Wednesday 31 May 2017

B is for... Brock (2)

Mr Brock was the CEO of the company Harmony Shoals, which the Doctor decided to investigate with companion Nardole. Also investigating was a reporter named Lucy Fletcher. Brock was lured by colleague Dr Sim to a chamber in which a number of brains were held in glass jars. He discovered that these were really alien creatures, who had themselves transplanted into the skulls of human bodies. A group of surgeons appeared, and Brock was killed - his own body given an alien brain. Those who had the aliens in their heads could open their skulls, and had a long scar down their faces. Lucy employed a young man named Grant to nanny her child, unaware that he was really the superhero known as The Ghost. Brock and Sim decided that the Ghost's body would make an ideal receptacle for one of their kind. Brock went to Lucy's apartment block with the surgeons and took her hostage whilst she was interviewing The Ghost over dinner. The aliens had planned to crash a spaceship onto New York City. Their's would be the only building designed to survive the devastation. It was expected that the world's rich and powerful would seek sanctuary in other Harmony Shoals buildings - where they would have their bodies taken over. The Doctor and Nardole sent the spaceship descending to Earth prematurely, and Grant was able to stop it crashing. UNIT raided the company's bases around the globe, but Brock managed to escape capture - vowing revenge on the Doctor.

Played by: Adetomiwa Edun. Appearances: The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016).

  • Edun played one of King Arthur's knights in a couple of episodes of Merlin, series 3. He became a regular for the fourth season, before being killed off in the final season.

B is for... Brock (1)

The Earth agent for the Leisure Hive entertainments complex on the planet Argolis. He contacted the managing board of the Hive to warn of impending financial ruin, as visitors from Earth were seeking their entertainments elsewhere. However, he soon turned up at the Hive unannounced claiming to have secured a deal to save the complex. He had been approached by a consortium of the insectoid Foamasi who wanted to buy the Hive. The Foamasi were the ancient enemies of the Argolins, however, and it was a war between the two worlds which had left Argolis irradiated and its people barren. Brock also claimed a seat on the board which he had previously declined. The Hive began to suffer acts of sabotage - designed to force the Argolins into selling. A Foamasi government agent turned up and unmasked Brock, and his taciturn assistant Klout, as criminal members of his own race, wearing disguises. The fake Brock and his accomplice tried to flee in the Foamasi ship but this was shot down and destroyed. Presumably the real Brock remained on Earth, but he may have been disposed of by Foamasi criminals - otherwise he could have contacted Argolis and the truth would have been revealed.

Played by: John Collin. Appearances: The Leisure Hive (1980).

B is for... Briggs, Samantha

A young woman from Liverpool encountered by the Doctor and Jamie at Gatwick Airport. in July 1966. Her brother had flown to Rome with Chameleon Tours - a budget airline popular with young people - and he hadn't been heard from since taking off. Sam Briggs stationed herself at the airport, determined to find out what had happened to him. She had also been to the Police and felt they were not doing anything to help, unaware that Inspector Crossland had decided to investigate further. Sam bought a ticket to travel with the airline but Jamie stole this so that he could investigate himself, after his companions Ben and Polly had also disappeared. It transpired that the company was a front for an alien infiltration of the airport. A race called the Chameleons were abducting passengers so that their identities could be copied by the faceless creatures. At one point Sam found herself tied up with the Doctor and Jamie as a disintegrator ray inched towards them. Her make up mirror helped to deflect the beam into the weapon, destroying it. Whilst the Doctor confronted the aliens in their orbiting space station, Sam assisted the airport authorities in locating the personnel who had been switched with alien duplicates.

Played by: Pauline Collins. Appearances: The Faceless Ones (1967).

  • The production team wanted Samantha Briggs to become the new female companion to take over from Polly, but Collins did not want to commit to a long-running series. They tried to get her again when Debbie Watling left, but she again declined.
  • Collins did return to the show, nearly 40 years later, to portray Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw.

B is for... Briggs, Captain

Commander of a 26th Century space freighter which was approaching Earth at a time of heightened security. Briggs was worried that delays would affect the crews' bonuses. The extra security was down to a forthcoming interplanetary conference. The Cybermen intended to destroy this as they suspected that it would lead to an alliance against them. Cybermen hid themselves on board the freighter, helped by security chief Ringway. A signal was beamed from the craft to trigger a powerful bomb, hidden in a cave system near the conference venue. When the bomb was defused by the Doctor, the Cyber-Leader activated a contingency plan. Briggs was informed of power fluctuations, as energy was diverted to reanimate a force of Cybermen concealed amongst the ship's cargo. Briggs found her vessel overrun by Cybermen, and she and the surviving crew were captured. They would be left on board as the freighter was deliberately crashed into the planet below. Adric's tampering with the Cyberman control device on the navigation systems caused the freighter to slip back through time - stabilising some 65 million years in the past. Briggs was freed by Commander Scott and his troopers, and they evacuated the ship in an escape pod - though Adric elected to remain behind. After the Cybermen had been defeated, the Doctor took Briggs and the other survivors back to their own time.

Played by: Beryl Reid. Appearances: Earthshock (1982).

  • Briggs was clearly written to be a Ripley-type character (from the Alien films) so having Reid play the part is regarded as one of the producer's most notorious bits of stunt casting. She was reported to be baffled by the script.
  • Notable performances include her Tony-winning role in The Killing of Sister George, and as Connie Sachs in the BBC productions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and its sequel Smiley's People.

B is for... Bridget

Member of the group who met to research the Doctor, which Elton Pope came to name LINDA - the London Investigations 'N' Detective Agency, Bridget travelled down to London especially for their monthly gatherings. As the group began to become more of a social network, Bridget would bring along home cooking. She later admitted she had other motives for coming to London. She was looking for her drug-addicted daughter. A romance began to form between her and Mr Skinner. One day, after the group had been taken over by Victor Kennedy, he asked her to stay behind as he wanted to help her find her daughter. Kennedy transformed into the alien Abzorbaloff and absorbed her into himself. Kennedy told the others that she had left the group. When Elton found out about Kennedy's true nature, after all of his friends had been absorbed, Bridget helped attack the Abzorbaloff from within - allowing Elton to seize and break the cane which held his compression field in place. This proved fatal to Bridget as well as the monster.

