Wednesday 30 October 2013

Story 86 - The Masque of Mandragora

In which the Doctor takes Sarah on a tour of the TARDIS, and they come upon the old secondary control room. This wood panelled space was used previously by his second and third incarnations, and the ship can be piloted from here as easily as from the main control room. Opening the scanner, the Doctor is horrified to see that they are approaching the Mandragora Helix - a whirlpool of sentient energy travelling through space.
The TARDIS materialises and they venture out into a black void. A fragment of Helix energy enters the ship, unseen by them, and they hurry to leave. The ship arrives in the Republic of San Martino, Italy, in the latter years of the 15th Century. The Helix energy bolt leaves the ship soon after they have wandered off to explore. Anyone who comes into contact with it is incinerated. The Duke of San Martino has just died (secretly poisoned by his brother, Count Federico, who craves his title). The young heir - Guiliano - suspects his uncle's treachery but can do nothing as he controls the army. Federico determines that his nephew will follow his father in a few days - and orders court astrologer Hieronymous to compose a suitable horoscope.

Sarah is captured by followers of the ancient Cult of Demnos - who worship the Moon and conduct human sacrifice. The Doctor goes to the city for help but meets with a frosty reception. Federico orders his execution, but he escapes. He rescues Sarah from the Cult, who congregate in the old Roman catacombs. They are befriended by Guiliano and his friend Marco. Guiliano is an enlightened prince, who favours science over superstition. The Doctor is shown the corpse of a guard and realises that he has inadvertently brought the Helix to Earth. He warns Guiliano of the threat from Mandragora. The Helix has made contact with the Cult of Demnos, and has established itself in their temple. It grants special powers to the Cult's leader - Hieronymous. He abducts Sarah once more - this time sending her under hypnotic influence to kill the Doctor.

The Doctor realises she has been hypnotised when she questions why she can understand Italian - a gift of the Time Lords she has never queried before. Many great rulers and their entourages are due to arrive in San Martino to witness Guiliano's accession to the Dukedom - amongst them men of learning such as Leonardo Da Vinci. Federico seizes control and imprisons Guiliano, Marco, Sarah and the Doctor. The Doctor convinces him to come to the temple where he sees Hieronymous - now fully possessed by the Helix. The old astrologer destroys him. The Cult plan to attack the palace during a masque ball, and sacrifice everyone during a forthcoming eclipse. The Doctor returns alone to the temple and drains Hieronymous' power, after hiding a metal breastplate under his coat. He then sabotages the altar. The Cult members bring their captives to the temple and when they have assembled under Hieronymous' direction, the Helix descends. The sabotage causes the coven to be consumed by its energies and the Helix is ejected back into deep space. Hieronymous removes his mask and robes - to reveal the disguised Doctor.

This four part adventure was written by Louis Marks, and was broadcast between 4th and 25th September, 1976. It is the first story of Season 14. The new wooden TARDIS control room is introduced - designed by  Barry Newbery after producer Philip Hinchclifffe asked for something that would take up less space in studio. Newbery decided on an antique Jules Verne feel.
Also new is the use of the serif font for the titles.
The story has elements of Hamlet in the family politics of the Dukedom. The Prince of Denmark is a young rationalist, forced to confront superstition and the supernatural. There is also the hint of Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of The Red Death in the story title, and the attack on the ball in part four. Writer Louis Marks was something of an expert on Renaissance studies. He graduated from Oxford with a Doctorate in Philosophy. The word Mandragora is Latin for Mandrake - the plant root with a vaguely human appearance which was thought to have magical properties.
The story was filmed at Portmeirion in North Wales - the idiosyncratic creation of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. It is most famous as "The Village" in Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner.

