Tuesday 30 October 2018

Derrick Sherwin

I was sorry to hear of the death of Derrick Sherwin today. He was script editor during the latter part of the Patrick Troughton era, before becoming producer of Doctor Who for a short period. His passing leaves only one of the "Classic Era" series producers still with us - Philip Hinchcliffe.
He started off as an actor, with small roles in film and TV throughout the 1950's and early '60's. His Equity Card allowed him to take on the small role of the commissionaire in the UNIT car park in Spearhead From Space, after the extra hired proved unsuitable, and I'm sure he is one of the comatose victims of the Cyber-Hypnotic signal in The Invasion.
He was always a joy to listen to or watch on the DVD commentaries and documentaries for the stories he was involved with, as he was always pretty forthright in his views and told it like it was.
He joined the programme as script editor on The Dominators, at a time when the show was in a state of crisis. Troughton was very unhappy with the scripts, and with the working conditions in general. Sherwin did not like the Lincoln / Haisman story, and he had the final two episodes rewritten to become one, greatly upsetting the writers and potentially having them block the story being broadcast all together. With the series now an episode short, Sherwin stepped in and wrote the first part of The Mind Robber - an episode which is widely regarded as one of the best of the era.
It was Sherwin who decided to restructure the programme to make it more Earthbound, building on the Doctor's relationship with the military as seen in The Web of Fear. He wrote The Invasion, from some ideas put forward by Kit Pedler, and so introduced the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce - promoting Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart from the Yeti story to Brigadier. The plan was that stories set on contemporary (or near future) Earth would be cheaper but this did not quite pan out - The Invasion ending up quite an expensive story to produce. He is on record as saying that "jellies in outer space" did not really interest him, and he didn't think the viewers were that keen either.
The final year for Troughton saw a number of scripts go down, sometimes very late in the day. Things weren't helped by Frazer Hines' changing his mind about when he was going to leave the programme. Sherwin's assistant, Terrance Dicks, was nurturing a story by Robert Holmes which had been rejected by another series, and this became The Krotons. Dicks was then asked to do some serious rewrites to The Seeds of Death, with Sherwin becoming producer in all but name. This was the last story of the B&W era to feature alien creatures, partly due to cost. A planned story about a planet dominated by women was mercifully dropped, and Robert Holmes stepped into the breach with his space western The Space Pirates. Sherwin then officially became the producer. With no scripts left in the pile, and 10 episodes left to fill, he commissioned Dicks to write the massive The War Games to see out the incumbent Doctor and the B&W phase of the show. Dicks turned to his old friend and mentor (and one-time landlord) Malcolm Hulke to co-write.
As well as creating UNIT, Sherwin was responsible for the creation of the Time Lords, and the whole backstory for the Doctor which underpins the series to this day.
With the series under threat, Sherwin was also working on replacement ideas, including one revolving around an RAF base in the Far East. Once it was known that the series would continue into colour, Sherwin took the decision to have the Doctor exiled to Earth and working alongside UNIT full time. He cast Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. Pertwee was unhappy to learn, on his first day in the job, that the man who had given him the role was leaving. Before he went, Sherwin saved Spearhead From Space when it was threatened by a strike - making it entirely on film and on location. Had he been allowed to make the entire series in this way, he may have fought to stay on the show, but he was reassigned to help the struggling Paul Temple series, and his replacement was Barry Letts.
As it was, Sherwin only ever produced two Doctor Who stories, but they were key ones, and his role as script editor was a significant one for the history of the programme.
Unafraid to be controversial, he became quite bitter towards the series in recent years, complaining about a lack of recognition for his contributions in his final DWM interview. I think he had a point.

