Monday 30 June 2014

Gatekeeping spoilers

Michelle Gomez image released - playing someone called the "Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere". Filming on the streets of Cardiff today. Also in attendance, a large number of a very well known monster that's been around since the mid 1960's... (Clue - they're generally voted second favourite monsters after the Daleks. Usually described as silver. Keep changing their appearance. Neil Gaiman wrote a story featuring them recently, which was a bit rubbish...).
Also present, certain members of a military / scientific taskforce last seen back on 23rd November 2013.

Ah, sod it. Here you go (courtesy of Wales-Online).

Spoilers... If you can't beat them, you might as well... To be honest, there are images all over the press websites, so you would have seen these sooner or later - certainly well before this episode's broadcast date.
Have I finally crossed over to the dark side?

Sunday 29 June 2014

Updates soon...

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. Very busy at work and have a house move imminent. With Series 8 only a few weeks away (with Deep Breath scheduled for the August Bank Holiday Saturday), publicity will start gearing up - and so (hopefully) will I.
Expect Nightmare of Eden to get reviewed in the next couple of days, plus "Know Your Daleks..." reaches the David Tennant era.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Know Your Daleks - No.6

The Eccleston Era
In 2005 Doctor Who returned - and so did the Daleks. A sturdy bronze version appeared in the story Dalek, and this design has remained the standard up to the present - though there have been quite a few variations that have popped up over the last 8 series.
Whilst the Doctor and the Daleks have been away, there has been a Time War. The Daleks are supposed to have been wiped out - by the Doctor. However, a lone example has escaped the destruction - having fallen out of the time-locked conflict and ended up on Earth, where it has found its way into the collection of internet-owner Henry Van Statten.
This Dalek retains the same basic shape and dimensions of the earlier classic series models. Exec-producer Russell T Davies did not want any major changes made to the design. However, to show that these are Time War Daleks, the new prop has a real armoured look - especially around the mid-section, with the slats bolted on (Raymond Cusick did not like this - thought it looked too man-made rather than Dalek-made).
There is a considerable amount of detail added to the casings - including a little ident mark under the eye-stalk. A lot of the previously smooth surfaces now show signs of tooling - the dome and the gun and utility arm boxes for instance.
The light bulbs are more prominent - rather like the Aaru movie versions. The eye-socket has a blue light.
Biggest developments lie with the new Dalek's attributes.

There is a new Dalek POV - in blue to match the colour of the new lens. (In Remembrance, Daleks saw in green). The extermination effect from the McCoy story is retained - victims being "X-Rayed" when shot.
The Dalek has a forcefield that can melt bullets. The whole mid-section can rotate like a tank turret, to enable it to fire in any direction.
The utility arm gets a lot more to do - from manipulating door entry systems, to downloading power supplies and the entire internet - via some nasty skull crushing.
The Dalek is also able to absorb DNA from Rose directly through contact with its shell. Absorb it and use it to regenerate itself. This subsequently affects the Dalek's physiology and personality, but initially it fixes the damaged shell - with a free polish thrown in.
Dialogue suggests that the Dalek was able to incinerate people through physical contact as well.

At the end of the story, the Dalek casing opens up and we get to see the mutant within. (No more domes being flipped open like a lid). As with the bronze shell, this general design will be retained for the subsequent series. A tentacled brain with one good eye.
This particular Dalek, tainted by Rose's DNA, elects to commit suicide - and we get to see the Dalek "bumps" actually do something at long last. They've never been explained on screen, though it has often been assumed they are sensors of some kind. Here, they detach and form a forcefield around the Dalek, then destroy it.
Sadly, the explosive "bumps" have never been revisited.

The Daleks return en masse for the series finale - Bad Wolf / Parting of the Ways. Van Statten's was not the only survivor from the Time War. The Doctor must face up to tens of thousands of the bronze Daleks. The big difference here is not what they look like on the outside, but how they differ at the cellular level. These Daleks don't originate as Kaled mutations from Skaro. They are derived from human beings (a bit like those created by Davros on Necros).

There is new Emperor Dalek. (The one from Evil is mirrored by the frame which the Controller is attached to). Again, this is much bigger than normal Daleks - appearing like a massive Dalek that has opened up to reveal the contents. The Emperor mutant itself can be seen in a tank beneath the over-size dome, with mechanical arms underneath. Quite why the Emperor mutant should be so much larger than its fellows is never explained. (Possibly a problem of scale in model-work / CGI terms and never intended).
One assumes from the hydraulic pistons on view that the casing sections can close to protect the Emperor. Another nod to Evil is the special guard which hovers around the Emperor. They have black domes, like the ones on Skaro.