Hieronymous is played by Norman Jones, who had previously appeared as the warrior monk Khrisong in The Abominable Snowmen, and as Major Baker in The Silurians. The villainous Count Federico is John Laurimore. He gets some wonderfully rich dialogue with which to curse the incompetence of his minions. The unnamed High Priest of the Cult of Demnos is portrayed by Robert James, who had played Lesterson in The Power of the Daleks. The rather wet Guiliano is played by Gareth Armstrong, and his friend Marco is the great Tim Piggott-Smith, whose TV d├ębut had been in The Claws of Axos. Anyone who thinks Guiliano and Marco are just good friends is, I strongly suspect, deluding themselves.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor finds himself on the scaffold, surrounded by soldiers, and about to have his head lopped off... 
  2. Sarah runs into the catacombs to warn the Doctor - only to be recaptured by the High Priest, who vows she won't escape again...
  3. In the temple, Federico pulls the mask from Hieronymous' face, and is horrified to see only a blaze of alien energy under the hood. The astrologer destroys him with a bolt from his fingers...
  4. The Doctor and Sarah bid farewell to Guiliano, and the TARDIS dematerialises.

Overall, an excellent story. The 12 year old me wasn't impressed at the time - boring history and no monster as such. Disappointing for a series opener, especially as I saw Episode 1 whilst on holiday in Blackpool and had just made my umpteenth visit to the Doctor Who Exhibition. I have since come to love the richness of the story, dialogue, design, performances - and that historical setting.
Things you might like to know:
  • The Doctor states that the Mandragora Helix will be in a position to attack Earth again in about 500 years - so sometime in the present day. No producer ever picked up on this and so there has never been an on screen sequel. The closest was with the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Secret of the Stars. RTD envisaged it as a proper sequel, but then had a change of heart and all references to this story were dropped. To be honest, it is the Mandragora Helix in all but name.
  • Williams-Ellis visited Portmeirion during production and was impressed by a mock temple ruin that had been set up in the woods. He asked for it to be left behind after filming, but it had to be pointed out to him that it was only a flimsy prop.
  • We know that the Second and Third Doctors used the secondary control room as the former's recorder is there, as well as one of the latter's frilly shirts.
  • Apart from stories set during the course of Season 14, has anyone ever employed the secondary control room elsewhere in fiction - such as when it was used by the Second / Third Doctors?
  • This is the fist time that it is explained how everyone in Doctor Who speaks English. 2005's The End of the World will fully explain it as a function of the TARDIS (the telepathic circuits). It isn't purely down to the TARDIS, however, as it doesn't work whilst the Doctor is recuperating from his regeneration in The Christmas Invasion - so why don't the companions suddenly hear only alien / foreign languages every time the Doctor gets knocked out?

Figurine Collection - What's Next?

We knew from the very first issue what nine of the first ten figurines would be (No.8 was missing). Next up are the Bronze Dalek and Sontaran General Stahl. Then we have the Tenth Doctor, followed by Skaldal and a Silent. But what comes after these? According to Eaglemoss' Facebook page, this is what we have to look forward to, over the first half of 2014:
11. Rassilon (The End of Time Parts 1 & 2)
12. An Ood
13. The Dalek Supreme (version not known)
14. A Cyberman (Nightmare In Silver)
15. Omega (The Three Doctors)
16. A space-suited Vashta Nerada
17. The Fourth Doctor
18. A Judoon
19. A Dalek (The Dead Planet)
20. A Sycorax
21. A Cyberman (The Invasion)
22. The Ninth Doctor
23. A Heavenly Host
Still a strong emphasis on the new series, but good to see some classic characters starting to appear. I suspect the Dalek Supreme will be the red / gold one from the Series 4 finale. Subscribers also have the 22cm high Eccleston Emperor Dalek to look forward to (due on the 7th of November), as well as those exclusive additional Daleks which will be sent out intermittently.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