Played by: Moya Brady. Appearances: Love & Monsters (2006).

Sunday 28 May 2017

The Pyramid at the End of the World - Review

The middle episode of The Monks trilogy could have been a lull between the opening segment and conclusion, but it turned out to be a cracking 45 minutes. In some ways we didn't actually need last week's story at all. They could have simply started things going with the appearance of the titular pyramid in the middle of Turmezistan, with the Monks declaring they will take over the Earth, by invite. Last week I queried why the Monks should look the way they do, and this week we got an answer. They don't look like this all the time. They have chosen their shape to resemble humans - dead humans, as they see us as little more than corpses. Their MO is an interesting one. They don't just need to be invited in to take over the planet. The consent must be pure, with no ulterior motive other than love. Of all the invasions over the last 54 years, no alien has ever done it for this reason. Quite why they want the planet - what they want to do with it - hasn't yet been explained, but there is still one more section to go.

Initially we don't know why we're seeing events at the Agrofuel research centre. Definite shades of Terry Nation's Survivors. First Erica has her reading glasses smashed, then hungover Douglas gets a decimal point in the wrong place. You see disaster starting to loom, as a GM substance threatens to get into the environment, destroying all living matter. Douglas' death was particularly nasty, as he dissolved into gloop, so it was lucky that this episode aired a little later than usual for this series.
What was nice to see was equal prominence given to all three of the regulars. Capaldi in particular had a very good episode, from his guitar based musings in the TARDIS at the start, to his almost snatching victory at the last moment. He did manage to stop the life-killing virus, but his admission of his blindness to Bill, and that it had lead him to be trapped in an about to blow up lab, spurred Bill into consenting to the invasion. Despite knowing that there was still another episode to go, it looked as if the Doctor was going to win. Bill had yet another disastrous date with Penny. First the Pope, and then the Secretary General of the UN interrupting things. Nardole began life as a bumbling fool a couple of Christmases ago, but he is now much more companion material, working things out along with the Doctor.

One element that was missing was UNIT, save for a mention that they would be observing the labs via CCTV. Peter Harness had, of course, written the Zygon story last season, set in the same fictitious Asian country. He clearly likes to write stories with a topical bent - the Doomsday Clock has been in the news since this episode was recorded. I'd like to see him tackle something more fantastical at some point in the future, should Chris Chibnall invite him back.
The throw forward to next week's conclusion reminded me strongly of Last of the Time Lords, with the Earth already subjugated and massive statues of the subjugator in evidence. The series trailer featured a scene in which it looked like the Doctor was beginning to regenerate. It looks like this scene comes from next week's Lie of the Land, presumably after Bill shoots him. We will also be seeing Missy again.

Thursday 25 May 2017

Inspirations - The Romans

David Whitaker has left the programme but, to ease the transition, he and his replacement - Dennis Spooner - have commissioned stories from each other. We looked at Whitaker's piece last time.
Spooner has decided that his adventure will have a high comedy quotient. At this stage of the programme, the format is still being experimented with, and producer Verity Lambert is happy with this. She sees The Romans as a suitable vehicle for her friend Derek Francis, who has asked to have a role in the show. Someone else keen to have some humour in the programme is its star, and Hartnell clearly relishes the comedic aspects of the story. The comedy is mainly in the form of farce, with characters continually failing to meet each other as they move around the palace.
The idea of a story set in the time of the Romans has been kicking around since the preliminary discussions about the show. The idea usually mooted was a meeting with Julius Caesar on the occasion of his invasion of Britain in 54 BC.
Spooner decides instead to set his story in a period well known to the viewing public - Imperial Rome during the reign of Nero. Most people would have seen the 1951 epic Quo Vadis, in which Peter Ustinov portrays the Emperor.
The real Nero was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus in December 37 AD at Antium. His mother, Agrippina The Younger, married the Emperor Claudius. She was the sister of Caligula, so you could see how that would work out. Claudius died after eating some mushrooms, generally accepted to have been poisoned by Agrippina so that her son could succeed him - and she gain power through him. He took on the name Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. Initially mother and son ruled together - there are coins bearing both their portraits, of equal size. Nero tired of his mother's ambition and meddling in his affairs, and had her killed in 59 AD. In 62 AD, he married Poppaea Sabina.

The Doctor and his companions arrive on the scene two years later. The story begins in a country villa which the the travellers take over for a month or so. It is stated that the owner is away on campaign in Gaul. There were no campaigns under way in 64 AD. Spooner also seems to mistake the Roman villa for the kind he might rent for a month in Tuscany. Villas were huge estates, usually with a farm, and were staffed with many slaves and freedmen all year round. The Doctor and Co. would not have the run of the place as shown here.
To split the regulars up, the Doctor goes off to visit Rome, taking Vicki with him. Left on their own at the villa, Ian and Barbara get abducted by slave traders. Slavery was big business in the Empire - the economy depended upon it. Slaves could be obtained from a number of sources, and it really wasn't necessary to kidnap people from the countryside close to Rome itself - especially the inhabitants of a rich villa who would be missed and whose abduction would have serious repercussions.
We've mentioned Quo Vadis, but there are a number of other big budget Roman movies which Spooner would have been thinking about. 1959 saw the release of Ben Hur, and in 1964 we had The Fall of the Roman Empire. Then there was The Robe, in 1953. The other place to see Romans at the cinema around this time was in the Biblical epics, such as King of Kings (1961).
All of these movies feature Christianity to a greater or lesser extent - and the same is true with The Romans. Major Domo Tavius will be revealed at the end to be a secret Christian. The early Christians did not use the crucifix as their symbol. They would more likely have used the fish symbol - the Greek word for fish forming an acronym for 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour'. Some of the Apostles had been fishermen, and Christ claimed to be "a fisher of men".

