Thursday 29 December 2016

The Return of Doctor Mysterio - Reviewed

The first new episode of Doctor Who in 366 days, and it seems to have followed on directly from the last Christmas Special. The Doctor has had his last meeting with River Song - that 24 year night back at the Singing Towers of Delirium. As well as references to Song, Nardole is back. The Doctor put him back together again, for a bit of company, but he's acting as a kind of Jiminy Cricket as well.
To be honest, Nardole might as well not have been present. He didn't contribute greatly to the plot. Then again, neither did the Doctor when you think about it.
The story was really that of Grant and Lucy - or the Ghost and Lucy. Superheroes have been big business in recent years, what with the on-going Marvel movies, and the Superman / Batman series. Young Grant is a big fan of comic book superheroes - both Marvel and DC evident in his bedroom. For a change Christmas was purely incidental to the opening sequence, when the Doctor accidentally turned Grant into a superhero.
Now, Amy and Rory's departure was the least thought-through of any recent leaving. New York became a no-go area for the TARDIS due to the time anomalies created by the Weeping Angels. This was the reason given for the Doctor not retrieving his companions when they got sent back in time. However, all he had to do was park the ship a mile or two beyond the city limits, and Amy and Rory could have jumped on a bus and rejoined him.
The events of The Angels Take Manhattan were referenced in the opening sequence, as the Doctor is trying to cancel the anomalies out. That's when we first meet Grant, aged 8, and the Doctor unintentionally turns him into the Ghost. We also see that the Doctor has visited him occasionally to check on his progress.

Moffat had a whole plethora of superheroes to reference, but he elected to concentrate on Superman, and his relationship with plucky girl reporter Lois Lane. Did you spot the mention of Mr Brock's aides - Shuster and Siegal? They were the onlie begetters of Superman. And Harmony Shoals' New York office had a big spinning globe on the roof - just like the Daily Planet newspaper where Clark Kent and Lois Lane work. Like Lois, Lucy is a reporter, but Grant has grown up to become a nanny - and Moffat has a lot to say about how carers are superheroes in their own right.
The aliens are brain-creatures, who want to take over the bodies of the world's leaders as part of their colonisation attempt. It wasn't explicitly stated, but are these the same lot who appeared in the last Christmas Special? Or did Moffat just like the imagery of people opening up their heads. Their plan had a touch of the Slitheen about it, fitting, as their heads also zip open.
A sequel is obviously on the cards, as both principal villains - Brock and Dr Sim - got away at the end, though Sim switched to the body of a UNIT soldier. It's a pity that Sim swapped bodies, as Aleksander Jovanovic made for a great villain. The Bond producers should go knocking.

Matt Lucas may not have done much, but he did have some nice one-liners. I liked the idea that he had ruled the Byzantine Empire for a time en route to meeting up with the Doctor. Capaldi mainly rattled off funny remarks. I had to watch a second time last night just to catch them all.
The real stars, though, were Justin Chatwin and Charity Wakefield as Grant and Lucy. Moffat is no stranger to writing pure comedy, and the plot for this episode allowed for plenty of farce as Grant sought to keep his alter-ego hidden from Lucy. I've only ever seen Chatwin in one thing before - the War of the Worlds remake, where he's Tom Cruise's son.
Being a Christmas Special, the story was bright and breezy and generally sped along. The rooftop meal might have brought things to a halt, but it was full of humour. Not too sure about brain transplants and people opening their heads up at 6pm on Xmas Day, but they got away with it last year.
This year we already had half a new season in the can, so we got to see a preview of Series 10 at the end. The Dalek episode looks quite good, but apart from some funny looking robots and something lurking behind a tree there weren't any new monsters on show. Can't say I'm looking forward to the arrival of Bill that much. I wasn't impressed by the preview back in May. Her stupidity might just be a bit too annoying.

Thursday 22 December 2016

And a Merry Christmas to all of you at home...

Am going to be away for the next few days, so will take this opportunity to wish you all a peaceful and happy Christmas. In case you hadn't noticed, we actually have a new episode of Doctor Who on the 25th of December. I'd forgotten what they looked like...
My review of The Return of Doctor Mysterio will have to wait until well into next week - Thursday 29th hopefully. In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

A is for... Azmael

An elderly Time Lord, described by the Doctor as one of his mentors. Azmael renounced the society of Time Lords to set himself up as the Master of Jaconda, a verdant world inhabited by bird-like people. Jaconda had been plagued by giant slug-like creatures - Gastropods - in its ancient history. It was believed that this was merely a myth, but a Gastropod egg had survived and it hatched out to produce Mestor. He quickly took over the planet and laid waste to it through a new generation of Gastropods. In order to expand his race, Mestor devised a plan to destroy the Jacondan solar system - the explosion spreading his near indestructible eggs across the galaxy. He fooled Azmael into thinking that he was acting in the planet's best interest - shifting neighbouring planets closer to the sun to create worlds where food could be grown. Azmael was sent to Earth to abduct a pair of twins who were mathematical prodigies. He did this, posing as an old friend of their father named Prof. Edgeworth.
The Sixth Doctor recognised him for who he really was, as he had visited Jaconda as recently as his fourth incarnation. On the last night of that visit, the two had gotten extremely drunk, and the Doctor had pushed Azmael into a fountain to sober up.
Azmael was horrified when the Doctor pointed out to him what Mestor was really trying to achieve. He sacrificed himself to absorb Mestor's life-force - holding it as he died, as he had reached the end of his final regeneration. The Doctor destroyed the Gastropod body, to prevent Mestor returning to it, and the old man died in his arms - recalling that last night by the fountain.