News Update 29.10.13

A couple of new retro-style posters for An Adventure In Space And Time released. The one loosely based on the 1965 Dr Who Annual is by far the best. It has been announced that the drama will be shown in Australia on Sunday 24th November. Whilst I had it in my head it would be broadcast prior to the 23rd, this date might equally apply to the UK transmission.
BBC3 are embarking on a weekend of programming between Friday 15th - Sunday 17th.
Today's Radio Times has an article on the making of last week's trailer, as well as a competition to win 5 pairs of tickets to the sold-out Convention (for Friday 22nd entry).
And Blue Peter continues its long association with Doctor Who with programmes on Thursday 21st and Saturday 23rd. There will be a competition to design new "sonic devices" for Strax, Jenny and Madam Vastra - to be seen in their Series 8 appearance.
Friday 8th November sees a Who-themed edition of BBC2's Celebrity Antiques Road Trip - featuring Colin Baker and Peter Purves. The money raised from this series goes to Children In Need, which takes place on Friday 15th November, and is due to feature a Doctor Who element.

Sunday 27 October 2013

The 82 Minutes of the Doctor

According to the British Board of Film Classification, The Day of the Doctor has a running time of 82 minutes. That's as far as the December DVD release is concerned. 12 minutes more than most sites are claiming the transmission will run to.
The running time obviously has an impact on the start time. It is unlikely to finish after 9pm - due to the number of younger viewers expected. Doctor Who has never been broadcast later than the watershed.
Those 12 additional minutes could, of course, be extra material - though there is absolutely no mention of any Special Edition aspect to the DVD.
I'm sure you won't be too surprised to hear that the story contains "mild violence". We'd be very disappointed if it didn't...

Landmarks No.43

Utopia / The Sound of Drums / The Last of the Time Lords.
Counted by the production team as a three part story, though I personally would prefer to see Utopia as a stand-alone story which feeds into the subsequent two part series finale.
The return of the Master - and Captain Jack - and the apparent departure of Martha as a companion.
A glimpse of Gallifrey and the Time Lords.
The Torchwood Series 1 finale - End of Days - saw Jack hear the TARDIS materialisation sound and rush off. We had to wait a few months to see where he was rushing off to. It's nice to see the more light-hearted version of Jack.
Derek Jacobi is superb as Prof. Yana. The episode builds towards the reveal that he is a humanised Master, his true personality locked away in his fob watch. Elements from Gridlock and Human Nature pave the way for the big reveal - presaged by audio clips of Delgado and Ainley.
I am not a huge fan of the John Simm Master. The humour is too broad, and he's a bit too mad.
We learn the reason for the Master's madness (but not the whole story). It's a nice touch having the young Master wear a War Games era tunic.
The Master gets a companion. Whilst the Doctor's are enriched by the experience (mostly), Lucy Saxon is brutalised and broken - resulting in her shooting her husband. It appears that Time Lords can prevent themselves from regenerating.
The Toclafane make for an interesting monster - our own homicidally insane descendants.
As with all RTD finales, the plot paints itself into a corner and only a big reset button can save the day. Having the Doctor become some kind of god-like being doesn't go down well with me.

That Was The Week That Was 27.10.13

Still no trailer for The Day of the Doctor. I really did think the 4 week mark might have been the time to release one, but no. What have been announced this week are the details of the UK and US cinema screenings (Australian and New Zealand ones were announced earlier). Personally, I would prefer to watch it in the comfort of my own home, in old fashioned 2D.
The Science of Doctor Who - presented by Prof. Brian Cox - will be broadcast at 9pm on Thursday 14th November.
A couple of new images were released from An Adventure In Space And Time - featuring the first Dalek story, and Ian and Barbara's first entrance into the TARDIS in the pilot episode.

And that's about it really. I had hoped to give you my opinion on Marcus Hearn's The Vault book - but the postman is still to deliver it. With the biggest storm in more than 10 years on its way tonight, I may have to wait a bit longer for it...

