

Special mention must be made of Douglas Camfield's direction, the lighting and the sets. It is no wonder that directors like Graeme Harper cite Camfield as an major influence. Clive Leighton's lighting adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere, and contributes to the story's famous run-in with the London Underground bosses who had refused permission to film. David Myerscough-Jones' impressive tunnel sets prompted an angry letter from LU demanding to know why the BBC had ignored their prohibition to film - so realistic are they.
Episode ending for this story are:

  1. The Doctor approaches the web-shrouded explosives as Captain Knight orders their remote detonation. There is a fierce glow and the Doctor cries out...
  2. Walking along a stretch of tunnel, the Doctor, Jamie and army driver Evans see a wall of web advancing towards them.
  3. Travers finds one of the Yeti control models beside a dead soldier. A Yeti suddenly attacks him.
  4. Travers reappears at the fortress flanked by Yeti guards. He has been taken over by the Great Intelligence.
  5. One of the walls of the fortress suddenly collapses and glowing web floods in.
  6. The Doctor and his companions hurry back to the TARDIS - worried that the tube might start running again. (If it was Bank Holiday weekend, they needn't have rushed...)

Overall, one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. Great for base under siege fans, with a tense, unnerving  atmosphere - not knowing who the Intelligence's agent might be. Apart from the rather stereotyped Silverstein, a flawless production in every way.
Things you might like to know:
  • The Yeti in this story are of a different design to their previous appearance. The Yeti in the museum in part one starts off as a Tibetan one, then transforms on screen into a slimmer version with glowing eyes. It is never quite explained how this happens. As well as the different body shape, they are a different colour - as we know from seeing the top half of one attached to the bottom of a previous model in the Basil Brush sketch on The Mind Robber DVD. 
  • The Doctor has to explain the Underground to Victoria - despite it already being in operation during her time. (She must have led a very sheltered upbringing).
  • At one point the Doctor calls Victoria "Debbie".
  • The Yeti inherit the Cyberman musical theme.
  • The first glimpse we get of Lethbridge-Stewart is of his boots in a tunnel in episode 2. This is actually an uncredited extra. 
  • Courtney was originally supposed to play Captain Knight, who gets killed two-thirds of the way through the story. Lethbridge-Stewart would have been played by David Langton - who became famous as the patriarch of the Bellamy family in Upstairs, Downstairs. Langton had to drop out - and the rest is history.
  • Courtney's future UNIT co-star, John Levene, makes his second appearance in the programme as one of the Yeti - after playing a Cyberman in The Moonbase. Camfield was so impressed by the insecure but conscientious young actor that he gave him a better job on The Invasion. More history in the making.

Sunday 25 November 2012

That Was The Week That Was 25.11.12

This week saw Doctor Who celebrate its 49th Birthday. The countdown to the 50th Anniversary has really begun. My 200th post on Friday looked forward to some of the books that are expected in the next few months, as well as rounding up what's known so far about the second half of Series 7.

Thursday's issue of Doctor Who Adventures came with a rather nice advent calendar - so you can count down to Christmas Day's The Snowmen. It has been announced that both the US and Canada will get the special on the same day - with Australia the day after.
The prequel had some 8.6 million watching it - for once beating Corrie on ITV.

It was announced today that Dinah Sheridan has passed away at the age of 92. She was Chancellor Flavia in The Five Doctors. Yesterday, we learned that JR Ewing himself had left us - Larry Hagman. If JNT had had his way, he would have appeared in Silver Nemesis.

Am really looking forward to the coming week, as I'm going to be in Cardiff on Thursday, and I've pre-booked my ticket for the Doctor Who Experience in the afternoon. Expect a post about it on Friday or Saturday...

Saturday 24 November 2012

Story 40 - The Enemy of the World

In which the TARDIS materialises on an Australian beach, sometime in the near future. The Doctor and his companions are having a look around when they are suddenly attacked by a group of men in a hovercraft. They are rescued by a young woman named Astrid Ferrier, and flown to safety in her helicopter. She takes them to her nearby beach house, where she makes it obvious she does not like the Doctor for some reason. She only rescued them under orders. The men in the hovercraft attack once more, but they escape and travel to the office of her employer - Giles Kent. Here, the Doctor learns that he has a double in a man named Salamander, who many see as a saviour of mankind. He created the Suncatcher satellite energy system - which enables sunlight to be focussed on regions of the Earth to aid multiple harvests. Kent has other opinions of the man - claiming he is behind a series of recent natural disasters, and of harbouring designs on world domination. Astrid blames Salamander for her father's death - hence her initial dislike of the Doctor - who she thought was the would-be dictator. Head of World Zones Security, Donald Bruce, visits Kent unannounced. The Doctor pretends to be Salamander - fooling Bruce. In this time, the world is split into large economical and political zones. The Doctor refuses to heed Kent's warnings against Salamander until he has some proof.