Appearances: The Twin Dilemma (1984). Played by Maurice Denham.

  • There is a serious ethical concern raised in Azmael becoming the master of an alien world which is never addressed. Only the amoral Rani is known to have ruled another planet. Why does the Doctor not challenge him about ruling over another race - no matter how benignly - or the Time Lords for that matter? Surely this is the ultimate in interference in the affairs of another species. The Doctor then happily wanders off leaving a young human policeman in charge.
  • Just why does Azmael need to use an alias when abducting the twins? There is no call for it unless he's somehow known on Earth, but nothing suggests this.

A is for... Azal

A Daemon, from the planet Daemos. The Doctor described Azal as the last of the Daemons, but it is not clear if he meant the last of those who came to Earth, or the last of his race. Daemons visited primitive planets and helped them develop, purely out of scientific curiosity. These interventions were experiments. If found to be successful, the Daemons would bestow great powers on a ruler of the world. If deemed a failure, they would destroy. As part of Azal's mission, he brought about the rise of homo sapiens and the extinction of the neanderthals, and destroyed one of the Atlantean civilisations.
His influence was felt in the Renaissance and in the Industrial Revolution, even as he hibernated.
His ship was situated in the West of England, where it became buried within an ancient barrow monument. Daemons appear as horned beings, with cloven hooves, and their appearance had fed into myths and legends of horned entities throughout history - including the Devil. The barrow containing his spaceship was known as the Devil's Hump, and several place names in the vicinity had satanic origins.

When the Master learned of Azal's presence, he infiltrated the village of Devil's End as its new vicar and took charge of the local coven. Through this he sought to reawaken the Daemon, so that he could claim its psionic powers. Azal's return would be heralded three times. On the third he would awake. Daemons could shrink themselves or grow to enormous size - the process generating extreme cold or intense heat as mass and energy were converted. An incinerating heat barrier was placed around the village to keep out intruders during this process. The Master also harnessed his powers to animate a stone gargoyle - Bok - which could vapourise enemies.
When Azal did finally appear, he decided to pass on his powers to the Doctor instead of the Master. The Doctor only wanted him to leave and let humanity develop on its own. His refusal to accept the powers led Azal to kill him - but Jo Grant intervened. She offered her life in place of the Doctor's. Azal could not cope with such irrationality, and self-destructed.

Appearances: The Daemons (1972). Played by Stephen Thorne.

  • There is an implication in the dialogue that Azal is not an organic being at all, but an avatar for some machine intelligence. As he dies he says that Jo's actions do not compute, and his spaceship explodes on his demise. He is also affected by the energy-draining machine which UNIT build to breach the heat-barrier. There are distinct similarities between Azal and the Malus - the Hakol psychic probe which appears in The Awakening.
  • It has recently been confirmed that there are three paradoxical Atlantises, removing one of fandom's big continuity headaches, as on screen we have seen contradictory stories - two of them coming from the same authors only 12 months apart.
  • It was originally intended that Azal would be voiced by another actor - Anthony Jackson. He was Fred Mumford in Rentaghost.
  • One of director Christopher Barry's first decisions on joining this production was to change the name from Demons to Daemons, an archaic spelling.
  • Azal's name derives from the fallen angel Azazel. It is from his legend that we get "scapegoat", as a goat would be sent out for sacrifice to protect the rest.

A is for... Axos

A parasitical creature which absorbed victim worlds of all their energy. Axos appeared to be a spacecraft, organic in nature. It would land on a planet and its crew would appear as idealised versions of the dominant life-form. The inhabitants would be offered a substance called Axonite, which it was claimed could solve almost any problem the planet faced - from new energy supplies to extra food. Once spread across the planet, the Axonite would be activated to expand and begin absorbing all energy.

Axos was brought to Earth by the Master, after it took him captive. The Doctor noticed that the craft was able to time-jump briefly as it approached the planet - in order to avoid a missile strike. The crew - who identified themselves as Axons - appeared as beautiful golden-skinned humanoids. They claimed that they needed time for Axos to regenerate, and offered Axonite in return. The Doctor was suspicious that they had lost their homeworld to solar flare activity, as Axonite should have prevented this. Axos abducted a tramp and absorbed his life-force when it realised that he was of no value to it. It also captured agent Bill Filer, who was visiting UNIT HQ, but he was kept alive as he could be used later. An Axon could alter its appearance to look like him, In their true form, Axons were lumpy, tentacled masses, which could kill with a powerful explosive charge. The Axons exploited the greed for power by a civil servant, and the greed for knowledge by a scientist, to ensure that Axonite was spread across the planet - helped along by the Master. The Doctor deduced that Axos, the Axons, and Axonite were all part of the same organism.

Axos wanted the ability to travel through time, in order to increase its feeding range. The Doctor was kidnapped, and Axos was able to read his mind - breaking through the blocks imposed by the Time Lords when they exiled him to Earth. To get sufficient power, an Axon entered the reactor of a nuclear power station to absorb energy. The Master was forced to help UNIT to stop this, and an attempt to channel the energy into Axos in one huge blast failed to destroy it. When the Doctor escaped, he allied himself with the Master against his friends - or seemed to. He offered Axos the time travel it wanted, by linking it to the TARDIS, but then tricked it into entering a time-loop in which it would be trapped forever.

Appearances: The Claws of Axos (1971). Played by: Bernard Holley (Axon man and voice of Axos); Patricia Gordino (Axon woman): John Hicks (Axon boy): and Debbie Lee London (Axon girl).