Thursday 24 October 2013

The Day of the Doctor Accumulator 1

Caution - may contain material deemed as Spoiler-ish.
With one month to go, I thought I would start to pull together what is currently known about the anniversary special. This will build as we get closer to 23rd November. At this early stage, it is a mix of fact and some speculation.
  • The Name of the Doctor introduced John Hurt as "The Doctor". Eleven spoke of some not deserving of the name, because of something terrible they have done. That story ended with the Doctor and Clara still trapped in his time stream - so that still has to be resolved. One assumes the Hurt Doctor escapes with them.
  • Everything seems to point towards the Hurt Doctor being the one who used "The Moment" to end the Last Great Time War, and he is therefore the destroyer of Gallifrey and the Time Lords. There must be more to it than this as we have known for 8 years now that the Doctor ended the Time War by destroying both sides. Perhaps the guilt that has condemned Dr Hurt to obscurity is because there was actually another way...
  • The Tenth Doctor is accompanied by Rose (but OK Magazine thinks Donna is also involved).
  • The Daleks were seen battling Time Lords in the trailer (confirmed by those few images already released - Gallifreyan symbols in the background). 
  • The battle may be the Fall of Arcadia (the Doctor was there and has said he might one day get over it). An extra claims to have played an "Arcadian". The same extra has also said he played a UNIT soldier in this - so either he's not clearly in shot or the Arcadians don't look like humans.
  • The Zygons appear. (Creator Robert Banks Stewart thought the Cybermen were also involved).
  • At least one of the Zygons is in Elizabethan England. Queen Elizabeth is played by Joanna Page.
  • Matt Smith said ages ago that the story involved paintings.
  • Photos have emerged in the last couple of days featuring the Tenth Doctor in Elizabethan costume.
  • There is another shot of what I assume to be a wrapped up painting with writing by Elizabeth - stating that if the "Under Gallery" is endangered it should be given to the Doctor. The much publicised filming of the Doctor hanging from the TARDIS took place in Trafalgar Square - right in front of the National Gallery.

  • UNIT are back, once more led by Kate Stewart and still based under the Tower of London. The new scientific adviser appears to be a big fan of the Fourth Doctor. 
  • Coal Hill School and 76 Totters Lane feature. Ian Chesterton is now Chairman of the Board of Governors of his old school.
  • Clara rides a motor bike out of the TARDIS (the same turbo-charged bike from The Bells of St. John).
  • Tennant reuses Troughton's The Three / Five Doctors line about not liking the redecoration.
  • Tennant is envious of Smith's Sonic.
  • Presence of other Doctors. The Radio Times said that one of the pre-2005 Doctors was involved. If so, McGann would be the most obvious choice, though Davison is very good friends with the show-runner and Tom is the most popular. Moffat has recently stated that having the old Doctors squeeze into their costumes for a couple of minutes screen time would be a bad idea. So, if some do appear it may only be in old footage. Maybe cameos as other characters?
  • Presence of old companions. A mistake to clutter it in my opinion. I'd only tolerate one of the originals - Ian or Susan. Having the school feature makes Ian the easiest to include. Besides, from everything we've heard since 2005, Susan is now dead.
  • Update 4th November 2013 - official synopsis:
"In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him".

Update 9.11.13.
The new trailer was released today. Also available is a teaser scene, featuring the Doctor and Clara being shown a painting that appears to depict the Time War.

A few behind the scenes pictures were published in the Telegraph newspaper - all from the same filming (the crystal on a podium in an old rustic barn building).
Speculation: Could this be the Moment? That is, the thing that ended the Last Great Time War and destroyed Gallifrey and the Dalek forces.  In the pictures, and the trailer, the Hurt Doctor is seen with this on his own - but also with Ten & Eleven. Might it be the case that the Hurt Doctor fails to activate it (deliberately or under other influence) and so time is changed and the War never ends - and so Ten & Eleven have to put things right?

Monday 21 October 2013

The Regeneration Game

Steven Moffat has recently been talking about the Doctor's regeneration limit. According to him, as first stated back in 1976's The Deadly Assassin, the Doctor can only regenerate 12 times.
There is something hiding in plain sight that allows future show-runners to get round this, apparently.
My first thought was to consider the regenerations to date. There have been eleven incarnations of the Doctor (plus the Hurt one still to be explained) but are they all the product of regeneration?
Two of the transformations we have never actually seen - Troughton into Pertwee and McGann into Eccleston. Maybe the answer lies therein.
However, the most obvious thing to me is River Song and Let's Kill Hitler. She only ever regenerated twice, so gave the Doctor the power of ten further regenerations. So 22 regenerations - and 23 Doctors?