Sunday 28 October 2018

Arachnids in the UK - A Review

A lot of people who do not normally watch Doctor Who will have tuned into tonight's episode following the buzz which surrounded last week's Rosa, expecting to see more of the same. What they got was a much more traditional Doctor Who story. Rosa was great, but you simply can't deliver that kind of story on a regular basis.
I was reasonably happy with this episode, despite being a terrible arachnophobe. Three things stopped it being great for me, though.
The first was the character of the Trump-like businessman, Jack Robertson. I say character, but he was little more than a caricature of a nasty businessman. He sacks Yaz's mum, seemingly on a whim in the first few minutes, then has his assistant draw a gun on her and Yaz soon after. (Yaz is a police officer, let's not forget, but does she mention this at all?). Characters such as this usually get their comeuppance by the end, but Robertson is left alive and well, and potentially a future POTUS. Which brings me to another dislike - the ending. Everything was wrapped up a little too easily and quickly for my liking, with too many threads left dangling like so many spiders' webs.
The smaller spiders get lured into a room to be left to perish eventually, whilst the mother beast is dying anyway from its enlarged size, but Robertson shoots it dead. (The shooting is set up as if to say this character is bad, but actually it was a mercy killing. Was the Doctor going to just stand there whilst it slowly suffocated to death?). He walks off, and there is no mention of any consequences for his having built his hotel on top of dumped waste from one of his own companies. There is no mention of any other spiders still out there in the city, or even about how the waste dump is dealt with to prevent any more mutants being created. It's as if this part of the story has just switched off, because they need a few minutes of the run time to get the new companions to turn up at the TARDIS wanting to continue their travels with the Doctor, who has clearly been hoping for this since she dropped them all back home at the start.

The third thing that bugged me was the level of coincidence going on. We are told that the spiders have spread out across the city, and can see this on a map, yet the only ones we see just happen to be at Graham's house, and next door to Yaz's home. Apart from a bit of exposition, there is nothing to suggest that this is a city-wide problem. Then there was the fact that Yaz's mum just happened to be at the place where the spiders originated, and the hotel owner just happened to be the sort of person who had a panic room, full of weapons, and assistants who carried guns.
So, apart from some plotting issues, and the cartoon businessman, there was much to commend the episode. Hearing that Yaz's family were to feature, I was quite worried that their inclusion might pull the story more towards soap, with the actual spider business sidelined, but this was not the case. We met Yaz's dad and sister only briefly, and her mum just happened to be already at the hotel from whence the spiders came anyway, this being where she was supposed to work. I thought they were rather pleasant myself, and nothing like how Yaz seemed to be describing them in The Ghost Monument. It looks like it might be Yaz who has the problem, with no friends and certainly no partner, if her mother doesn't even know if she likes boys or girls.
There was a little more bonding between Graham and Ryan, but this took place as the action unfolded - so the story wasn't stopped in its tracks to make room for it. It was also nice to see Grace back again, if only in Graham's mind as he faced up to the ghost of her presence in his house.
I've no idea of the order this season's stories were recorded in, but Jodie Whittaker seemed a lot more settled in the role. I loved the Ed Sheeran jokes.
The spiders themselves were very well realised, and once again the cinematography was first class.
I wasn't impressed with the disco-lights Vortex at first, but it looked better on second viewing.
I am definitely missing the pre-credits teaser scenes. A big mistake in leaving these out I think, and I also miss the throw forward trailer forming part of the closing credits.
Mind you, next week's trailer was incredibly weak. There was nothing about it which would make you want to tune in. Good job I am a fan and will be watching anyway, but you can't say that for everyone.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Inspirations - The Ark in Space