Friday 16 December 2016

Story 170 - School Reunion

In which the Doctor and Rose go undercover at a London school - Deffry Vale. They have been contacted by Mickey, who has found news reports of UFOs in the area. The Doctor is posing as a locum physics teacher named John Smith, whilst Rose works in the canteen. Some of her colleagues are very secretive, and they handle the cooking oil as though it were highly acidic. The school has recently seen vastly improved exam results, following the arrival of Headmaster Mr Finch and a batch of new staff. The Doctor is surprised by the scientific knowledge exhibited by many of the pupils. Rose is mad about the chips. A journalist arrives at the school to interview Finch, and the Doctor is delighted to see that it is Sarah Jane Smith. That night, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey break in to have a look around. Sarah has had the same idea. She discovers the TARDIS, and learns that Mr Smith is the Doctor. She joins him in his investigations. In the Headmaster's office, they see a number of large bat-like creatures hanging by their feet from the ceiling. The Doctor notes that there are the same number of creatures as there are new staff.

The Doctor gets a sample of the oil in which the chips are cooked, as he has noted that pupils who don't eat them are less bright than those who do, and they do seem to be particularly addictive. Rose realises that she is suddenly smarter, and she eats a lot of them. The Doctor wants to analyse the oil, and Sarah takes him to her car. In the back is K9 Mark III, now sadly defunct. They all repair to a nearby cafe, where the Doctor gets K9 working again. As it analyses the oil, Sarah questions the Doctor as to why he never came back for her. She explains that he failed to drop her off in South Croydon all those years ago - it was really Aberdeen. The Doctor points out that she has got on well enough without him. Rose is not happy to meet someone from the Doctor's past - causing her to realise that she is not unique. There were others before her, who got left behind. The Doctor points out to her that he can never have a normal relationship with a human. They will grow old and die, whilst he will keep on regenerating.
K9 announces that the oil is a natural product of the Krillitane race. These creatures invade other worlds and biologically assimilate selected features of the conquered species. This is why the Doctor failed to recognise them. They can temporarily take on the form of other races, and the Doctor realises that Finch, the new teachers and canteen staff are all alien. They are spied upon by Finch and one of the Krillitanes.

The next day the Doctor confronts Finch - real name Brother Lassar. He reveals that he is seeking to solve the Skasis Paradigm. This mathematical equation would allow the Krillitanes to decipher the secrets of the universe, and make them all-powerful. Finch knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and offers to bring his people back if he joins them. Rose and Sarah have had a huge, jealous, argument but have now bonded as friends. They convince the Doctor that he must stand against the Krillitanes. The teachers kill the other staff and then order all of the schoolchildren to link up to their computers. One boy, Kenny, is not allowed to eat chips and so is unaffected, and he joins the Doctor and his friends. The Krillitanes revert to their natural form and hunt them through the school. Mickey disables the computers whilst K9 holds the aliens at bay. The creatures have become allergic to their own oil over the generations. They combust when they come into contact with it. K9 agrees to hold Finch and the others in the canteen kitchen whilst the others escape outside with the schoolchildren. The robot dog sacrifices itself to blow open a vat of the oil, which splashes over the Krillitanes. The school explodes.
The next day, Sarah visits the TARDIS. She declines an offer to rejoin the Doctor, realising that the Doctor was right about her. She has important work to do here on Earth. She does, however, recommend that Mickey join the TARDIS crew. He has come to realise that he is only ever treated like K9 by the Doctor and Rose - their tin dog. Mickey departs with the Doctor and Rose. She is not amused. As the TARDIS fades away, Sarah sees that the Doctor has left her another gift - K9 Mark IV...

School Reunion was written by Toby Whithouse, and was first broadcast on 29th April, 2006. Whithouse had been an actor and stand-up comedian before concentrating on writing. He had created the series No Angels, which ran from 2004 - 2006. He would go on to become one of the most prolific Doctor Who writers other than the showrunners, as well as creating the BBC 3 supernatural comedy-drama Being Human. It was recently announced that he would be writing for Series 10, due in 2017.
Russell T Davies had decided that in its second series, the programme could relax regards bringing in references from its past. Apart from the Daleks, the TARDIS and the theme music, he had tried to keep references to a minimum in Series 1 so as not to alienate new viewers. Another classic monster was scheduled to return in 2006, and Davies decided that now would be a good time to have the Doctor encounter one of of his old companions. This would allow him to further explore the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, as she would see that there wasn't necessarily the future she thought she would have with him. There were others before her, and people eventually got left behind - even his best friend.

The returning companion could only ever be the greatest of them all - Sarah Jane Smith, as played by Lis Sladen. A bonus would be that she would bring K9 along with her.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had tried to tempt her back to bridge the changeover from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. When Sladen turned this down, he had come up with a spin-off series idea in which she would be paired with K9, a gift left to her by the Doctor. Only a pilot had ever been made, but it achieved canonical status when K9 joined Sarah at the beginning of The Five Doctors - Sarah's last appearance. Davies and his producer, Phil Collinson, invited Sladen out to lunch and discussed their ideas for bringing Sarah into the new show. She was initially very resistant, fearing that they were only looking for a cameo that might undermine the character she had created. Once she learned what the part entailed, she agreed to sign up. K9 voice artist John Leeson agreed to reprise the metal mutt.
Surviving K9 co-creator Bob Baker had been attempting to get his own K9 series off the ground for some time, but he gave this story his blessing - realising that having it appear in the highly popular new BBC Wales series would actually make trying to sell his own show much easier.
Whithouse's initial idea had been to have a story set around a military base, but Davies suggested the school setting.