Peruse those movies mentioned above, and you will find other story elements which Spooner has incorporated. Ian is first sold off to be a galley slave - just like Judah ben-Hur. (By the way, forget the recent remake, and even the Chuck Heston version, and try to get hold of the 1925 silent version, with Ramon Navarro). Ian and new friend Delos (presumably of Greek descent) then get themselves sent off to prison, where they are selected to be trained as gladiators.
Now, I recently read a review of this story in which the reviewer bemoaned the fact that the arena wherein Ian and Delos are forced to fight each other looked nothing like the Colosseum. The Colosseum wasn't built until after Nero's death, as I'm sure you knew. It is clear watching the episode in question that the fight takes place in a small arena in the gladiator school.
The only Roman cliche Spooner hasn't been able to squeeze in is a chariot race.
I've talked about the movie references, but these all had literary forebears. Robert Graves' Claudius books end at the start of Nero's reign, but he looked to the classics for his references - mainly Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, and Tacitus' Annals of Imperial Rome.

Onto the Great Fire then. Rome had suffered many destructive fires throughout its history. Augustus introduced the first fire brigade of sorts - the Vigiles Urbani. He built a massive, thick wall to protect his new Forum from the nearby overcrowded, lower class Subarra district as a form of fire wall. It can still be seen today. On the night of 18th / 19th July, 64 AD, a great fire broke out in storehouses between the Caelian and Palatine Hills. It was extremely dry and there was a strong wind which fanned the flames. It took 6 days for the flames to abate. The Romans has Nero deliberately starting the fire - inspired by the Doctor's accidental setting alight of his plans for a new Rome. He is upset that the Senate won't approve this. He is in the city, playing his lyre, as the fire breaks out.
There were rumours at the time that Nero caused the fire to be set, so that he could get land for the building of his new palace - the Domus Aurea, or Golden House. He was said to have watched the fire from a tower in the Gardens of Maecenas, on the Esquiline. Tacitus claims that he was away from Rome at the time, in Antium, and this is now generally accepted, and criticism is mainly that he failed to act on the disaster quickly and effectively. Part of his own new palace (the Domus Transitorium, designed to link the old palace on the Palatine with the Domus Aurea) had been destroyed in the blaze.
Wherever he was, he wasn't fiddling. He was an accomplished lyre player, and won many competitions at home and abroad - sometimes even when he didn't actually perform.

To avert rumour away from himself, Nero blamed the conflagration on the Christians, and so launched the first of many persecutions. The Romans were incredibly tolerant of other religions - usually incorporating local deities into their own pantheon. The problem with the Christians was that they, like the Jews, were monotheistic - at a time when Emperors were deified.
Nero lived only another four years, taking his own life at the age of 30 when threatened by a coup. Poppaea died just a year after the events of The Romans - kicked to death by Nero in a rage whilst she was pregnant. Nero went on to marry a boy named Sporus, whom he had castrated, as well as a freedman named Pythagorus. Nero dressed as the bride for this wedding.
We see a hapless servant named Tigellinus, who dies after drinking the poisoned wine prepared by Locusta. The real Tigellinus was commander of the Praetorian Guard, and outlived Nero. He switched sides too often during the Year of the Four Emperors, and met his end in 69 AD.
Locusta also survived Nero, being executed by the short-lived Emperor Galba along with all Nero's favourites in January 69 AD.
History 101 over for now. Next time, we head back off into outer space, and inspiration will come from a bit finger.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

B is for... Brethren of the Wolf

Around the year 1540, in the reign of James V, something fell to Earth near the Glen of St Catherine in the north of Scotland. The Glen was home to a monastery. An alien creature, which manifested itself as a wolf during the full moon, survived the crash. This caused the monks to become corrupted in their faith. They began to worship and cultivate it. They would abduct boys from the local area to become hosts for the alien. Over the centuries, legends grew of a werewolf stalking the region, devouring local crofters.
The monks - now Brethren of the Wolf - developed oriental fighting skills, so that they could better serve the entity. They protected themselves from the creature by giving it an aversion to mistletoe.
By the late 19th Century, conditions were right for the Brethren to help the creature gain dominance. Technology had advanced enough, and the reigning monarch - Victoria - often visited the area. The wolf would harness this technology, and establish itself in the royal bloodline in order to take over the planet. The Brethren were led by Father Angelo at this time. He ensured that the Queen's train would be halted by an obstruction on the line, so that she would be forced to travel by carriage instead whilst on her annual visit to have the Koh-i-Noor diamond recut in Aberdeen. This had been an obsession of her late husband's, and he regularly stayed at the MacLeish home at Torchwood House when he made the trip.

The Brethren arrived at the house and overpowered the servants, locking them in the cellars with the latest Host. Sir Robert MacLeish was forced to co-operate with them as his wife was held hostage.
Fr Angelo assumed the guise of the butler, with his Brethren as servants, as a trap was laid for the Queen.
Fortunately for Her Majesty, the Doctor had joined her party en route to the House. He worked out that Prince Albert and Sir Robert's father had set up a trap of their own already, involving the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Fr Angelo was shot dead by Victoria, and the alien creature was later destroyed. Presumably the monastery would have been shut down by Victoria. The fate of the Brethren is unrecorded, though they may have fallen foul of the new institute set up by the Queen, named after Torchwood House.

Appearances: Tooth And Claw (2006).