There are some really complicated histories behind a number of Doctor Who stories, and The Ark in Space can certainly be counted among these.
This story marks the debut of Philip Hinchcliffe as Producer on the show. We've already mentioned that he has been shadowing Barry Letts for a while, but one thing he has not been able to do is influence the shape of his own first season. Letts and Terrance Dicks had already commissioned the stories that would make up Season 12. In planning this, they have taken into account the popularity of Jon Pertwee. He had been Doctor for longer than either of his two predecessors, and his casting had led to a huge upturn in the ratings. Concerned that his replacement might struggle to make an impact initially, they have loaded the new season with returning favourite monsters. The Sontarans are going to be back for a rapid rematch, following the success of The Time Warrior. Robert Holmes is now fully in place as Script Editor, so their tale will be written by the Bristol Boys - Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who can be trusted to deliver something challenging. The Daleks are naturally going to be present, as Terry Nation is still committed to providing one story per year at this point. And the Cybermen will be back. They were going to be included in Frontier in Space, but the costumes were found to be in a poor state and there wasn't enough money for new ones. Though it will eventually be held over to the next season, new writer for the programme Robert Banks Stewart will be producing an adventure set in his native land, featuring the Loch Ness Monster.
The final slot was initially going to be a contribution by Christopher Langley called "The Space Station", which was quickly deemed unworkable.
The remaining four episodes were then offered to one of the series' veterans - John Lucarotti. He had provided three scripts for the Hartnell run - Marco Polo, The Aztecs and The Massacre, after being promised a three story deal. The problem was, however, that the last of these stories had not been his version. The then script editor Donald Tosh had disliked his submission, and had come up with his own page-one rewrite. Lucarotti had made contact with Letts and Dicks through Moonbase 3, which is how he came to be invited back after such a long absence.

Lucarotti was asked to come up with a story set on a space ark. This was not a new concept for the programme, there having previously been the story now known as The Ark, by Paul Erickson and his partner Lesley Scott, which was broadcast in March 1966. Hinchliffe, Letts and Holmes would have known about this as Gerry Davis noted when he visited the BBC to discuss his Cyberman story that a system he introduced when he was script editor was still in place. This was a wall-chart in the production office covering every story produced so far, with a brief synopsis and an illustrative photo. The intention behind this was to avoid repetition of a previously used idea. The new team obviously thought that this was a concept worth revisiting, and enough time had elapsed since it was last employed.
The story which Lucarotti submitted involved alien spores infesting a space ark, which would accumulate into large balls. Their heads floated around on discs (not unlike what Terry Gilliam later had in his Baron Munchausen film with the King and Queen of the Moon). Having spent very little time living in the UK, and not seeing Doctor Who for years, Lucarotti gave each episode its own title - each with the word "ball" in it - e.g. "Puffball". The Doctor would have whacked the spore-balls into space with a golf club at the conclusion. Hinchcliffe and Holmes were not at all impressed, but there was a problem as far as rewrites were concerned. Lucarotti was living on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean, and was virtually uncontactable. The decision was made to reject the scripts but, with time running out, there was no chance to offer the slot to anyone else. Holmes therefore decided to write the story himself. The BBC disliked script editors commissioning their own work, for fear of antagonising the Writers' Guild, but Hinchliffe was able to argue the case for an exception due to the time frame, the importance of this being Tom Baker's first season as the new Doctor, and the fact that Holmes was the person best placed to know the series and come up with something workable.

The Pertwee seasons had comprised a large number of six part stories, which Holmes disliked as he felt they needed a lot of padding. He advocated splitting them, narratively, into two and four episode sections. Bearing this in mind, he and Hinchcliffe discussed making two totally separate stories out of the budget for one six-parter. To save money, the main set for one of these would be reused in a third story - which would be Davis' Cyberman adventure.
Generally, each story was set up to include a small amount of filming, followed by a longer block of studio work. The length of the story determined how many days of filming was available, and how many studio days. This filming wasn't necessarily location work - it could be model filming. Previous producers had split this allocation across whole seasons, so that some stories might be entirely studio based (usually alien planets like Peladon), with the filming allocation given to another story (contemporary Earth set, or on a quarry-like planet). Apart from some visual effects filming, The Ark in Space would be an entirely studio bound four-parter, whilst its filming allocation would be given over to the Sontaran story, which was to be recorded entirely on location, and would only be two episodes long.