This story would also see Noel Clarke's Mickey Smith join the TARDIS crew, as a means of setting up his departure / reappearance / departure later in the season.
Principal guest artist was Anthony Head, playing Mr Finch. After a string of popular will-they-won't they? coffee commercials, he had gone off to the US and become famous for his role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This series, in terms of the way it was structured and created, had been a major influence on how Davies wanted to bring Doctor Who back.
Story Arc: 

  • For Torchwood, see the Tardisode below.
  • As mentioned above, Mickey joining the TARDIS crew sets up his departure.
  • Rose's own departure is once again signaled as we - and she - are reminded that the Doctor never settles down to live out his life with a human companion.
  • And of course, this won't be the last we see of Sarah Jane Smith, or K9 Mark IV.
Mickey Smith is in an internet cafe investigating news items about UFO activity near Deffry Vale School. He is on his phone, speaking to Rose in the TARDIS. He finds that his investigations get only so far before they are blocked, and the word "Torchwood" flashes up on the screen.

Overall, a joy of an episode. The actual plot is really quite inconsequential. This is all about the return of Sarah Jane Smith (and K9, of course).
Things you might like to know:
  • Apparently a very well known writer was due to do a school-based story for this series - one whose name has never been revealed. They pulled out, claiming that they just couldn't "do" a Doctor Who. Whithouse was working on his army base outline, which was initially called "Black Ops" when he was asked to use the school setting.
  • This is the first explicit appearance on screen that this new series is the same as the one that ran from 1963 to 1989. There are implicit references throughout Series 1 that there is continuity - the Doctor suggesting that he has recently regenerated in Rose, and the Cyberman helmet in Dalek, but here we get to see someone from that classic phase, and the Doctor mentions having regenerated half a dozen times since he last saw Sarah. From now on, you can't pretend that they aren't the same series - as some sections of fandom were proposing.
  • Deffry Vale doesn't sound very London, does it? The real school they used was called Duffryn - well Welsh, so you can see where it came from.
  • K9 is one of the original 1970's props. His innards - which Rose describes as looking a bit "disco" - most certainly aren't. Mat Irvine returned to the show to wrangle him. He had looked after the prop since it left the show (in Warriors Gate).
  • It had been planned that the post explosion school sequence would be filmed at an old British Telecom building that was in the process of being demolished, but when to filming time, the building had already been flattened.
  • Noel Clarke wears a woolly hat in the Tardisode - to hide the fact that it was filmed much later when he had his shorter haircut for the series finale.
  • When Mr Finch tells his colleagues to "forget the shooty-dog-thing" this was another Buffy reference, in terms of the style of dialogue. The line was added in post production, and was spliced together from snippets of dialogue.
  • Certain old-skool companions had a knack of hurting their ankles on a regular basis. Susan - I'm looking at you. Lis Sladen actually hurt her leg filming the escape from the school scenes. Of course, Susan only ever hurt her ankle once - in her final story - but the collective memory had her doing it all the time, so she was called upon to do it again in The Five Doctors.
  • Yes, The Five Doctors... This story seems to forget that one ever happened, having Sarah act as if this is the first time she has met the Doctor since The Hand of Fear. Especially odd as it confirmed that she had been given K9 in the Girl's Best Friend / K9 & Company pilot.
  • The big fan-pleasing sequence is that argument between Rose and Sarah. The former's examples are all fresh in the memory for 2006 viewers, so it's Sarah's experiences that we relish. She mentions mummies (Pyramids of Mars), Daleks (Death to the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks), robots (The Sontaran Experiment, The Android Invasion), dinosaurs (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), and anti-matter monsters (Planet of Evil). She trumps Rose with the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons). Funny how she seems to know that Rose hasn't met the Cyberman yet, but assumes she has met the Daleks - mentioning one and not the other.
  • Shortly after this monster-competition argument, we see Rose and Sarah best friends, and they burst out laughing when the Doctor enters the room. On screen, it's because they've started comparing notes about the foibles of their respective Doctors, but during filming this was achieved by David Tennant walking on set with a big fake comedy moustache drawn on his face. It's Sladen's and Piper's initial reactions to this that you see on screen.
  • It was intended that the Krillitanes - originally called Krillanes - would resemble the Harpies from the Ray Harryhausen film of Jason and the Argonauts - who menaced future Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. Dig out your back issues of the DWM comic strip to see where you might have seen something very like them (as they actually appeared) before.
  • John Leeson never visited the set or filming. In the old days, when they did proper rehearsals (as is mentioned on every bloody classic series DVD commentary ever), Leeson scuttled about the floor on all fours. This time, he simply spent an afternoon in a dubbing studio in London. You almost want to cry when he describes this experience - especially when you learn that he never got to go to Australia for the Disney XD series either.
  • Phil Collinson got to read in K9's lines during the filming. As a massive fan, he was ever so pleased to do so.
  • As Sarah and K9 walk off at the end, the dialogue references the concluding moments of Survival, the final classic series story - about going home, and having work to do.
  • Mercifully, the Doctor never has used "correct-a-mundo" ever again.