In order to gather evidence, Astrid helps with a ploy to get Jamie and Victoria into Salamander's inner retinue. They will travel to the Central European Zone - controlled by a man named Denes - but are observed in a park by Bruce. Salamander is in this Zone to discredit Denes and replace him with one of his own men - Fedorin. The Doctor and Kent remain behind in Australia in order to observe the activities surrounding Salamander's research base at Kenowa. They are continually harassed by Salamander's personal security man, Benik, though the Doctor manages to keep out of sight. A faked assassination attempt upon Salamander allows Jamie and Victoria access to his retinue. Jamie is made a security guard, whilst Victoria will help out in the kitchens. Denes is arrested, and an attempt to rescue him fails. He is killed. As Fedorin had earlier failed to poison Denes, he is also killed. Bruce reveals to Salamander that he has a double somewhere, and that Jamie and Victoria were observed with Astrid - who is known to work with Kent, who used to be a colleague of Salamander until he was ousted and discredited. They are captured, and everyone travels back to Australia.

It transpires that deep beneath Kenowa is a secret base where a group of people think they are survivors of a nuclear war. They have been using the Suncatcher to trigger earthquakes and volcanic eruptions against an enemy which doesn't exist - thanks to Salamander's lies. During one of his visits with food, the group's leader, Swann, learns that things on the surface are not as Salamander says when he finds a scrap of newspaper. He insists on visiting the surface - and Salamander shoots him once away from the others. Astrid finds a way down to the base and tells the others the truth, after finding the dying Swann. The Doctor impersonates Salamander to access Kenowa. He discovers that Kent helped devise Salamander's plan and really wants to take over for himself. Bruce learns the truth. The base is destroyed as the inhabitants abandon it. Salamander kills Kent, then goes to the TARDIS and pretends to be the Doctor in order that Jamie and Victoria will take him away from here. The Doctor arrives in time, as Salamander tries to dematerialise with the doors still open. The would-be ruler of the world is sucked out into the Vortex.

This six part adventure was written by David Whitaker, and was broadcast between 23rd December 1967 and 27th January 1968. The director is future programme producer Barry Letts. This is the last story to be produced by Innes Lloyd, with Peter Bryant as Story Editor. Only Episode 3 exists in the archives, though missing parts are covered by telesnaps (except for episode 4) and a soundtrack.
In the middle of the monster-filled Season 5, this story stands out like a sore thumb. As I mentioned in my post last month (Double-O-Eleven) it is an attempt to do James Bond - but on a BBC budget.
There's a villain out to rule the world, with a secret underground base and super-weapon. Astrid is very much in the Pussy Galore mould - a helicopter pilot who can beat up any latex-uniformed thugs her foes send against her. The globe-trotting requires some imagination - an Australian beach being in reality Littlehampton in Sussex, and Central Europe being entirely studio-bound.
It is a shame that part 3 is the only one that we can still watch - as it is the poorest of the six. Denes is infamously imprisoned in a set corridor, and we don't get a real feel for the programme's global intentions. If you ignore the episode on DVD and simply listen to the full story on audio only, it is actually quite impressive and you do get a hint of that international scale.