One further item of note - a new door cutting device for the utility arm.
Next time - the Tennant Years.

Monday 16 June 2014

John Barrowman's Member

of the British Empire award was announced the other day. Congratulations to him. Very few people closely associated with Doctor Who have received official Honours (I can only think of Verity Lambert off the top of my head). John's award is obviously for Ubiquitousness in the field of Light Entertainment. Can't believe they didn't pick him to replace Brucie on Strictly...
(If that post title doesn't raise the old page hit counter, there's no justice in the world...).

Dr Who Figurines - June 2014

Two new figurines arrived today - a Heavenly Host and the 2013 version of the Zygon. Regarding the latter, whilst it is faithful to the original 1975 design, I just don't like it quite so much. This might be partly due to their total underuse in Day of the Doctor. Maybe once we have seen them in a full story in their own right I may change my opinion.
Voyage of the Damned's Host is frankly a bit dull. A one-hit wonder "monster" if ever there was one. I really do think they could have come up with more interesting creatures from 50 years' worth of adventures.
If there is one good thing about this figure, it is that you can use it as a Christmas decoration every year from now on.
Next confirmed release is the War Doctor. I suspect he'll be accompanied by the Morbius Monster. We're also due another special edition soon.

Know Your Daleks - No.5

(a) The Davison years.
As mentioned last time, each of the "JNT" Doctors had only one proper meeting with the Daleks (and the now ubiquitous Davros) so this post takes us up to the end of the Classic Series.

When I say that Davison only met the Daleks once, that is not to say that a Dalek did not appear in another story during his tenure. Our first sighting of a Dalek was in The Five Doctors. Had industrial action not got in the way, there would have been a full Dalek story prior to this - Eric Saward's "Warhead". Michael Wisher would have reprised the role of Davros had this gone ahead. As it is, we get to see a lone Dalek with no Davros in sight.
The First Doctor and Susan encounter a grey Dalek in a metallic labyrinth in the Death Zone on Gallifrey.
Most significant thing about this one is what happens when it blows itself up.
We get to see a new design for the Dalek mutant within. There is now a green tentacled creature. In previous stories - apart from the claw at the climax of The Escape (The Daleks part 3) - when the mutant was seen on screen it was generally represented as a shapeless mass.

The same mutant design is evident in Resurrection of the Daleks, when Daleks start to get blown up again a few months later. Once more, the Daleks are of the standard grey / black sphere design. There is a new Supreme on view - black with white spheres. This colour scheme is unique to this story.

Terry Molloy takes on the role of Davros, with a brand new chair and face mask. Molloy will continue to play the Kaled scientist for the remainder of the Classic Series run. Personally, I do not like the mask anywhere near as much as Wisher's. It isn't cadaverous enough. Too sculpted. Looks too much like a mask, basically. Previously, the base of his chair had silver flashing. Now it is black. And just when did he come up with that mind-controlling device hidden in the chair?

(b) The Baker, C, years
Revelation of the Daleks sees the first big revamp for many years, as we are introduced to the white and gold liveried Daleks created by Davros on Necros. This is a new build, and they differ from all previous Daleks in being slightly taller and slimmer (the base circumference is smaller).

The older grey / black sphere props do turn up in the last ten minutes - now representing an Imperial faction.

In the novelisation of their first story, back in 1964, a glass Dalek had featured. Now we get to see one on screen - a sort of incubator one presumes, containing Prof. Stengos' disembodied head.

Talking of disembodied heads, Davros appears initially to have been reduced to this state (by the Movellan virus one assumes). However, this proves to be a decoy clone. He turns up towards the end of the story, still in his chair - which can now levitate. He loses the fingers off his hand when they get blasted off.
One other thing of note here is the first on screen levitation by a Dalek. Unfortunately, the scene is edited so badly that most people missed it. (Those who like to watch the additional CGI effects on their DVDs will have seen that this section has been recreated using a model, to make this landmark event more apparent. It is only marginally clearer, I'm afraid.

(c) The McCoy years
The "skinny" gold & white Daleks are now the Imperial faction - thanks to Davros staging an off screen coup. Within the shell, these mutants have implants and cybernetic additions.

There is a new Supreme Dalek in command of the grey (now rebel) Daleks. It is metallic black with silver spheres and central section. The rebels have a Dalek-shaped battle computer, which is operated by a school girl. The grey Daleks have now also had an overhaul.

This story sees the introduction of the Special Weapons Dalek. Basically, it is a Dalek base with a big cannon on top. The dome has no eye-stalk, and there is no utility arm. It doesn't say anything - even "Exterminate!". This Dalek does not bear much thinking about. Surely all Daleks would want to have maximum extermination power? Does it actually have a mutant inside? I assume from its subsequent reappearance in the Asylum it does, but it might as well just be a mobile weapon in this particular story. (The initial draft script had it a mobile weapons platform rather than an actual Dalek).