Sunday 11 December 2016

A is for... Avery

The Doctor's first brush with the pirate Captain Henry Avery came when he and his new companions Ben and Polly visited 17th Century Cornwall. Avery's one-time colleague, Captain Pike, was searching for the deceased pirate's lost treasure. This was hidden in a secret vault beneath the church crypt in the village where the Doctor and his companions had arrived. A clue to its whereabouts had been given to the Doctor by the churchwarden, who had once sailed with Avery.
The Doctor would go on to meet Avery himself, when the TARDIS materialised on his ship - The Fancy. The vessel had become becalmed, and the crew were threatened by a Siren - a ghostly female who claimed anyone who had become injured. Avery initially was quite happy to see the Doctor walk the plank, but quickly accepted his help. When shown the TARDIS, he had no problem equating its controls to his own ship. He discovered that his son Toby was a stowaway on board the ship, and that the boy was dying. He had pretended to Toby that he was still a naval officer, but his crew informed the boy that his father was really a notorious pirate. When the Doctor worked out what the Siren really was, and how it operated, he forced Avery to throw all of his treasure overboard. He couldn't bring himself to discard all of it, and this led to Toby and Rory Williams being claimed by the Siren.
The Doctor, Amy and Avery then allowed themselves to be taken in order to be reunited with their lost loved ones. An alien vessel had crashed in a parallel dimension to The Fancy - and the Siren was this vessel's medical hologram.
It was keeping Toby and Rory, as well as the rest of Avery's crew, alive. Once Avery accepted responsibility for his son's care, the Siren deactivated. Were Toby to leave the spacecraft, he would die, so Avery became its new commander. He and his son and crew took off to explore the universe.

When the Doctor later had to call upon old friends to help him retrieve the abducted Amy and her baby from the Silence, Henry and Toby Avery were amongst those who answered the call. They prevented Madam Kovarian escaping from Demons Run.

Played by: Hugh Bonneville. (Toby Avery by Oscar Lloyd). Appearances: Curse of the Black Spot (2011), A Good Man Goes To War (2011). The adventure involving Captain Pike and Avery's treasure is The Smugglers (1966).

  • There is an obvious contradiction between the story of Avery's gold in The Smugglers, and the fate of his treasure in Curse of the Black Spot. How could his treasure be buried in Cornwall, when he threw it overboard before disappearing into a parallel dimension? More than one hoard of booty, presumably? The Hartnell story also implies that Pike's ship - The Black Albatross - was Avery's old ship.
  • The real Henry Avery (or Every, or Evory) was not the nicest of men, having run a slave ship in between his stint in the Royal Navy and his highly successful piracy career. He and his men were also known to torture and rape their captives before killing them. He was only a pirate for a couple of years, prior to his disappearance in 1696. His capture of the Grand Mughal's treasure led to the world's first ever international manhunt. It was rumoured at the time that he changed his name and simply retired - possibly even living out his days in England under the very noses of those who were hunting him. Contrary to events in The Smugglers, his treasure has never been found.

Saturday 10 December 2016

A is for... Avatars

When a dimensionally transcendental Timeship materialised on top of a single story flat in Colchester, it disguised itself as an upper level - 79B Aickman Road. The vessel had crashed, and its pilot was dead. The ship's computer created a number of avatars of human beings in order to ensnare a new pilot. These took the form of a little girl, a young man, and an older man. They would attempt to entice passersby into the ship, who could then be harnessed by it to send the vessel on its way. The new pilot had to want to leave. All those who resisted perished. The presence of the Timeship caused the Doctor to become separated from his TARDIS. He took up residency in the downstairs flat in order to investigate, lodging with Craig Owens. Craig's friend, Sophie, did have a wanderlust, and she was captured by the avatar, in its old man guise. The Doctor and Craig intervened and Craig's love for Sophie, plus his determination to remain exactly where he was, led to the ship self-destructing.
It later transpired that the Timeship belonged to the Silence.

Played by: Darrell Heath (old man avatar). Appearances: The Lodger (2010).

A is for... Autons

Creatures of plastic created by the Nestene Consciousness. As the Nestene is formless, the Autons provide a workforce for it, as well as a formidable weapon. The Autons were first encountered by the Doctor soon after he had regenerated and been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords. A small meteor shower had brought the Nestene to Earth - in the form of spherical energy units. These could take over the mind of susceptible humans. An Auton replica was created, of a man named Channing. He took over a small plastics company close to the landing site, dominating the will of its owner George Hibbert. Six months later, a larger shower of energy units landed in the same vicinity. These were collected by other Autons - basic models with crude, unfinished features. They were armed with weaponry built into their right hands. These could kill, and a command of "total destruction" could completely vapourise a body. Channing prepared a tank in which the Nestene could create a form for itself. Its shape would depend on the local environment, and even Channing had no idea what it would look like.

As well as the crude functionaries, Channing also created an army of Autons that would be shipped out as shop window mannequins across the country. A number of high ranking civil servants were abducted and replaced with identical Auton replicas. These were concealed as exhibits in Madam Tussaud's waxworks until needed. When the Nestene form was ready, the shop window dummies would be activated - programmed to kill and destroy. The replicas would ensure chaos amongst the armed forces and emergency services, ensuring Nestene victory. The Doctor devised a weapon that could destroy the fraction of Nestene Consciousness which animated each Auton. It transmitted a UHF signal. This was used to eliminate the replica of regular army General Scobie, which had been working against UNIT. The device also proved effective against the Nestene, which had taken the form of a huge tentacled creature. When this died, all of the Autons collapsed, lifeless plastic once more.

One of the energy units survived. The Brigadier allowed it to be loaned out for an exhibition, and it was stolen by the Master. He planned to bring the Nestene back to Earth. He first took control of a plastics factory, and created a new squad of Auton functionaries. Still featureless, they had smoother faces, and had the ability to speak. They were costumed as policemen in order to abduct the Doctor, and later in grinning carnival masks and bright yellow blazers to distribute plastic daffodils.