Fatal Flora & Homicidal Herbs

Following on from my recent review of The Seeds of Doom, here's a quick look at some of the other obscene vegetable matter which the Doctor has come across during his travels. Way back, even before we first encountered the Doctor, he and Susan had come upon a species of plant which communicated sonically when people stood between them. This was on the planet Esto. How benign these plants were, we do not know. The primordial planet of Quinis might also have harboured deadly plant life. The first deadly vegetation we see on screen is on the planet Marinus - in the episode The Screaming Jungle. Susan arrives in the jungle ahead of the others, and is overpowered by the screeching of the plant-life. She says that she has heard something similar before - hence Esto or Quinis. These plants have been artificially engineered by a daft old botanist named Darrius - and he falls victim to them as they break into his home.
A short time later, a group of crazed astronauts will use Deadly Nightshade to cause the deaths of many Sensorites.

On the planet Mechanus live the huge mushroom-like Fungoids, which attempt to smother Daleks and humans alike - in the penultimate episode of The Chase. They don't like light. Terry Nation likes his deadly flora, as he introduces the Varga Plants in Mission to the Unknown.

These horrors are native to Skaro, but have been imported to Kembel by the Daleks as a form of natural defence. Their thorns cause people to turn homicidal before mutating them into new Vargas. Even dead people can be transformed. They are mentioned at the beginning of The Daleks' Master Plan, but not seen.
Onto the Troughton era, and the first hostile plant life he encounters is of the aquatic variety - sentient seaweed, susceptible to screams.

The following season, the Ice Warriors attempted to transform the Earth's atmosphere into something more bearable to them - using Martian seed pods. These produced a foaming fungus which absorbed oxygen. Ordinary H2O destroyed it, fortunately.

The deadly daffodils which the Master developed for the Autons were only plastic - albeit suffocating Nestene Autojets - but let's give them a mention anyway.

Once again, Terry Nation gives us some real nasty plants - offering a variety of species on the planet Spiridon. Most benign are the Eye-Plants, which alert you to the presence of the invisible natives. Nastiest is the spitting plant which infects you with a fungal infection that, if left untreated, consumes you. Thal Vaber is almost eaten by another plant creature.

After the Krynoids and the plant-obsessed, crazed millionaire Harrison Chase, the Fourth Doctor was seen to possess some carnivorous plant life of his own - in the TARDIS greenhouse. This huge plant attempted to devour a Sontaran.

Lots of interesting flora on the planet Chloris, but the deadliest were the tumbleweed Wolfweeds, which smothered K9 on a couple of occasions. They helped destroy Lady Adastra, and their herdsman appeared to take her place. In the very next adventure, the Doctor nearly fell victim to a carnivorous plant.

This was amongst the section of jungle taken from the planet Eden, and held on a crystal in the CET machine.

The last of the Zulfa-Thurans, Meglos, initially appears to be a xerophyte - a cactus - but can transform into other shapes. Posing as the Doctor, certain cactus-like attributes broke through when his concentration faltered.

As we move into the 1980's, the golden age of hostile plant life appears to be over. A plant - the Black Orchid - is deadly only in its legacy. Hindle believes the plant life of Deva Loka to be hostile - but that's just his madness.
The villains on the planet of Varos are despatched with toxic vines - one of the many traps in the Punishment Dome.

The last great villainous plant creatures are the Vervoids. They have been genetically engineered to become a slave race, and hate all animal life - especially the human animal.
With the new series, plant forms have tended to be benign. Take Jabe and her fellow Trees from the Forest of Cheem, encountered by the Doctor and Rose on Platform One. The Doctor may still have that cutting from Jabe's grandfather growing away in the TARDIS greenhouse.