Then we have a new Emperor - the design owing a lot to the gold version famous from the 1960's comics. It has a domed upper half, and is without any weapon or utility arm. The dome opens to reveal Davros - now really reduced to just his head.
And that's your lot for the Classic era. No "McGann Years" I'm afraid. Early drafts might have given us the biggest redesigns yet - with CGI spider Daleks - but as it was they were kept off screen and we never got to see them. Only heard them - high on helium, the little devils...

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Story 106 - Creature From The Pit

In which the TARDIS picks up a faint distress signal, emanating from the planet Chloris. This world is covered in dense vegetation. The signal appears to be coming from a large egg-like structure. It transpires that this area is a forbidden zone, and the Doctor and Romana are captured by soldiers led by Madam Karela. K9 tries to intervene, but it is attacked by Wolfweeds. These are aggressive balls of vegetation, which can smother people with a thick web substance. They are controlled by the Chief Huntsman. The Doctor, Romana and K9 are taken to the palace of Chloris' ruler - Lady Adrasta. The Doctor learns that this planet has very few metal deposits, so metals of any kind are highly prized. Adrasta deals with her enemies by throwing them into the Pit - an old mineshaft - where they are killed by "the creature". The Doctor witnesses an execution - a hapless astrologer being thrown into the pit. To escape captivity, the Doctor throws himself in after the victim. He has managed to get onto a ledge out of sight of Adrasta and her soldiers. He climbs down to a network of tunnels, and here he sees the creature. It is a vast green gelatinous mass.

Also in the tunnels is Organon. He is another astrologer who has fallen foul of Adrasta. He was thrown into the pit but managed to survive, and has dwelt down here for many months. The Doctor realises that the creature only kills people inadvertently - smothering or crushing them when it tries to make contact. It is unable to speak or communicate in any way, but does draw a design on the rock wall. The Doctor realises this is a picture of an object which hangs in Adrasta's palace. A gang of metal thieves break into the palace and steal this object - which resembles a huge shield. Adrasta wants to destroy the creature, and believes K9 might be capable of doing this. She leads Romana, Karela and the Huntsman and his troops into the tunnels with K9. The metal shield exerts a hypnotic influence over the thieves, and they are compelled to bring it to the creature. This is actually the mechanism through which the creature can communicate - this plus the borrowed voice-box of a human being. It is called Erato, and it is an ambassador from the planet Tythonus. Tythonus is rich in metals but has a shortage of vegetation, and Tythonians need chlorophyll to survive. Erato was to have arranged a trade - metals for chlorine. Determined to keep her monopoly on the scarce metals - and through them her power, Adrasta tricked it into entering the pit where it has been trapped ever since.

The Doctor convinces the Huntsman that Adrasta has been holding back development on his planet for her own selfish ends. Metals would allow technology that would clear the forests for food growing and for industry to develop. Adrasta tries to flee but she is attacked by Wolfweeds then crushed to death by Erato, in revenge for its long captivity. Karela treies to seize power in her place and attempts to take over the metal thief gang - murdering its leader, Torvin. The Doctor becomes suspicious about Erato's haste to leave, and learns that when it failed to report home a neutron star was sent to destroy Chloris. It is about to arrive. The Doctor forces Erato to help him deflect this. The egg-like structure is actually the vessel in which Erato travelled here. It repairs it and takes off. Along with the TARDIS forcefield, a web is spun round the star and it is deflected. Karela's attempt to take control fails, and the Huntsman agrees to take charge - his first act being to establish the trade links with Tythonus.

This four part adventure was written by David Fisher, and was broadcast between 27th October and 17th November, 1979. It was the last Doctor Who to be directed by Christopher Barry - and the first in which David Brierley takes on the voice of K9.
The plot is quite straightforward. Doctor turns up and dethrones the local tyrant in a couple of hours. The "monster" turns out to be really quite nice. Its' death-dealing a mere misunderstanding. The story is particularly noted for its level of humour. Depending on your taste, this is either a very good thing or...
Personally, I have never been a big fan of Douglas Adams' style of humour. "Under-graduate humour" is the term most often employed. The scene with the books in the mine shaft is just plain silly. The Doctor takes out a book - "Mountain Climbing in Ten Easy Lessons" sort of thing. Turns out it is in Tibetan, so he takes out another book - "Teach Yourself Tibetan". Silly.
Many writers are able to create a realistic society with just a few deft sketches. There's just no sense here of what this civilisation looks like.