These flowers could eject a smothering plastic film over their victims' faces - triggered by a signal from a radio telescope. This would be the site of the Nestene's materialisation. The Doctor succeeded in convincing the Master that he would never be spared by the Nestene, and so the two Time Lords collaborated to eject the Consciousness back into space. This caused the Autons to collapse.

After its colony worlds were wiped out in the Time War, the Nestene Consciousness once again turned its attention to Earth. The Doctor informed Rose Tyler that this was due to its high levels of chemical waste, on which the Nestene thrived. Shop window mannequins were once again employed to act as the invasion force - animated by a control signal generated from a base beneath the London Eye. An Auton replica of Rose's boyfriend, Mickey Smith, was created as part of a plot to ensnare the Doctor. The real Mickey was abducted and kept alive - much as General Scobie had been in the earlier invasion attempt. The Doctor tried to convince the Nestene to leave the Earth alone, but he had in reserve a phial of anti-plastic. This destroyed the Nestene form, so that the Autons returned to inanimate plastic. This invasion attempt was one of the incidents witnessed by Elton Pope, who had met the Doctor as a child.

When the Doctor visited the area near Stonehenge in 102 AD, he found himself facing a gathering of many of his alien enemies. He enlisted soldiers from a nearby Roman camp to help fight against them. They were led by a Centurion, who just happened to be companion Amy's resurrected fiance - Rory Williams. This wasn't the real Rory, however, but an Auton replica with all of his memories. The Nestene had joined the alliance against the Doctor, which planned to imprison him forever in the Pandorica - to prevent him from destroying the universe. The Roman soldiers were all Autons.

As well as all of Rory's memories, his Auton replica also held his emotions and ideals. He joined the Doctor in a plan to save Amy, who he had been programmed to kill. She was placed in the Pandorica, and he looked after her for the next two millennia. It was believed that he had been destroyed during the London Blitz, but he was working as a guard in the museum where the Pandorica was housed in 2010 when Amy was herself resurrected. The Doctor reset the universe with a second Big Bang. The human Rory still retained memories from when he had been the Auton duplicate.

Appearances: Spearhead From Space (1970), Terror of the Autons (1971), Rose (2005), Love & Monsters (2006), The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (2010).

  • There has been some contradictory dialogue about the nature of the Autons over the years. It is claimed that the Nestene can animate any and all plastic, yet the shop window mannequins and the Autons created by the Master appear to have been made with a special formula of plastic - suggesting that utilising existing display dummies would not be sufficient. Presumably only the specially manufactured Autons would have the built-in guns. 

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Story 169 - Tooth And Claw

In which a group of monks take over Torchwood House, in the north-east of Scotland, in order to lay a trap for Queen Victoria. This is home to Sir Robert MacLeish and his wife, Lady Isobel. In the TARDIS, the Doctor is planning to take Rose to see an Ian Dury concert in 1979. The ship materialises instead in 1879, a few miles from Torchwood House. They meet the monarch and her military escort. They have had to leave their train and finish their journey to Balmoral Castle by road, and plan to stop at the home of Sir Robert for the night. The Doctor claims to be a Dr James McCrimmon, but his psychic paper tells that he is supposed to accompany the Queen.
Arriving at Torchwood House, the Doctor notices a rooftop observatory. Sir Robert seems nervous, and claims that his wife is away. All the male servants, including the butler, have shaved heads. Sir Robert shows the visitors the telescope in the observatory, which Prince Albert and Sir Robert's father often worked on. The Doctor is surprised to see that it does not focus well. At dinner that night, it is revealed that the Queen is carrying the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond. She had taken it to Aberdeen for recutting. The Doctor knows that her late husband often had the stone recut. The Queen asks Sir Robert to tell the local legend of a werewolf that has been seen in these parts over the centuries.

Rose, meanwhile, has found one of the female servants hiding in a wardrobe. They are captured by the monks who are pretending to be the male staff, and locked in a cellar. Here they find Lady Isobel and other estate staff, locked in with a cage in which there sits a young man. As Sir Robert tells the tale of how children have gone missing in the area over the years, the Doctor notices the butler intoning a prayer to a wolf. He is really Fr Angelo, leader of the monks of the nearby monastery in the Glen of St Catherine. The Doctor rushes off to find Rose. In the cellar, the moonlight causes the young man to transform into a werewolf. When Fr Angelo threatens the Queen, she produces a pistol from her bag and shoots him dead. The wolf begins to rampage through the house. Monks are stationed outside to prevent anyone leaving. When it comes into the kitchen, Lady Isobel throws a pot of liquid containing mistletoe over it, and this causes it to withdraw. The Doctor, Rose, Sir Robert and the Queen take refuge in the library. The wolf won't enter, as the doors and wood paneling have been impregnated with mistletoe. The Doctor deduces that the monks use this substance to control the beast, and Sir Robert's father must have found this out.