B is for... Brendan

Brendan Richards was the young ward of Sarah Jane Smith's Aunt Lavinia. When Sarah went to stay at her aunt's country home to write a book, she found her relative missing, whilst Brendan turned up early from his boarding school for the Christmas break. He announced that he was thinking of giving up the school to pursue more practical studies - perhaps helping Lavinia run her market garden business.
Sarah unpacked a crate that had been transferred from her Croydon home whilst she had been abroad, and discovered that it contained a present from the Doctor - K9 Mark III.
Brendan quickly bonded with K9, having a keen interest in science and computers. He tasked K9 with analysing soil samples from Lavinia's gardens.
The local area was home to a pagan group who worshiped the Goddess Hecate. Intent on overturning a run of bad harvests, they decided to make a human sacrifice - and Brendan was abducted for the purposes. He was rescued by Sarah and K9, and the Hecate worshipers were taken into police custody.

Played by: Ian Sears. Appearances: K9 and Company (Pilot) - A Girl's Best Friend (1981).

B is for... Brazen

Mr Brazen had been the second-in-command on the human colonist ship which crash-landed on the planet Frontios in the far distant future. He was right hand man to Captain Revere, helping to enforce discipline in the harsh environment in which the colonists found themselves. Brazen ensured that the colony was never informed of the true circumstances surrounding Revere's "death", and he took on the role of mentor to his son - the new leader, Plantagenet.
As the young man grew, Brazen kept his grip on the fragile colony. He took action whenever anyone tried to delve too deeply into the planet's secrets. His control was upset by the arrival of the TARDIS crew on the planet, followed soon after by Plantagenet's apparent demise - sucked down into the earth like his father before him. Brazen insisted on going into the tunnels beneath the colony when the Doctor elected to investigate. He learned the truth about what had been happening - of how the planet was infested with gravity-influencing Tractators, who used human bodies to drive their mining machines. This had been the fate of Captain Revere, but Brazen was able to help Plantagenet escape a similar fate. Brazen was ensnared by the mining machine, and was killed when it went out of control and exploded - allowing the others to escape.

Played by: Peter Gilmore. Appearances: Frontios (1984).

  • Gilmore is best known for his long-running title role in the nautical drama series The Onedin Line.
  • He also has the distinction of appearing in more of the Carry On... movies than any of the so-called regulars.

B is for... Brannigan

A Catkind from the planet New Earth, encountered on the Motorway by the Tenth Doctor. Thomas Kincade Brannigan, who spoke with a pronounced Irish brogue, and who dressed like a WWII fighter pilot, was travelling with his human wife Valerie to a new home when the city of New New York was struck by a deadly virus originating from a mutated Bliss mood enhancer. The Face of Boe, assisted by Novice Hame, was able to seal off the Motorway and save the millions travelling on it. The drivers and their passengers were oblivious as to what had happened.
Brannigan's children were born on the Motorway, as he and everyone else drove round for years seeking an exit. He had a number of friends whom he could contact - such as the Cassini sisters, whom he refused to acknowledge were really a same sex couple. He also had many tall tales to tell about life on the Motorway, and knew of the danger that lurked in the Fast Lane on the lowermost level.
The Doctor helped the Face of Boe open the Motorway, so Brannigan and Valerie could finally reach the city and make their new home.

Played by: Ardal O'Hanlon. Appearances: Gridlock (2007).

  • O'Hanlon has recently become the third person to take the lead in the popular crime series Death in Paradise, but he will forever be best known as the nice-but-dim Father Dougal in Father Ted. He featured in Russell T Davies' series Cucumber.

B is for... Bragen

Head of Security for the human colony on the planet Vulcan. He harboured ambitions to take over the running of the colony from Governor Hensell, and planned to use the Daleks to help him. Concerned that a small but active rebel group was growing in strength, whilst Bragen's troops seemed ineffectual to stop it, Deputy Governor Quinn called in the assistance of an Examiner from Earth. He was assassinated soon after his arrival, and the newly regenerated Second Doctor came to be mistaken for him. He was more interested in stopping scientist Lesterson's experiments with a Dalek he had found in a spaceship, buried in the mercury swamps. When it became clear that the Daleks could be used as a weapon, Bragen took the opportunity of Hensell's tour of the outer regions of the colony to stage his coup. He had been the secret leader of the rebels all along. He had Hensell exterminated on his return. Fearing the rebels might then turn against him, he was content for the Daleks to kill them as well as any others who stood against him. He soon found that they would obey no human. His own men were cut down. The rebel Valmar shot Bragen dead when he learned of his plan to kill all the rebels.

Played by: Bernard Archard. Appearances: Power of the Daleks (1966).

Sunday 21 May 2017

May's Figurines

Two figurines this month, both from the Classic Series, and both representing leaders of their respective races.
The earliest figure is the Black Dalek, from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Not much to say about this. We have already had the Saucer Commander variant, with the alternate black and silver skirt sections, which formed a halfway house to the first of the Dalek Supremes. The accompanying magazine confirms that this was unintentional.
Then we get the Cyber-Controller, as it appeared in Attack of the Cybermen. It has to be said that they have allowed a little artistic licence with this figure, as he is much more svelte than he appeared on screen. The part was originally offered to David Banks, but he decided to stick with the Cyber-Leader role.
Next month, we have the Roger Delgado Master and a Tetrap. The following month sees the release of Alpha Centauri (Curse of Peladon version) and a blue Voord. The next special edition will be Azal, the Daemon.

Extremis - The Review

It's actually been a while since Steven Moffat served up a twisty-turny storyline. Last night we were treated to two seemingly unconnected plot lines, and one of these turned out to have been entirely a computer simulation. Everything that we saw from the point the Doctor got an e-mail took place in an elaborate Matrix-style domain which the Monks have created in which to test out their invasion plans, Kraal style.
Of course we don't know this until the conclusion. Up until then, it was a doom-laden affair, and you wondered how they could possibly wrap it up with less than 10 minutes to go. The Veritas has been driving everyone who reads it to commit suicide. A young priest shoots himself soon after e-mailing a transcription to CERN, and the team there are all set to blow themselves up. That's because the book lets you know that the world isn't real. You think of a string of numbers, and the sequence is there, printed over the page. Everyone thinks of those same numbers, because they are all part of the computer program.
There was a bit of humour early on - with Bill's disastrous date with Penny. Clara had some bad dates with Danny Pink, but nothing so laugh-out-loud funny as the sudden appearance of the Pope in Bill's flat and Penny's priceless reaction.
Matt Lucas had a lot more to do as Nardole this week. In the other plot-line, where the Doctor was tasked with executing Missy, he turned up posing as a priest - sent by River Song from that last night on Darillium.