Whilst The Ark had dealt with the destruction of Earth in the far distant future, with the human race setting off to found a new society on another planet, Holmes' story featured an ark which was more of a lifeboat. The Earth was only temporarily uninhabitable, and the people were up in a space station in suspended animation, orbiting the planet until the time was right to recolonise. However, an alien had got on board and messed up their alarm clock, making them oversleep. The story naturally set itself up as a base-under-siege sort of tale - something which the programme hadn't done for quite a while.
Another idea which Hinchcliffe and Holmes came up with for the season was a story arc. We mentioned these not long ago, when considering the whole Pertwee era from Terror of the Autons through to Planet of the Spiders. The Season 12 arc would be much more explicit. Robot had seen the Doctor leave UNIT HQ with Sarah, and they had invited Harry Sullivan along for the ride. This story begins immediately following that one - with Harry having tampered with the controls of the TARDIS to send them into the far future, instead of the planned quick trip to the Moon and back. At the conclusion of the story, the Doctor would have to visit the Earth to repair the transmat for the awakening humans, and he elects to leave the TARDIS behind and use the transmat to pop down. Using the machine to get back to the Ark, he and his companions would be hijacked by the Time Lords and deposited on Skaro, to face the Daleks. Given a Time Ring to get back to the Ark and the waiting TARDIS, they would then arrive much too early, when the station was a navigation beacon. This would be the Cyberman story, at the end of which the TARDIS would be sent back through time to meet them, and there would be a message from the Brigadier summoning them back to Earth for the season's final story - the one set around Loch Ness. UNIT would therefore top and tail the season, and Harry could stay behind and become a single season companion - no longer needed as they had gone with a younger Doctor than the one originally envisaged.

When Holmes had been interviewed by the 6th Floor for his new post, he had been told about some silly writer who had once included killer policemen and murderous dolls in Doctor Who, which had caused some controversy. He was naturally bemused by this, that writer being himself. Letts and Dicks had shied away from horror elements after Terror of the Autons but Holmes loved this sort of thing, and found a kindred spirit in his new producer. Hinchcliffe wanted to aim the series at a more adult demographic, and away from it being seen as a children's show. We will be talking about Horror influences a lot over the next batch of these posts, and Holmes' particular obsession with "body-horror". The two main themes of this are mental possession, and people being physically taken over, their bodies mutating and transforming. Holmes sets out his stall early here, with the character of Noah, leader of the sleeping humans. Even before he gets bitten by a Wirrn larva, his mind has already been tampered with and a psychic link created with the insectoid interlopers. He then begins to physically as well as mentally mutate, his flesh becoming green and lumpen like the larva's. It should be noted that bubble-wrap was very new when this story was made, so at the time it looked particularly effective. Having Noah become a Wirrn also works on a dramatic level, as it gives the Doctor someone to converse and debate with.
One thing which is missing is Holmes' trademark comedic double act. Instead we get the single character of Rogin, who seems totally out of place in this society - a down to earth, bloke next door, personality surrounded by people who seem emotionally sterile.

One of the inspirations for the Wirrn is mentioned within the dialogue. They lay their eggs inside living creatures, which are then consumed by the larvae when they hatch. The Doctor refers to the Eumenes wasp. Also known as Potter or Mason wasps, because they fashion mud nests for themselves, this genus of vespidae is named after a Greek general who fought alongside Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death his generals fought a series of internecine wars and split up his kingdom. Eumenes spent his last few years under siege, which is presumably why his name came to be associated with the wasp family - he had sealed himself up. The Royal Navy frigate which Harry mentions does not exist.
Whilst he was happy with Roger Murray-Leach's designs for this story, Hinchcliffe was very disappointed with the Wirrn costumes.
It has been said that The Ark in Space can be counted as one of the inspirations for Ridley Scott's breakout movie Alien. This is due to the creature planting its young in a human host, as well as the base-under-siege format and the picking off of crew members one by one. If that is the case, then one of The Ark in Space's forebears might well be 1958's It! The Terror From Beyond Space, which is definitely an inspiration for Alien (as is Mario Bava's 1965 movie Planet of the Vampires). The former has an alien stowaway on a spacecraft, picking off crew, and includes some classic ventilation shaft action. Scott claimed he knew neither film, but give them a go and you will spot so many references. It! is free to view on dailymotion, and Vampires is on You Tube, though both have had recent Blu-ray releases.
Next time: Sontarans become Doctor Who's new Nazis, and Tom Baker is having a cracking time out on location...