Examining local legends, they read of a meteorite which fell in the Glen of St Catherine during the reign of King James V. The werewolf stories began soon after. The Doctor deduces that the creature is really alien. It modulates light to appear as a wolf. The missing children over the years have acted as hosts for this life-form. The Doctor comes to realise why the telescope did not focus on the stars. It is really a light chamber, designed to focus light from the Moon. Prince Albert and Sir Robert's father had been working on a way to destroy the wolf over the years. The wolf breaks in through the skylight, and so they make for the observatory. Sir Robert sacrifices himself to keep the wolf at bay and buy them time. The Doctor asks the Queen for the diamond - as this is the focusing lens for the telescope. This is why Albert continually had it refashioned. The monks intended that Victoria would become infected, and so lead to a new Empire of the Wolf - one of warfare and destruction. The wolf breaks in and the Doctor uses the diamond to focus concentrated moonlight at it. It reverts to human form, before dissipating. The Queen has suffered an injury to her hand, which she claims came from a splinter as the door was broken down, but the Doctor worries that she was actually bitten.
The following day, Her Majesty knights the Doctor and Rose - then promptly exiles them from her Empire as a menace to everything she believes in. Once they have left, she tells Lady MacLeish that she will set up an organisation to defend against the Doctor, and any other threat to her kingdom. It will be named Torchwood, after this house...

Tooth And Claw was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on 22nd April, 2006.
It sets up Torchwood as an organisation which is opposed to the Doctor. We've been hearing that name since the end of the last series and it forms this year's story arc. This will lead to all manner of continuity headaches - i.e. where were Torchwood during all the post-1879 Earth-based stories throughout the Classic Series?
It is the second of the "celebrity historical" stories, following Charles Dickens' encounter with Christmas ghosts in 2005. As such, another major guest artist is employed to portray Queen Victoria - Pauline Collins. She was no stranger to the programme, having appeared as the almost-companion Samantha Briggs in The Faceless Ones.
For a long time, this story was going to be the series opener.
There was much competition to realise the werewolf. Neil Gorton's team hoped to get a stab at it through costume and prosthetics, but in the end it was decided to create it via CGI from The Mill. They had to get someone in specially to render the hair.
This meant that it could not feature too heavily, and so Davies had to write the script keeping the wolf back for key scenes only. You'll notice that often we see it rampaging from its own point of view, rather than standing back and showing it attack. There was also a policy, maintained to this day, that no matter how many gruesome deaths there are, they will tend to be bloodless.
Considering the time of day this was shown at, and the young audience who were fans of the new show, it is still a very scary, adult story.

There is a small guest cast - all Scottish actors. Sir Robert is played by Derek Riddell. Fr Angelo is Ian Hanmore. The captain of the Queen's escort, Captain Reynolds, is Jamie Sives. Lady Isobel MacLeish is Michelle Duncan. The estate steward is played by Ron Donachie, and the Host who transforms into the werewolf is Tom Smith. Scotland, however, is portrayed by Wales.
Story Arc:

  • Well, Torchwood - obviously. First mentioned as one of the Weakest Link quiz answers in Bad Wolf, it was then said to be the outfit who shot down the Sycorax spaceship in The Christmas Invasion. We now know where it got its name from, and who set it up, and that it exists to defend Britain against the Doctor and the sorts of threat he embodies.
  • The Queen ruminates on how long the Doctor and Rose will be able to continue their reckless, as she sees it, lifestyle. This is setting us up for Rose's imminent departure.
  • The Host senses something of the wolf in Rose - a reference to last year's story arc.
  • A Tenth Doctor catchphrase is introduced, as he tells his companion "Don't do that" when they attempt an accent. Here Rose does the full "Och aye the noo..." bit.
The Tardisode:
A meteor is seen to crash onto a piece of countryside. 300 years later, a villager is running across the landscape in fear for his life. He can hear something growling, which seems to be stalking him. He is suddenly confronted by a werewolf.

Overall, an excellent episode. Really pretty scary. Once the wolf appears, it's quite breathless in its pace - helped considerably by one of Murray Gold's best scores.
Things you might like to know:
  • Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts formed the 2004 movie The Prisoner of Azkaban. This also features a werewolf. The werewolf in Tooth And Claw is 10 times better than the bigger budgeted one from the film.
  • The Host actor, Tom Smith, had been at drama school with David Tennant.
  • As mentioned above, Pauline Collins almost became a companion. She would have been instead of Debbie Watling's Victoria, appropriately enough. It just happens that they also tried to get Collins to join the TARDIS crew a second time - when Victoria left. Whether this would have been as Sam Briggs or as an entirely new character we don't know. As it was, Collins turned them down again, and so we got Wendy Padbury's Zoe instead.
  • Had Collins joined, her traveling companion would have been Jamie McCrimmon - who gets a name check here when the Doctor needs to come up with a Scottish name at short notice. Tennant uses his own accent, though you'll notice - as Victoria does - that it keeps slipping.
  • Dr McCrimmon comes from the township of Balamory, which would have pleased adults and children alike. This pre-school children's series has a bit of a cult following amongst those of us well past school age.
  • Another Troughton reference is the Doctor mentioning getting a doctorate from a Scottish university. The Second Doctor thought he had studied medicine under Lister at Glasgow, but here he claims to have studied under Bell at Edinburgh. Of course Bell's most famous student was Arthur Conan-Doyle, and he is widely believed to be the principal inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.
  • The notion of the Queen contracting a blood-borne infection is a reference to haemophilia, which was passed down to some of her heirs. It has always been a bit of a mystery how haemophilia entered the royal family - causing some to question Victoria's legitimacy.
  • The Third Doctor claimed to have been present at Queen Victoria's coronation, though he isn't sure and it might have been Elizabeth I's.
  • The plot has Prince Albert deliberately cutting down the Koh-i-Noor diamond so that it will work in the telescope. In real life, the Prince was unhappy that the stone was cut down so much - losing about 40% in the process.
  • Mistletoe isn't native to northern Scotland so the monks, and Sir Robert's dad, must have imported it specially.
  • Rose becomes the second companion to be knighted, following Ian Chesterton's elevation to Knight of Jaffa by King Richard I. It's the second time we've seen the Doctor knighted, though the first time can't count - as it wasn't the real King John but Kamelion masquerading as him.
  • Jamie Sives and Michelle Duncan were unavailable for this story's read-through. David Tennant's parents just happened to be visiting the studios on the day, and so read their parts for this. We'll see David's dad on screen in a couple of series' time.
  • The concert that the Doctor plans to take Rose to - Ian Dury and the Blockheads in Sheffield in November 1979 - is a non-starter. The band were touring elsewhere at that time. Earlier versions of the script had them listening to Lene Lovich instead - famed as a one-hit wonder for "Lucky Number". The Lovich song just happens to be on the same label as the Dury one - Stiff. Perhaps Davies was listening to a compilation album when he wrote this.
  • As you know, there was much fretting by certain sections of the public about a "Gay Agenda" being introduced when it was announced that Davies was bringing the series back. Here, he manages to slip in a bit of sexual innuendo to prime time telly as the Doctor remarks on Sir Robert having a lot of fit young men with shaved heads around the house when his wife is away. I wonder how many kids asked their parents what the Doctor meant by that - and what answers they got...
  • Davies does another brave / foolhardy thing by insulting a current member of the royal family. It was already known that HM the Q was a huge fan of the new series - so would undoubtedly be watching. Princess Anne cops it this time, but future daughter-in-law Camilla will get it in a couple of episode's time.
  • One of those "did they really just say that?" moments. You know the ones - where someone says something but on first hearing it sounds like something else - usually something quite rude. In the cellar, when Rose is trying to rally the captives, it sounded to me like she called Isobel "you lazy s***". I was convinced of this for weeks, until I realised she was saying "your ladyship". Maybe it's just me.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Class 1.8 - Reviewed