Salamander is, of course, played by Patrick Troughton. He makes for a very good villain - though the Mexican accent does wander around the Mediterranean region a few times. Having the star play the baddie does, however, mean that the Doctor is somewhat sidelined throughout much of the story - hiding in Australia - and unwilling to do anything against Salamander for a very long time. Future Doctors will topple whole empires just because of a hunch, but here he seems overly cautious. In hindsight, he was right not to trust Kent, as he might have simply replaced one dictator with another.
It's not a great story for Jamie and Victoria. They're absent from episode 4 altogether and can feel superfluous to events at other times - with Astrid playing a more prominent role in their place. She's played by Mary Peach.
Kent is played by the marvellous Bill Kerr. Listen in to BBC Radio 4 Extra any Wednesday and you'll hear him in his most famous role as Tony Hancock's hilariously dim-witted flat mate.
Bruce is Colin Douglas, who will return in the memorable role of Reuben the Rutan in Horror of Fang Rock. Benik is played by Milton Johns - who will be back as Guy Crayford in The Android Invasion, and Castellan Kelner in The Invasion of Time. He is superbly sadistic in this.
Denes is George Pravda - who will play a much nicer Castellan in The Deadly Assassin -as well as the rather incompetent scientist, Jaeger, in The Mutants.
An incidental character worth noting is Griffin the Chef - played by Australian actor Reg Lye - who provides some much welcome comic relief.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Bruce marches into Kent's office with a security guard. Salamander appears from an inner room - demanding to know what he is doing here. Is it Salamander - or the Doctor?
  2. Denes has been placed under arrest. His friend and deputy, Fedorin, is ordered by Salamander to give evidence against him.
  3. Bruce reveals he saw Salamander in Kent's office. Salamander realises there is someone who looks very much like him.
  4. The Doctor is with Kent and Astrid, watching the Kenowa station, when Bruce bursts in.
  5. The dying Swann tells Astrid that he was shot by Salamander, and points the way to the secret tunnel.
  6. Salamander is gone - sucked out of the open doors - but the Doctor and his companions are in danger of following him...

Overall, not as bad as its lowly reputation - mainly the result of that third episode. Listen to the soundtrack and you will actually quite enjoy.
Things you might like to know:
  • Future King of Peladon, David Troughton, appears in the last two episodes of this story as an extra.
  • There are references to recent adventures. To explain why they don't know about the current political situation here, the Doctor explains they have been "on ice" - alluding to the somewhat frigid locations of the last three stories.
  • It was hoped that the Doctor and Salamander might meet a few times in this story, but the primitive special effects available - and a jammed camera - meant that only the final climactic scene sees the two come together - using a split screen / matte process. When Letts discussed this with fellow director Derek Martinus later, he discovered he could have achieved better, and easier, effects with an optical matte system - prompting his life-long fascination with developing television effects techniques such as CSO.
  • At one point Astrid mentions meeting under a disused jetty - which a suitably alarmed Doctor mishears as a disused Yeti.
  • David Whitaker had been working on the novelisation of this story for Target when he died. It was released in 1981 under the authorship of Harry Sullivan actor Ian Marter.
  • Talking of Target, a reprint of The Three Doctors, with a new cover by Jeff Cummins, actually features Troughton as Salamander instead of the Second Doctor. 
  • This is the last story to come under the watching brief of the series' creator, Sydney Newman. He left the post of Head of Drama at the end of 1967.
  • Episode 3 marks the switch to 625 lines, as opposed to 405, of TV picture quality for the BBC - in preparation for the introduction of colour.
  • Episode 6 was followed by a specially narrated trailer for the following week's story - The Web of Fear. The soundtrack for this still exists. It's where Troughton advises young children to hold their mum's or dad's hand - in case the grown ups get scared...
  • This post twice refers to the dying Swann - in the misguided hope that it will attract misdirected ballet fans and so up the page count. Desperation or what...?

Friday 23 November 2012

49th Anniversary - 200th Post

My 200th post, and it just happens to fall on 23rd November - Doctor Who's 49th Anniversary. I thought I would look forward rather than back, to see what we can expect (so far) from the year to come.
I shan't mention the numerous Big Finish releases expected - they get enough free publicity from DWM every month anyway.
Two audio releases of Target novelisations expected in 2013 are The Talons of Weng-Chiang in January, and The Gunfighters in February.
Book wise we can look forward to:
3rd January - the paperback release of Terry Nation: The Man Who Invented The Daleks by A W Turner.
31st January - the paperback release of Gareth Roberts' Shada.
1st February - The Silurian Gift - a Quick Reads from Mike Tucker (allergy advice - may contain Myrka).
7th March - the 50th Anniversary re-release collection (11 books - one per Doctor).