Tuesday 23 October 2018

G is for... Ganatus

An adventurous young Thal, encountered by the Doctor and his companions on the planet Skaro. He was a lot more proactive than many of the more conservative members of his race, and was instrumental in getting his people to assist the time-travellers when they became trapped on the planet, after leaving a vital TARDIS component in the Dalek city. He realised that an attack could be made via the Lake of Mutations, on the far side of the city, despite having experienced the horrors which dwelt there. He led the expedition to break into the city by this dangerous route, accompanied by Ian and Barbara, and by his more timid younger brother Antodus. Ganatus was fiercely protective of Antodus, so was angered when he wanted to abandon the rest of the party and turn back. When a rockfall put an end to this plan, Ganatus was prepared to claim that his brother had actually saved him from it. Later, he witnessed Antodus' death when he fell into a chasm. The journey brought Ganatus and Barbara closer together, and he seemed to hope that she would remain with him on Skaro after the Daleks had been defeated. Barbara clearly had some affection towards him, but she left in the TARDIS with the others, after he had given her a gift of some cloth with which to make a new dress.

Played by: Philip Bond. Appearances: The Daleks (1963/4).

G is for... Games Controller

A young woman who processed all of the many TV channels operating out of the Game Station - the space station which had broadcast news 100 years before as Satellite 5. She had been installed there as a child, physically linked to the systems and living almost her entire life in the darkness of the control room at the top of the station, on Floor 500. She knew that the station was really under the control of the Daleks, and when the Doctor and his companions, Rose and Captain Jack, were brought she endeavoured to conceal them within the games.  When the broadcasts were temporarily suspended due to solar flare activity, she tried to inform the Doctor of the threat, but the Daleks transmated her away to the Emperor's command ship, where they exterminated her.

Played by: Martha Cope. Appearances: Bad Wolf (2005).
  • Martha is the daughter of actor Kenneth Cope, best known for playing the ghost detective Marty Hopkirk, in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). He featured in the 1981 Doctor Who story Warriors' Gate.

G is for... Galloway

Dan Galloway was a member of the Marine Space Corps mission to the planet of Exxilon. They had come to obtain supplies of the mineral Parrinium, which was needed to combat a terrible space plague. A bluff Scotsman, he could be devious and temperamental. His commander - Stewart - did not trust him to take over the mission on his death, but Galloway decided to keep this fact from his colleagues and took control once Stewart died from his wounds. He immediately attempted to forge an alliance with the Daleks, who had come to the planet for the same reasons. He angered his colleagues by agreeing to hand over the Doctor to the Daleks in order to obtain the mineral. Once the Daleks armed themselves with weapons which were not affected by the power drain coming from the Exxilon city, Galloway found that he was as much a prisoner as the others. He and Lt. Hamilton were despatched to climb the energy-draining beacon atop the city and plant bombs. Galloway kept one of the explosives back, and later smuggled himself aboard the Dalek ship - blowing it up, with himself still aboard, before it could fire plague missiles onto the planet.

Played by: Duncan Lamont. Appearances: Death to the Daleks (1974).
  • Lamont had played the doomed astronaut Victor Caroon in the original BBC serial of The Quatermass Experiment. 14 years later he played the drill expert Sladden in the Hammer movie version of Quatermass and the Pit.
  • He had just completed location filming on an episode of Blake's 7 - "Hostage" - when he died of a heart attack. As he had not recorded any of the studio work, the part was recast - with John Abineri, who just happened to star alongside him in this Dalek story.