The other big problem with this story is the realisation of the titular creature. If you have seen the DVD of this story, you'll know that the main VAM item is a post-mortem on Erato. Matt Irvine and his FX team bravely accepted the blame. However, the real blame should be spread amongst several people. There's the writer who came up with an unrealisable monster. When Bob Baker & Dave Martin came up with a skull-like spaceship landing in the middle of Hyde Park (in the initial drafts of Claws of Axos), script editor Terrance Dicks pointed out that this was the BBC - not MGM. In other words, he made sure that the writers reined things in. Adams should also shoulder some of the blame for failing to act on this. Then there is the producer, who is supposed to oversee every aspect of production. And there is also the director. Christopher Barry should have put his foot down.
The best thing about this story is Geoffrey Bayldon, who plays Organon. Many people have thought of him in the past as a potential Doctor. Indeed, he did get to play an alternate Doctor in a Big Finish production. Eileen Way is the only other good thing. She plays the evil Karela. Of course, Way had appeared in the very first story back in 1963. Myra Frances is Adrasta - not one of the most memorable villains. John Bryans plays Torvin like a stereotypical Faginesque character.
Episode endings are:
  1. To escape from Adrasta and her men, the Doctor leaps into the Pit...
  2. The creature starts to crush the Doctor when he tries to communicate with it...
  3. Adrasta tries to stop the metal thieves from giving Erato its communications device...
  4. Organon amazes the Huntsman by "predicting" the contents of his message (which he'd earlier managed to sneak a peak at)...

Overall, a weak and mostly forgettable story. Deserving of its 211th place in the recent DWM poll.
Things you might like to know;
  • Erato's "bits" change between episodes. Initially, there is only the decidedly phallic proboscis. Later, there is a little two-pronged appendage - which doesn't really improve things.
  • Regular stunt performer, and Doctor-double, Terry Walsh gets a credited role - as Doran, who gets thrown into the Pit.
  • His colleague, Tollund, is played by Morris Barry, who had directed the first two Troughton Cyberman stories, as well as The Dominators.
  • Lalla Ward loathed her costume. It had been designed for Mary Tamm's Romana.
  • That's because this was actually the first story of Season 17 that was produced.
  • I'm no scientist, but apparently the business about covering the neutron star with aluminium would have had the opposite effect to what goes on here.
  • Why would the Doctor need a "Teach Yourself Tibetan" book, when he was quite fluent in the language in Planet of the Spiders... 

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Wot? No Underwater Menace DVD?

Came across this rather worrying story on Kasterborous. I'll leave you to decide what is going on here. Naturally, the "Omnirumour" plays a part. Can't really believe that the range would just end with one orphan episode still outstanding. My personal belief is that it has to do with a future announcement of more found material, all being held up by arguments over lucre.

Monday 2 June 2014

Know Your Daleks - No.4

The Tom Baker Years.
Despite being the longest serving Doctor on TV, he only met the Daleks twice - but there is still enough to comment on.
First thing to note is that from this point on, Davros also figures. We'll need to look at how he has changed over the years as well.

The Daleks that are seen in Genesis of the Daleks are all uniformly what is often described as gun-metal grey - with black spheres. For only the second time in the series, there is a Dalek sans weapon. And for the first time sans sucker arm.
It is in this story that we actually see the exterminating ray for the first time. Previously, we had seen the little metal prongs at the tip of the gun go in and out, and heard the sound effect. Director David Maloney wanted the death ray to be shown.

The first Davros is Michel Wisher. The original and the best. The mask - by John Friedlander - was sculpted to Wisher's features. This will prove a problem when Wisher is unavailable for the following story...

The second of the Tom Baker stories is Destiny of the Daleks. I presume that the idea would be that these Daleks would also be uniformly grey in colour. The reality is that there is a wide range of grey shades. One of the units has a black mid section, with grey slats. Others have black slats.
The props are generally in a dreadful state - which you could argue (from a story point of view) might be due to their long-running war with the Movellans.
The lightweight dummy Daleks used on location fail to convince for a second - either when they are being blown up or when they are being manhandled around the dunes.

As mentioned above, Michael Wisher could not reprise the role of Davros for this story. David Gooderson takes over. The mask has deteriorated (and is naturally not custom made for him), and the chair has been bashed about a bit as well. Gooderson has a rounder face than Wisher.
The make up is not handled so well - at times this Davros looks as if he has been sneaking chocolate bars between takes, which have melted under the hot studio lights. Davros' voice is not treated in the same way that Wisher's had been.

One innovation of note in this story is that the extermination effect is concentrated around the victim - rather than having the whole screen go negative.

Next time, as each later Doctor only had one full adventure with them, we will look at all of the remaining classic series Daleks.