15th March - Doctor Who FAQ by Dave Thompson.
2nd April - The Doctor Who Character Encyclopaedia.
4th April - Where's the Doctor? - one of those Where's Wally? type books.
8th April - Nemesis of the Daleks by Dan Abnett and Paul Cornell.
11th April - 3 new novels as yet untitled, written by Nicholas Briggs, Justin Richards and Tom Donbavand.
15th April - The Doctor Who Character Compendium from DK Books.
31st May - Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom - by various.
4th July - paperback release of Dark Horizons by J T Colgan.
1st August - paperback release of The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter.
14th August - 2014 Doctor Who Annual.
1st September - Who is Who? The Philosophy of Doctor Who by K S Decker.
5th September - 101 Things to do with a Sonic

As for the TV series itself, we won't know for quite a while where the 50th Anniversary story will sit in relation to the rest of Series 8 - the opener or, more likely, the closing story of the first half of the series, allowing for a gap before the 2014 Christmas Special.
Before then we have the remaining half of Series 7, which comprises this year's Christmas Special - The Snowmen - featuring Richard E Grant as the villainous Dr. Simeon, evil snowmen, a Victorian Clara, and the return of Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax as the Paternoster Gang.
The next bit might be deemed a bit spoiler-ish, but it's all gathered from information that's out there.

First episode in the Spring is by Steven Moffat and is apparently set in contemporary England. Doctor and Clara on a motorbike. Something to do with robots. One title being bandied about is "The Bells of St. John".
Next up is the first script by Neil Cross, which has been referred to by the title "The Rings of Akhaten".
Third story is the first of Mark Gatiss' contributions - a base under siege tale with lots of shooting and explosions, a waterlogged set and a creature which is realised prosthetically but will have some CGI additions. Features David Warner and Liam Cunningham.
Fourth story is Neil Cross' second script - has been named as "Hider in the House" (previously Phantom of the Hex). Features Dougray Scott and may involve ghosts / dual time streams.

Fifth is Stephen Thompson's tale set within the TARDIS and featuring Ashley Walters. Currently titled "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS". Possibly Doctor-lite.
The sixth story is Mark Gatiss' Victorian tale featuring Diana Rigg and Rachel Stirling. There was a reference to the "Crimson Horror" in DMW. More Paternoster Gang expected.
Penultimate story of the series is Neil Gaiman's Cyberman story (read-through title "The Last Cyberman"). New streamlined design of Cybermen. Guest starring Jason Watkins, Warwick Davis and Tamzin Outhwaite. Set on an alien planet.
And that just leaves Moffat's finale, about which nothing is known so far. No sign of any story arc for the second half - though Clara may provide this.

Other things I think we can expect, beyond the already announced origins of Doctor Who docu-drama by Mark Gatiss, would be some live events - possibly another official Convention, Concert / Prom, and something along the lines of 2010's Doctor Who Live event. There will probably be a theme night on either BBC 2 or 4, a new documentary, and a new Radio Times Special. BBC Books will release a massive new tome. If the Daleks can get a postage stamp, now will be the time for the Doctor to get one.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Life on Mars

On television, the Doctor has only visited Mars on two occasions. The planet has a greater significance in the programme than this suggests - having been visited by a number of other races, and producing two species of its own.
Millions of years ago, any developing life forms will have been destroyed when the planet was briefly visited by the Fendahl.

Later, the Ice Warriors evolved as a reptilian species - in the same way that we originally had Homo Reptilia on Earth. The reptiles remained in the ascendancy on Mars, however. To survive the thin atmosphere and low temperature, the Martians developed an organic armour shell. Like Homo Reptilia, they became a technologically very advanced society - including space flight capability. This was fortunate, as the Martians came upon another ancient life form locked within frozen water - the Flood. This probably led to the Ice Warriors abandoning their planet for another home. A scout mission to Earth crashed during the First Ice Age and its crew were frozen within a glacier.
Around 5000 BC, the inhabitants of Phaester Osiris fought a battle on Earth. Sutekh was captured and his brother Horus had him locked in an Egyptian tomb - held immobile by a forcefield generated from a pyramid complex that was placed on Mars.

In 1911, the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith were forced to travel to the pyramid to prevent Sutekh's messenger freeing him. The pyramid proved to be full of deadly traps, but they were successful in stopping the Osirian thanks to the radio delay between Mars and the Earth.
By the 1970's, the Moon had already been reached and the UK space programme set its sights on Mars.
The planet was once again being visited by an alien race - using it as a base in an attempt to forge diplomatic relations with Earth.

One of the crew of Mars Probe 6 was inadvertently killed as the aliens were highly radioactive and deadly to the touch. The crews of Mars Probe 7 and its Recovery ship were replaced with alien ambassadors. The diplomatic moves broke down - as the aliens felt that humans weren't ready for contact.
In 2006, the space programme decided to return to Mars with the Guinevere One probe. The craft never made it - being captured by a Sycorax spaceship en route to invade the Earth. The Doctor had obviously given UNIT intelligence on the Ice Warriors - as they recognised the Sycorax were not Martian straight away.