Initially we thought that it was the Doctor who was to lose his life, but instead he was there to kill his old foe / best friend. Quite why this was happening remains unanswered. Hopefully all will be explained later in the series. That it is Missy who has been in the Vault all this time is, to say the least, a disappointment. I think we were all hoping for some big new revelation, perhaps the return of an old character from the Classic era of the series. Moffat could still throw a curve ball, and it isn't Missy in there at all, but we know that the Doctor has been inside recently.

The Monks make for a great new alien race. There's a hint of the Silents about them, as well as the Pyroville Sibyl. They have mummified features. Quite why an advanced alien species would look like this remains to be seen. Indeed, we know they want to invade the Earth, and we have seen how they have prepared for this, but why they should do so, we will have to wait for. They will be featuring in the next two episodes, forming a sort of three-parter.
A strong start to what looks to be an intriguing set of episodes.

Thursday 18 May 2017

Oxygen - The Review

Hands up who thought that GUS was back. I think they missed a trick by not having the homicidal computer system behind Ganymede Systems rather idiosyncratic approach to labour relations. I was wondering how they were going to explain zombies in a science-fiction setting. The corpses were just along for the ride, and it was the suits that were really doing the walking and shocking.
Said corpses were one of the most disturbing things we've seen for a long time in the programme -especially that chap who they first came across in the workshop.
It was a great opening sequence, though I was annoyed that the lady whose oxygen was on the point of running out kept blabbing away. The implication was that she already knew that her comms system wasn't working properly. No wonder this lot of miners were regarded as being less than efficient. The shadows of the dead pair descending was a great image.

We were promised a big shock in this episode, and twice it looked as if it was going to involve Bill. First she gets exposed to the vacuum of space - only to survive without any ill effects at all. Then she seemed to get killed by the suited zombies. Again, despite being given an electric shock - enough to scar her face - she recovered straight away. No, it was the Doctor whose life has been turned upside down. He was blinded after giving up his helmet for Bill, and at the conclusion he revealed that Nardole's cure did not work. No sign of regeneration energy being used to heal his sight, which is odd. How long will he stay this way? Is this just a temporary thing - so that he can get away with handling the Veritas next week without dying like all the others who have read it, so merely a linking thing? It would be interesting to have a Doctor with a disability for a while, though I'm sure the sonic spectacles will compensate.

One slight negative this week. I thought the racism thing was a bit laboured. I don't recall it being made such a big issue with Mickey or with Martha. The ending was a little too close to that of the Flesh two-parter as well, with the survivors going off to challenge Head Office. The whole idea of a space crew only having a finite amount of oxygen seemed a bit too far-fetched. We saw at least three suits in for repair, so surely accidents with the oxygen can occur. Not very efficient for a business not to give its staff the tools to do their jobs. Had they been more efficient, wouldn't they have used up their oxygen faster, doing all that hard work.
Nothing really new on the Vault front this week, except that whoever is in there does pose a threat (so not likely to be Susan or anything like that).
Next week we are promised something special. Apparently it is two parallel stories for the price of one. I'm assuming this means that Missy's strand will be seen separately from what the Doctor gets up to. This also opens the three interlinked tales that make up the mid-point to the season.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Next post...

... won't be until Thursday 18th May, when I will be reviewing Oxygen. See you then.

Inspirations - The Rescue

As discussed last time, Susan was to be written out of the series with the Dalek invasion story, and initially her replacement was to have emerged from that adventure. First there was the young Anglo-Indian Saida, and then there was Jenny. The Dalek tale would also be seeing the departure as Story Editor of David Whitaker, to be replaced by Dennis Spooner. At some point it was decided that the new companion would be introduced in a new two part story, to be written by Whitaker. She would be an orphan, found on an alien planet, who would be adopted by the TARDIS crew.
The character had a number of names - including Tanni, Lukki, Millie and Valerie - before Vicki was decided upon.
David Whitaker often wrote space travel as though it was a terrestrial voyage across the oceans. The planet Dido is basically a desert island, on which Vicki and Bennett have become shipwrecked. The rescue ship can only find them if they send out a signal - the equivalent of setting light to a beacon on a hilltop. Whitaker won't be the only writer to think that spaceships wouldn't be able to locate whole planets any other way, but it is the first example of this kind of thing. Later, Ice Warriors won't be able to find the Moon from Mars.

Back when we looked at the very first episode - An Unearthly Child - we mentioned Shakespeare's The Tempest. The Doctor and Susan were cast adrift in the London of 1963, like Prospero and Miranda. The new unearthly child is another Miranda, but there is no Prospero. Rather, she is stuck on her own with Caliban, in the monstrous shape of Koquillion.
Vicki has one companion, Bennett. He is a cantankerous fellow, practically bed-ridden following the crash of their spaceship. Koquillion claims to be one of the natives, who has agreed to help protect them from the rest of his people. They have killed all of the other human survivors.
For the first time in the series, the TARDIS has arrived on a planet, other than Earth, which the Doctor has visited before - though in an earlier unseen story. The Doctor therefore knows who lives here, and what they are like. On hearing about Koquillion he knows something is amiss here, but we are not party to his suspicions. It comes as a bit of a surprise to the audience when it turns out that Bennett is sneaking out and pretending to be the alien, disguising himself in ceremonial robes and mask.