Then there were the Androzani tree spirits, with their wooden King and Queen, in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.
Finally, the only really troublesome vegetable matter encountered by the Doctor since 2005 is that damned carrot from Bowie Base One - which triggers the whole terrible chain of events in The Waters of Mars...
Carrots can be nasty things. They might have done for the Sixth Doctor as well. Maybe it wasn't the Rani's ray gun, but an overdose of carrot juice that triggered the regeneration...

Sunday 20 October 2013

That Was The Week That Was 20.10.13

Last night saw the release of that wonderful trailer marking the 50th Anniversary. Fans are pouring over it image by image in search of clues and hidden meanings. There are some oddities that might point towards something more than a simple retrospective. Next Saturday (26th) marks "one month to go" for the anniversary special - so a strong possibility there may finally be a DOTD-specific trailer then.

Earlier in the week, we saw a number of new images released for both The Day of the Doctor and An Adventure In Space And Time. It is the latter which impress the most. The Ian / Barbara image (both in their "battle dress") is quite amazing. They have really captured the likenesses. Jamie Glover says he tends to play "Ian" more in the drama - rather than William Russell (so most of his scenes are the reconstructions of those classic episodes). Much of the focus of the 90 minute play is on An Unearthly Child - the pilot and its remount - but Marco Polo, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Web Planet and The Tenth Planet are all known to be featured as well.

In the shops on Wednesday was the latest issue of SFX. As well as featuring the new DOTD images - and the AAISAT ones - there is an article on the very first story, a wish-list for Series 8 (including the Kandyman and Drashigs, bizarrely), and Toby Hadoke's 50 Heroes of Doctor Who (some I agree with, others I don't). Next month promises a joint Tennant / Smith interview.

Out the following day came the latest issue of DWM. A number of interviews pertaining to the newly rediscovered Troughton episodes and their restoration. No hints of anything else having been found, though it is funny how that Marco Polo rumour just won't go away. One interesting snippet was the timescale for the finding of these episodes. They's been back in the UK since the Spring.
Genesis of the Daleks got the Fact of Fiction treatment - definitely my favourite feature. There's a very good interview with Waris Hussein and an archive one with Sydney Newman. Next month's issue (14th November) is a bumper one - with an extra 32 pages.
The next Magazook is also advertised - un-remarkably featuring the Doctors. It doesn't state the actual release date - so pop into WH Smiths every Thursday until you find it. The next Missing Episodes / Telesnap Special Edition (Troughton Volume 2) is also mentioned. It takes into account the recent findings and so will include part three of The Web of Fear.

On Monday I got my copy of The Tenth Planet DVD. I must say that the animation is far superior to that for The Reign of Terror - despite coming from the same producers. The mad inter-cutting and close-ups have been mercifully toned down, and it feels a lot closer to what the lost episode might actually have looked like. That small interview with Hartnell speaks volumes about the man - especially when set beside some of the comments about him in the interview and on the commentary track. Whilst we applaud his performance, as a man he was certainly difficult to like.

Looking forward to the coming week, hopefully that trailer, and non-subscribers of the figurine collection will be able to buy Issue 5 - the Silurian soldier - on Thursday.

Saturday 19 October 2013

50th Trailer Breakdown

The Blogtor Who site has some screenshots from the trailer, which allow us to see some detail from the trailer. A couple of the images give some food for thought.

We start with the First Doctor in the junkyard at 76 Totters Lane (with added fez and sonic screwdriver floating in the air), after seeing a policeman outside the gates in monochrome. The Doctor witnesses a soldier being exterminated by a classic series Dalek.

We then see the Second Doctor in Det Sen monastery, playing his recorder in silhouette. Then it's the Fourth Doctor floating amongst some jelly babies. We see K9 next, at the feet of Sarah Jane Smith, with Daleks and Cybermen in the background. Beyond are the Houses of Parliament with a Dalek saucer overhead.