In 2010, Sarah Jane Smith used her Xylox computer, Mr. Smith, to block a glimpse of the Osirian pyramid by the Mars Rover.
In 2058, an international team led by Adelaide Brooke landed on Mars and established Bowie Base One - named after the English rock star who had sung about "Life on Mars". A year later, whilst the Doctor was visiting, the expedition accidentally released the Flood. Rather than risk bringing the parasitical lifeform back to earth, Brooke decided to self destruct the base - killing everyone. The Doctor elected to change history - meaning two of the crew survived. Instead of perishing on Mars, Brooke killed herself back on Earth.
In 2070, the Doctor was on his way to Mars when knocked off course to the Moon by the weather controlling Gravitron.
The Doctor told Davros about an attack on Mars by the Daleks, when their insulation cables were attacked by a virus.
The need to rebuild Earth after the Dalek invasion of the mid 22nd Century led to an abandonment of Mars.

It was at this time that the Ice Warriors decided to return to their homeworld. They still had an eye on Earth and launched an attack via the T-Mat travel relay station on the Moon. They planned to seed earth with Martian plant-life that would alter Earth's atmosphere to be more agreeable to them. The invasion failed, and the Ice Warriors eventually decided to turn their backs on warfare and sign up to the Galactic Federation. They helped Peladon join the Federation, but later a rebel faction tried to seize the planet.
Ice Warriors made a brief reappearance on Earth when the crew of the ancient scout ship were resurrected during another Ice Age. Earth-Martian relations must have long ended, as no-one at Brittanicus Base recognised them.
Humans returned to Mars and by the year 200,000 there was a University there, which Adam Mitchell pretended to be attending.
In the far future, Mars became temporary home to the whole of mankind - before the Usurian Company moved it out to Pluto.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Story 39 - The Ice Warriors

In which the TARDIS materialises in a future England threatened by a new Ice Age. The ship has landed on its side outside a large dome. Within is a preserved Georgian building. This is Brittanicus Base - front line in the battle to hold back the advancing glaciers. At first the travellers are assumed to be scavengers and are about to be forcibly relocated to an ice-free region near the Equator. The Doctor recognises that the computer is about to destroy the base and he quickly fixes it. Base leader Clent is impressed. He has recently lost his computer expert, Penley, after a number of arguments and allows the Doctor to stay if he can help. It transpires that this Ice Age was triggered by man-made pollution of the atmosphere and loss of vegetation. A number of bases have been established across the world to stem the ice advance using an Ionisation process. Brittanicus is a weak link in this chain - threatening the whole programme. An ex-archaeologist named Arden is fitting sensors to the glacier and comes upon a body frozen in the ice - that of a huge armoured figure. Despite Clent's objections, he cuts it free and brings it back to the base. Thermal packs are set to defrost the body. The Doctor is concerned, as he spots electronic components on the supposedly ancient warrior. The Ice Warrior - Varga - comes back to life and abducts Victoria.

Varga tells Victoria that he comes from Mars, and his spaceship crash-landed during a previous Ice Age event. He plans to find his craft and resurrect his crew. Taking more thermal packs, they leave the base. Arden and Jamie follow. The Ice Warriors kill Arden and injure Jamie. He is found by Penley and a scavenger named Storr, who are living in the wilderness. The Doctor advises Clent that he cannot use the Ioniser until he has ascertained the nature of the alien ship's engines. They could trigger a nuclear explosion. When Arden and Jamie fail to return, the Doctor sets off to find them and try to discover the alien propulsion method. He is reunited with Jamie, and urges Penley to take him back to the base. Victoria escapes and meets Storr. The scavenger tries to ally himself with the aliens by taking her back, but he is of no value to them and is killed. The Doctor is captured, but - as a scientist - he is allowed to live. He pretends that the base has a power system the Ice Warriors could use to re-energise their ship.

The aliens attack the base but find they have been duped. The Doctor overpowers a Warrior using a stink-bomb and employs their sonic cannon weapon against them. Penley raises the temperature and humidity to force them to return to their ship. The Doctor now knows that the Ice Warrior ship poses no threat to the Ioniser. He and Victoria return to the base. The computer cannot make the final decision, and Penley and the Doctor urge Clent to make the choice without it. The Ioniser is activated and causes the Ice Warrior spacecraft to explode, destroying its occupants. Penley and Clent are reconciled and will work together to halt the glaciers - whilst the TARDIS crew slip quietly away.