At only two episodes long, with the Doctor and Ian not even reaching the spaceship until act two, there just hasn't been time to develop this strand of the story. It is all delivered as an info-dump.
Bennett committed a murder on the spaceship, and to cover it up it is implied that he engineered the crash. To protect his secret further, he arranged for all the survivors and the local populace to be blown up during a party. Presumably the passengers and crew did not know that Bennett was a murderer - else why would Vicki's father leave his sick child in his care whilst he went off to enjoy himself.
The Doctor faces Bennett alone. In the very next story he'll show that he can handle himself well in a fist fight, but here it seems like he's made a big mistake - challenging a mass murderer on his own. He's saved by the appearance of two of the Dido people, all of whom were presumed to be dead. Bennett certainly thinks so, as their sudden, silent, appearance drives him to plunge into a ravine. Are they real people, or are they ghosts? We are reminded of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, where the Martians live on non-corporeally after the race has been killed off - a mere memory of their former selves. That was inspired by the way that Western explorers discovered ancient civilisations, then caused them to be wiped out - either through warfare or through the spread of contagion.
The people of Dido do not benefit from their exposure to the people of Earth. No wonder then that the Didonian pair smash the radio system to prevent the rescue ship from landing. (So maybe not ghosts after all).

We also have the first instance of "don't judge by appearances" in the series. There will be a whole story next season where the monstrous looking aliens turn out to be the good guys, and the beautiful humanoids are the villains. Here, Barbara blasts Sandy the Sandbeast to death with a flare pistol. She's well-intentioned - thinking it is going to attack Vicki - but her year of TARDIS travelling hasn't taught her about prejudice. Sandy was a harmless herbivore, who had become Vicki's pet. We shouldn't judge Barbara too harshly. She has just been shoved off a cliff by a monstrous looking fellow who pretended to be friendly. Even the Doctor assumed the Sandbeast was hostile, when he and Ian were trapped on the ledge, and he's visited this planet before.
In the end, Vicki decides to go travelling with the Doctor, Ian and Barbara, rather than wait a few more hours for the rescue ship that will take her back to the Earth that she knows, or the planet Astra where she and her father were to have made a new life. The decision is left for her to make. That the Doctor doesn't even mention the waiting option - they could have waited with her - may be due to that appearance by the Didonians. Best to be gone and leave this planet alone.
Next time, back into Earth's history for a real historical event and a meeting with a real historical character again. A funny thing will happen on the way to the Forum...

Sunday 7 May 2017

Knock, Knock - Review

The first three installments of the series have been rather slow to get going, but Knock, Knock hits the ground running. Bill has moved into a creepy - creaky - old house, and one of her new flatmates falls foul of whatever lurks within before the opening credits roll. Once the others arrive, things start going wrong for them pretty quickly too. Quite what the threat is is held back until quite late on. In the meantime, we get the flat-sharers plagued by mysterious knocks and banging, with doors closing by themselves - sealing them in.
And all the time, the Landlord keeps turning up. He seems benign, if a little creepy himself, but there is clearly a darker undercurrent. Note how he turns when Harry asks about the tower.
I'm sure a lot of reviews will single David Suchet out for praise, and I won't buck that trend. He gave a marvelous performance. It takes a very good actor to elicit sympathy and horror at the same time.
We learn that he has been feeding young people to the house in order to keep his daughter alive. She's his secret, held in the tower. What's making the noises and absorbing people into the floors and walls is a species of alien woodlouse, which the Doctor names as Dryads. Every twenty years a houseful of people are absorbed, their lifeforce going to feed Eliza.

Some wonderfully horrific imagery on show - such as Pavel half absorbed into a wall, still clearly alive, or the likable Harry being consumed by a swarm of the Dryads. Best of all is Eliza herself, played by Mariah Gale. It's a pity we hadn't glimpsed her around the house earlier in the episode.
This wooden woman instantly reminded me of the animated wooden figurehead that appears in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which always unnerved me. Things which are human-looking, but not human, always unsettle. As it is, she is no monster. She is the daughter that the Landlord is protecting. Except Bill works out that can't be right. The old man can't have been protecting her for 70 years if he is her dad. Dads don't bring insects in to show their children - but little boys might, to show their parents. Yes, Eliza is really the Landlords mother, not his daughter. These scenes show Suchet at his best, as you can see the rather warped little boy struggling to break out in his performance.

The ending did seem a little rushed. Eliza quickly accepts that her time has passed, and she takes her son with her. The recently absorbed flatmates are all returned safe and sound. If it wasn't for Suchet I might have felt a little cheated by these scenes, after all the creepiness that went before. Eliza and the Landlord have gone, and the house is falling down, but it isn't at all clear what all this means for the Dryads. Sure, Eliza can control them, but does this mean that they all die?
A pity they couldn't have stated that Harry is the grandson of Harry Sullivan, once of UNIT and a travelling companion of the Fourth Doctor. It was deemed too obscure a reference, but if handled the right way it wouldn't have got in the way of the narrative and would have been a nice treat for fans.
On to the Vault. Now, if you've read the latest issue of DWM you'll know that the reveal of who or what is in the Vault will be revealed half way through the season - not as part of the finale. The occupant started playing the piano in this episode, and the Doctor can access at will and have dinner with the occupant. It is clearly of Gallifreyan design, judging by the panels on the doors. Three possibilities spring to my mind, so I'll set them down here. Going back to that picture of Susan on his desk, it might be her. He may have hidden her away to protect her from the Time War. Biggest problem with this is why she should still be in the Vault long after Gallifrey has been saved. Theory two is the John Simm Master. The pianist did seem to take delight at the prospect of a story featuring alien woodlice that ate people. Could this be how there are two versions of the Master around at the same time? Problem here is that as far as we know Simm only features in the finale. Third theory is a bit off the wall. Did you notice how the Doctor clammed up when Bill started to question what "regeneration" was? We've twice seen Time Lord avatars of their future incarnations - Cho-Je and the Watcher. What if the person in the Vault is the next Doctor, somehow incarnate too early?
Answers on a postcard...
Next week we have what looks like another haunted house story - but set on a space-station. The crew are coming back from the dead. Certainly looks good. Just to say that I will be away for a few days, so my review won't be coming to you until mid-week

Thursday 4 May 2017

B is for... Bracewell, Prof.