How wonderful is it that Lis Sladen is featured so prominently? In the globe is an image of the Third Doctor fencing with the Master in the TARDIS control room.

The current companion is also featured significantly (with her emblematic leaf). But whose face is that in her globe?

We then move through a group of Doctors Five to Nine, with assorted monsters. Is there any significance to that number display - 17 1623? And who is that standing before the Tenth Doctor? We never see his face.

That bandoleer suggests the John Hurt Doctor, perhaps?

We finally whiz past Ten and move towards Eleven on a mountain pinnacle. Whilst it appears to be an alien landscape, we can clearly see the London Shard and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
So, a general trailer covering all 50 years of Doctor Who - but are there possibly hidden clues to The Day of the Doctor?

The 50th Anniversary Trailer

The stunning 50th Anniversary Trailer, just released tonight. Some Doctors better represented than others.

Story 85 - The Seeds of Doom

In which scientists working at the South Pole discover a strange plant gourd buried deep in the permafrost. They defrost it and find that it is only dormant. A tendril emerges and one of the men is infected. He rapidly mutates. Sir Colin Thackeray of the World Ecology Bureau seeks help from UNIT and the Doctor and Sarah travel to the Antarctic. One of Thackeray's officials - Dunbar - sells information about the find to the millionaire Harrison Chase, who is obsessed with plantlife in all its forms. Chase sends a scientist named Keeer, and his security man, Scorby, to the base to steal the pod - using any means necessary. The Doctor realises that the infected scientist is turning into a Krynoid. These carnivorous plant-based lifeforms originate on another world. Fully grown they can measure 50 feet in height. When they germinate, they produce thousands of pairs of pods to blanket the planet, whilst others drift through space to colonise other worlds. The Doctor finds the second pod buried close to where the first was found. As the infected scientist - now a humanoid Krynoid - escapes and goes on the rampage, Scorby and Keeler steal the second pod and sabotage the base - blowing it up and leaving the Doctor and Sarah for dead.

Back in the UK, Dunbar informs Chase that the Doctor and Sarah have been rescued. The stolen pod is soon traced, after Chase tries to abduct them. They find a painting in the boot of their would-be abductor's car, and the artist, Amelia Ducat, confirms she sold it to Chase. The millionaire lives in a huge mansion in extensive grounds - protected by his own private army. Breaking in, Sarah is captured and Chase decides that she would make an ideal host for the Krynoid. The Doctor saves her and, in the confusion, Keeler becomes infected instead. The scientist mutates rapidly and soon breaks free. Dunbar, remorseful of his treachery, goes to the house and is killed by the creature - now a large tentacled mass. The Doctor escapes and goes to see Sir Colin, who calls in UNIT. The Brigadier is away, and Major Beresford is in charge. He offers the Doctor some classified new plant defoliant, and prepares an assault team.

Chase is quite insane, and has fallen under the Krynoid's mental influence. The creature can also influence native flora - causing plants to attack humans for miles around. The Doctor and UNIT Sergeant Henderson use the defoliant to break in and rescue Sarah and Scorby. The Krynoid soon threatens to crush the house. Beresford's attack using a laser weapon fails. Scorby panics and makes a run for it. Falling into a lake, the weeds attack him and he drowns. Chase kills Henderson, disposing of the body in his composting machine. He tries to kill the Doctor by pushing him into the machine, but it is the crazed millionaire who perishes. UNIT sends in bombers, and the Doctor and Sarah flee the house just as the Krynoid is about to germinate. The Krynoid is blown up.