The series finale of Class is now out there - The Lost. Under no circumstances would I recommend you read any further if you haven't seen it yet, as there is one helluva spoiler. If that's you, go away now.
I'll wait a minute or two until the others have gone...

Right then. So we left things with that split two-parter over the last two weeks. The young folks were falling out due to the "Meteorite of Truth", and at the same time Miss Quill was freeing herself from the Arn in her head on a metaphysical quest. She may have gotten rid of the parasite, but she has gained something new - a bun in the oven. Not great tidings, as Quill mothers die in childbirth and get eaten by their sprogs. No doubt this will be resolved by the fact that the father is a shape-shifter rather than another Quill.
Tonight's episode began with some shocking moments. Ram's dad is butchered by Corakinus in front of him, the Shadowkin King appearing out of nowhere on the playing field. Shortly afterwards, Tanya's mum cops it as well.
It all looks like events are building which are going to push Charlie into opening that damned Cabinet of Souls. Corakinus announces that Matteusz is on his hit list. Destroying the Shadowkin will also mean the death of April, and Corakinus ups the ante by infecting Charlie with Shadow - so he'll die too.
It really looks like there will be vacancies in the cast for series 2, which I sincerely hope is in the pipeline. Earlier, I predicted Matteusz's death, as he is the only one not to have any family on view, and he's just a bit too nice. He has some lovely moments with Charlie here, which made me think that this is all too good to last. Surprisingly, he made it to the end. April appeared to die, and it looked like Charlie would follow, as he finally opened the Cabinet.

That's because the Shadowkin invaded in force, latching onto everyone's shadows. Charlie makes the ultimate sacrifice - knowing that he will die, April will die, Matteusz doesn't want him to be a mass killer, and once the souls are out of the box there's no way of bringing his people back.
Quill saves him at the last minute. His fate is to live with the guilt of what he has just done. April hasn't made it, however. Or has she?
Whilst everyone is squaring up in the Coal Hill assembly hall, head teacher Dorothea has been talking to the mysterious Governors. They're led by Cyril Nri, who was the weird shopkeeper in the Sarah Jane Adventures. Definitely not the same character.
The Governors are planning for an event known only as "The Arrival". They're not happy that the Cabinet has been opened, so Dorothea pays with her life - and here's the big spoilery moment for those of you who ignored that warning at the start.
She has her neck broken by a Weeping Angel.
Yes, we all thought that the Doctor would set up this series, then that would be it for its connection to the parent programme. There might have been a one-off guest appearance by a Who monster in a stand-alone episode, but it's the Angels who are going to be the Big Bad - at least for the second series.
But that wasn't the final surprise. April's dead, but suddenly Corakinus sits up, and he is now April...
An excellent way to end what has, for the most part, been a very good series. Yes, the youngsters have grated a bit at times, and I don't buy that Tanya can beat up Shadowkin after 5 minutes of basic karate training with Quill.
Lots to be resolved with the second series. April now in Corakinus. The Weeping Angels and Governors. Quill's baby. Will Matteusz still love Charlie? How will Ram cope with his girlfriend looking like the creature that murdered his father? What will Quill do, now that her enemies have been destroyed, and she's no longer tied to Charlie?
Roll on that second series.
So that's all the new Who for 2016 - until 25th December. Lots of new photos released today for The Return of Doctor Mysterio, which can be viewed as a gallery on the official website.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Mysterio Time

A couple of the TV listings magazines in the UK have the Doctor Who Christmas Special on their covers. The big poster image above has also been released.
It has been confirmed that The Return of Doctor Mysterio will air at 5.45pm on BBC One on the 25th.