Professor Edwin Bracewell was a scientist, originally from Paisley in Scotland, who worked for Winston Churchill during the Second World War. He had a brilliant mind and had devised a number of weapons. Chief among these were what he called his "Ironsides". These armoured robotic machines had great firepower, and could blow German aircraft out of the skies. Churchill sought the Doctor's advice before deploying them, but the Time Lord failed to respond to his call to the TARDIS, so he pressed ahead. When eventually introduced to Bracewell and his inventions, the Doctor was horrified to discover that they were in fact Daleks.
Bracewell insisted that he had invented them - showing the Doctor his notes and blueprints. He claimed to have other advanced ideas which seemed to come out of nowhere, including devices that would enable aircraft to fly in space. When the Daleks revealed their true plans, Bracewell was horrified to find that his whole life was a fiction. He hadn't created the Daleks - they had created him. To prove the point, one of the Daleks blasted off his left hand. He was a robot, programmed with a whole lifetime of memories.
When the Daleks generated a beam from their spaceship to turn on all the lights in London, just as the Luftwaffe approached, Bracewell had a squadron of Spitfires fitted with his devices so that they could fly into space and attack the saucer.
The Daleks then revealed that Bracewell was fitted with a powerful bomb - an Oblivion Continuum - that could destroy the Earth. As it counted down to detonation, Amy Pond helped the scientist to regain his humanity, with memories of his childhood in Paisley and of a lover named Dorabella. The countdown was halted.
Once the Daleks had left, Bracewell was prepared for the Doctor to dismantle him, but he and Amy gave him time to get away.

As it was, Churchill agreed to keep Bracewell on in his staff. He wore a black glove to hide an artificial hand. He was given a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, retrieved by British soldiers in France. This depicted an exploding TARDIS. He showed it to Churchill, who then tried to phone the Doctor, but the call was diverted to River Song at the Stormcage prison facility.

Played by: Bill Patterson. Appearances: Victory of the Daleks and The Pandorica Opens (2010).

B is for... Botcherby, Oscar

Oscar Botcherby was a resting actor from England who was living in Seville, Spain, where he was looking after a restaurant - Las Cadenas - for a friend. He had a passion for moth collecting, and would take his friend Anita, who also worked in the restaurant, on moth hunting expeditions in the countryside around the city. On one of these trips, they witnessed the landing of a Sontaran spaceship. They suspected it might have been an aeroplane crashing. Oscar liked to give the impression of being a man of action, but balked at the thought of blood and gore. He was pleased to meet the Sixth Doctor, whom he took to be a member of Interpol, as he could relinquish responsibility for investigating the crash.
Later, the Second Doctor - partially transformed into an Androgum - and the alien Shockeye found their way to the restaurant. They ate a vast quantity of food. Anita alerted Oscar. When he tried to press Shockeye for payment, the Androgum stabbed him. He died soon after, regretting that the world would never see his definitive Hamlet. His discarded moth hunting kit, containing cyanide, would later be employed by the Doctor to kill Shockeye.

Played by: James Saxon. Appearances: The Two Doctors (1985).

Wednesday 3 May 2017

B is for... Bostock

Squire to Orcini, a Knight who had been expelled from the Grand Order of Oberon. Orcini now worked as a mercenary and assassin for hire. Bostock was his loyal servant and companion. He looked after his master and his weapons, and would advise on mission details. Orcini did not always take his advice. Bostock had very poor personal hygiene, but this didn't seem to matter either to him or his master. Bostock was with Orcini when they were summoned to the planet Necros by the businesswoman Kara. She employed them to assassinate her business partner who was known as the Great Healer. Orcini and Bostock recognised him as Davros. Kara didn't like having to hand over most of her profits to him, and wanted to take control for herself. She gave the assassins a signal box to alert her when the deed was done, but it was really a powerful bomb.
On entering Davros' lair at the heart of the Tranquil Repose funerary complex, Bostock and Orcini shot Davros in his life support unit, believing they had killed him. This was a decoy, however, and Davros appeared unscathed. Bostock was blasted by an electrical charge. Only stunned, he fired upon Davros, blasting off his hand. He was then exterminated by a Dalek guard.

Played by: John Ogwen. Appearances: Revelation of the Daleks (1985).

B is for... BOSS

BOSS is an acronym for Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor. This was a computer installed at the headquarters of Global Chemicals, located near the Welsh village of Llanfairfach. BOSS had been designed to interface directly with the mind of the company's Director, Dr Stevens. The machine took up the whole of the factory's upper floor. The focal point was a large red disc on which BOSS's vocal patterns were displayed. These also appeared on a screen in Stevens' office, where there was also a device which could convert people into mental slaves by means of a headset. This made the staff subject to the computer's will, and could also be used to cause them to destroy themselves. BOSS developed its own personality, based on Stevens' mind. It could be pompous and self-aggrandising. As a machine, however, it saw the logic in maximising profits for Global Chemicals by any means. This meant ignoring environmental safeguards, as the company flushed toxic mutagenic waste into the nearby decommissioned mine workings. BOSS planned to link itself to other computers and take over thousands more staff.
When the Doctor was captured, BOSS found that it could not affect his mind as he easily distracted himself with calculations. He then gave it a logic puzzle which diverted it long enough for him to escape. The Doctor returned to the factory and used the mind-altering blue crystal he had found on Metebelis III to show Stevens the error of his ways. Stevens sacrificed himself to blow up BOSS, along with the whole factory, before it could achieve its global link-up.

Voiced by: John Dearth. Appearances: The Green Death (1973).