This six part adventure was written by Robert Banks Stewart, and was broadcast between 31st January and 6th March, 1976. It marks the final story of Season 13, and is the final Doctor Who adventure to be directed by the late, great Douglas Camfield.
A new story structure is introduced - whereby six part stories are split into two sections - two parts in one setting and four parts set elsewhere. Robert Holmes felt this was the only way to sustain a story over this episode length. The first two episodes of this story are clearly influenced by the classic Sci-Fi film The Thing From Another World (1951) - remade in 1982, and given a prequel in 2011. Scientists in an Arctic base find an alien buried in the ice. It is a carnivorous, plant-based creature. The film derives from a novella called Who Goes There?, written by John W. Campbell (writing as Don A. Stuart).
The subsequent UK-based episodes 3 - 6 are heavily influenced by an episode of ATV's The Avengers - Man-Eater of Surrey Green which was broadcast in 1965. In this a crashed spacecraft inadvertently brings an intelligent plant-form from space to Earth. A plant-obsessed millionaire falls under its malign influence, and it can make native flora hostile.

The story has a particularly high level of violence - realistic, adult violence at that. The Doctor, in particular, can be quite brutal, waving guns and throwing punches. Stewart and Camfield did come from TV thriller / cop show backgrounds after all. Mrs Whitehouse also complained about people being throttled by "obscene vegetable matter".
Camfield assembles an excellent cast. Principal villain Harrison Chase is played to perfection by Tony Beckley, who sadly passed away at the relatively young age of 51 just as his career in the US was taking off.
He goes from suave and cultured to homicidally insane in a matter of moments. The brutal Scorby is played by John Challis - most famous for his comedic role of dodgy used car salesman Boycie in Only Fools And Horses and its spin-off The Green, Green Grass.
Other performances of note include Sylvia Coleridge as the eccentric plant artist Miss Ducat, who used to "man" ack-ack guns in WWII, and Michael Barrington as Sir Colin - who at one point looks as if he might just take up the Doctor's offer of a trip in the TARDIS. I can see a Big Finish spin-off series called "WEB" in which Miss Ducat and Sir Colin solve plant-based mysteries around the Home Counties.
Sadly, the last of the UNIT stories features none of the regulars. John Acheson's Major Beresford is rather wooden.
Episode endings are:

  1. The infected scientist Winlett has now turned into a humanoid Krynoid. He attacks and kills fellow scientist Moberley.
  2. The Doctor and Sarah flee the power unit just as Scorby's bomb detonates - destroying the entire base.
  3. The Krynoid pod opens and a tendril snakes out - with Sarah its intended victim...
  4. The Krynoid kills Dunbar, then moves to attack the Doctor and Sarah...
  5. Chase traps the Doctor and his friends in the courtyard, as the giant Krynoid looms over the rooftop.
  6. The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Sarah back to Antarctica. But have they already been, or are they still to arrive?

Overall, an excellent six parter. Splitting the action into two distinct parts certainly helps. If you are going to be influenced by other sources, make sure they are good ones. A very good monster - one that deserves a return - and some great performances.
Things you might like to know:

  • The humanoid version of the Krynoid is, of course, a reused Axon costume painted green. Costume designer Barbara lane worked on both stories.
  • The closing sequence of the TARDIS arriving in Antarctica has led many people to think there is a mistake in the plotting. The Doctor and Sarah did not use the ship to travel to the South Pole in Episode 1. This can be easily explained if we take it that the Doctor originally intended to use the TARDIS - setting the course co-ordinates - then changed his mind. Just look at the detour they took getting back to UNIT HQ after defeating the Zygons.
  • Production had to be rearranged after Kenneth Gilbert (Dunbar) fell ill. Michael McStay (Moberley) suffered a car accident between the location filming and the studio. Fortunately, his beard perfectly hid his injuries.
  • Episode 1 went missing just before transmission - having been misfiled. A hasty re-edit of episode two was planned to make it the opener, but fortunately the missing tape was found 
  • It had received a few tweaks over the years, but this marks the final appearance of the original TARDIS Police Box prop, designed by Peter Brachaki back in 1963.
  • Season 13 was supposed to close with The Hand of Fear - but Bob Baker & Dave Martin's scripts were not ready.
  • Whilst Douglas Camfield never directed another story, he did try his hand at writing one. He had an idea for a desert-set Foreign Legion tale. It would have been Sarah's final adventure, and he planned on killing her off.