This six part adventure was written by Brian Hayles, and was broadcast between 11th November and 16th December, 1967. Episodes 2 and 3 are missing from the archives though telesnaps and the soundtrack do exist. It is expected that the eventual DVD release will have animated missing episodes.
The story is significant for introducing the Ice Warriors - despite only four appearances, one of the programme's most popular monsters.
With the discontinuation of historical stories, the production team had found a winning formula in base-under-siege stories with strong new monsters. The Ice Warriors are a wonderful concept - intelligent, articulate and noble creatures. They are reptilian in nature, and it is implied in this story that their appearance is due to them wearing armour - rather than this being their true form. They have a sonic weapon built into their arm. The death effect is achieved by filming the victim reflected on a sheet of flexible mirrorlon, which is poked by someone from behind to give the wobbling effect.
Varga is played by Bernard Bresslaw - famous from TV comedy The Army Game (which featured William Hartnell) and the Carry On... series of films.

An underlying theme of the story is the reliance on technology to solve problems. The role of the computer, voiced by Roy Skelton, is discussed throughout. Clent is over-reliant on it to solve all his problems. His assistant, Miss Garrett, is the same - but this may be due to a serious case of unrequited love on her part for the leader. Penley, the actual computer expert, knows their limitations and argues for some human intuition some of the time, rather than slavish obedience to what it says. When the time comes for it to make a crucial decision, the computer hits a logical impasse - unable to agree to something that might destroy it - and so a human decision has to be made.
Clent is played by Peter Barkworth. He chooses to play him with a limp. He's crippled both physically and emotionally. Penley - Peter Sallis - describes him as having a printed circuit in place of a heart. Whilst Clent is emotionally cold, Penley is all anger and frustration, and has decided he's had enough. He has dropped out of this society to live a more natural life in the icy wastes. Storr - Angus Lennie - hates science and scientists and blames them for all that has happened to the Earth.
Sallis - famous for his performance as Norman Clegg in the long-running Last of the Summer Wine series - almost returned to the programme in the 1980's. He was cast as Captain Striker in Enlightenment, but a change of studio dates meant he had to withdraw. Lennie will be back in The Terror of the Zygons.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Jamie and Victoria are discussing Brittanicus Base fashions, unaware that the creature is stirring to life.
  2. Varga watches as the rest of his crew is slowly freed from the glacier.
  3. Victoria has escaped from the spaceship. She is talking on a radio with the Doctor, unaware that the Ice Warriors have trained their sonic cannon on her.
  4. The Doctor is trapped in the airlock of the ship, as the pressure is reduced.
  5. Ice Warrior Zondal struggles to activate the cannon as the Doctor and Victoria try to stop him.
  6. The TARDIS dematerialises from the snowy landscape.

Overall, a very good story that holds up well over its six episodes. The Ice Warriors are a memorable addition to the programme - visually stunning and with a lot of potential for future appearances. Come on Moffat - time for a return. The performances from the regulars and the guest cast are very strong.
Things you might like to know:
  • Varga changes appearance between waking up at the end of part one and being up and about with Victoria in part two. The Episode 1 costume will go to one of the crew in later episodes.
  • He won't be the only one to change appearance, as Miss Garrett (Wendy Gifford) finds time to change her costume for the final episode, despite everything that's going on. Is she fed up with Clent never noticing her?
  • The Ice Warriors are all individually named. As well as Varga we have Zondal, Turoc, Rintan and Isbur.
  • Turoc is played by Sonny Caldinez, who had played Kemel in Evil of the Daleks. He will inherit Bernard Bresslaw's Varga costume for the next three Ice Warrior stories.
  • It's the oldest costume to be seen in the Doctor Who Experience exhibition.
  • Like the Sea Devils, the name of this race is one given to them by a human observer - not necessarily how they term themselves.
  • The TARDIS materialised in episode one on its side, yet in the final scene of episode six it dematerialises upright.
  • There's a sequence with a (rather small) bear. This was specially shot - not stock footage.
  • Clent talks about 5000 years of history being buried by the glaciers - implying this might be around the year 3000. The Fourth Doctor mentions that there was an Ice Age around the year 5000 in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. The same Ice Age, or another one?
  • And when exactly did the Ice Warriors crash? If in the last Ice Age, how did the ship survive thousands of years under a glacier - with Varga and his crew unprotected outside of it? How did they manage to end up, unscathed, only a few feet from each other?