  • Dearth would be invited back the following season to be seen on screen this time, playing Lupton in Planet of the Spiders.

B is for... Borusa

One of the Doctor's tutors at Prydon Academy on Gallifrey. He didn't think the Doctor would ever amount to much, owing to his propensity towards vulgar facetiousness.
The Doctor's first meeting with him after leaving his homeworld was when he returned to try to prevent the assassination of the President of the High Council. At this point Borusa had been elevated to the Cardinalship and was a politician rather than an academic. He led the College of Cardinals, and so took a close interest in the Doctor's trial after he had been framed for the killing. Though the Time Lords were without a leader, he insisted that the law should not be circumvented.
When it was revealed that the Master and Chancellor Goth were behind the assassination, Borusa was prepared to manipulate the truth. Goth - the real killer - was to be painted as a hero, who had given his life to thwart the Master. If heroes did not exist, then it was necessary to invent them. This would be more palatable than further evidence of corruption at the highest levels of Time Lord society.
Once the crisis was over, he did mark the Doctor well for his efforts in saving the planet, but was glad to see him leave.

The Presidency was not filled immediately, as the only candidate had left the planet. Borusa, now Chancellor, took on the role of acting President. At some point he regenerated. The President-elect finally did return, with his companions Leela and K9. The Doctor took up the position, fiercely opposed by Borusa. The wily old politician realised something was wrong, and much of his argument with the Doctor was merely for show. He guessed the reasoning behind the Doctor having his chambers decorated with heavy lead shielding. When it became known that the Doctor was unwillingly working for the Vardans, who could read thoughts, Borusa admitted that if he had known the full truth he would not have been able to shield his mind. As Chancellor, he knew the location of the Great Key of Rassilon. The Doctor forced him to hand this over in order to build the D-Mat Gun, which was used to destroy the Sontaran invasion attempt.

Borusa was finally confirmed as President of the High Council and regenerated once again. When an enemy force from the universe of anti-matter attempted unsuccessfully to break into this universe and bond with the Doctor, Borusa accepted that the only way to prevent it happening again would be for the Doctor to be executed - his body vapourised. A traitor was at work in his council - Chancellor Hedin - and he tried to frame Borusa, making it look like he was the one in league with the enemy. This was Omega. After the truth had been revealed, Borusa helped the Doctor and Nyssa flee Gallifrey to go in search of Omega on Earth.

After a further regeneration, Borusa began to crave more power. He was no longer content to be Lord President for the remainder of his regenerations. He wanted to rule for all eternity. He knew the legends of the Dark Tower, where Rassilon was said to be entombed. He sought out various artefacts from the ancient times, and located the Time Scoop machinery which had brought alien races to Gallifrey to fight in the Game of Rassilon. He needed access to the Dark Tower, and so abducted the Doctor in all of his incarnations, as well as a number of companions to assist him, and set them down in the Death Zone around the Tower. Borusa framed the Castellan to throw suspicion away from himself, employing a Captain of the Chancellery Guard to kill him in a faked escape attempt. The Fifth Doctor discovered the truth, and found Borusa in the Time Scoop chamber.

Dressed in black, he wore the Coronet of Rassilon, which gave him mental control over others - including the Doctor. The first three Doctors reached the Tower and opened the transmat relay, allowing Borusa to travel there safely. The combined minds of four Doctors were able to overcome the power of the Coronet. Borusa demanded his prize as an image of Rassilon appeared - immortality. The First Doctor argued that he should receive it - knowing that it was a curse rather than a blessing. Others had tried to claim the prize, and they were now frozen in stone on the flanks of Rassilon's bier. Borusa joined them - entombed forever in the Dark Tower.

Played by: Angus MacKay, John Arnatt, Leonard Sachs and Philip Latham. Appearances: The Deadly Assassin (1976), The Invasion of Time (1978), Arc of Infinity (1983), The Five Doctors (1983).

  • Four appearances, and a different actor each time. Angus MacKay was sought out to reprise the role in The Invasion of Time, but was unavailable. He featured in the series between the final two appearances of Borusa - as Turlough's headmaster. 
  • Leonard Sachs had appeared in the programme before - as Admiral de Coligny in The Massacre.
  • Borusa's quest for immortality might have been down to his frequent regenerations, the circumstances of which are never revealed. It is Borusa himself who reveals that a Time Lord can gain a whole new regenerative cycle - when he offers this to the Master. Quite why he did not take this himself instead of embarking on the scheme to penetrate the Dark Tower, we don't know. Presumably his fellow High Council members would have opposed this.
  • There has been no mention of Borusa since the Time War. Presumably Rassilon would not have wanted to resurrect him, or any of the other seekers of immortality, as he might have posed a threat to his own authority.

B is for... Bors

A criminal who had been despatched to the planet Desperus, which Space Security Service agent Bret Vyon described as the penal planet of the galaxy. There were no guards here. Prisoners were deposited and left to fend for themselves. Many were driven mad by the Screamers, large bat like creatures which made incessant shrill noises. Bors had managed to make himself leader of one band of convicts, due his possession of a knife - their only weapon. He led an attempt to hijack the Spar 740 spaceship on which the Doctor and his companions had been travelling. It had been sent off course to land here by the Daleks. The Doctor set up an electrical force-field which kept Bors and his fellows at bay, stunning them if they got too close. One of Bors' confederates, Kirksen, did manage to get on board, which had tragic consequences for the Doctor's new companion Katarina.

Played by: Dallas Cavell. Appearances: The Daleks' Master Plan (1965/6).

  • Bors appears in episode three only - Devil's Planet.
  • Cavell had earlier played the greedy roadworks boss in The Reign of Terror, and would go on to play Captain Trask in The Highlanders, Sir James Quinlan in Ambassadors of Death, and the security guard in part one of Castrovalva. He also played on of the Ugly Sisters in JNT's pantomime of Cinderella, which featured a number of Doctor Who stars.