G is for... Galleia

Galleia was the wife of King Dalios, and Queen of Atlantis. She was much younger than her husband, and had taken a young nobleman named Hippias as a lover. When the Master appeared in the city Galleia switched her attentions to him. He had brought back the missing High Priest Krassis, and spoke of restoring Atlantis to its former glory. The Master seduced her, and on his recommendation she sent Hippias on a reckless mission to steal the Great Crystal of Kronos from the Temple of Poseidon, where it was guarded by a Minotaur. This resulted in the young man's death. Galleia then assisted the Master in staging a coup, taking him as her new consort. When the Doctor and Jo Grant revealed that the old king had died in the palace dungeons, Galleia turned against the Master - as she had not wished her husband harmed. However, the Master released the captive Chronovore Kronos, and it destroyed Atlantis. Galleia perished in its ruins.

Played by: Ingrid Pitt. Appearances: The Time Monster (1972).
  • Pitt was an old friend of Jon Pertwee's, having worked with him on the Amicus horror anthology movie The House That Dripped Blood - both playing horror actors who become vampires. The self-styled Queen of Scream, she had appeared in a number of horror movies, including The Vampire LoversCountess Dracula and The Wicker Man.
  • She returned to Doctor Who in the Peter Davison story Warriors of the Deep, when she requested a change of roles - preferring the smaller part of villainous Dr Solow to the more substantial role of Preston. The notorious judo moves she makes on the Myrka were her own idea.
  • Just after this appearance, she and her husband Tony Rudlin submitted a story idea to the programme - "The Macros". It wasn't commissioned, though an audio version was produced by Big Finish in 2010, the year of her death.

G is for... Gadget

Gadget was the name given by its operator to the service robot which accompanied the mission to establish the first manned base on Mars - Bowie Base One. Roman Groom controlled the robot through a pair of remote control gauntlets, which meant that it would mimic his movements. Groom had also programmed it to say its name, which the Doctor found annoying. When he visited the planet on 21st November, 2059, the Doctor was captured by Gadget and taken to the base. Here, he discovered that this was the day on which it was destroyed with all hands. The cause was an infection of the crew by the water-borne Flood. When being pursued by two infected crewmen, the Doctor used his sonic screwdriver to boost Gadget's speed, so he and Captain Adelaide Brooke could outrun them. Later, when the base's spaceship had been destroyed and it looked like the Doctor might be trapped inside the complex, which was rigged to self-destruct, he gave the robot his key to the TARDIS and sent it to fetch the ship. Gadget then travelled to Earth in the TARDIS with the Doctor and the survivors. Once out of range of its control mechanisms, however, it shut itself down.

Appearances: The Waters of Mars (2009).

Sunday 21 October 2018

Rosa - A Review

The problem with the historical stories - if they were of the 'celebrity' kind - was that you knew roughly how things would work out in the end. There was no doubt that history would be kept on course in Rosa - the entertainment was in seeing how the Doctor would ensure that it went the way it should without getting too involved herself. I've known for some time that this story was in the pipeline, as the bus had been seen and photographed on location and it was recognised, as the real vehicle now resides in a museum. My big worry was that the Doctor would take too much of an active role in ensuring Parks made her protest, which would have undermined the real bravery of the real person. Luckily this was not the case, as the Doctor and her companions worked to keep history on course without Parks having any inkling of the plans to stop her.
Let's get the negatives out of the way first. Actually, there was only one real negative for me, and that was the villain, Krasno. It seems his motivation was simply that he was a racist. Having him hail from the 79th Century made this a little hard to swallow. The series has repeatedly told us that the human race will be interbreeding with all manner of aliens long before then, so Krasno's specific problem with black people just didn't sit right. He was also pretty inept, losing his equipment rather easily, and then simply being dismissed from the plot as soon as his usefulness was up. You also have to ask why he didn't simply remove Rosa from her time, or zap her friend Martin Luther King into the past. At least they came up with a reason for why he couldn't kill them.

I was much more impressed with the regulars this week - including the Doctor. I was glad to see that some of her goofiness had been reined in, as befitted the seriousness of the story's subject matter. All three companions had equal weight in the plot, with the younger two having a lovely scene by a dumpster where they discussed how things had changed for the better by their time, but there was still a lot of racism in the world. (If anything, racism is on the rise again in Europe and the USA). I particularly loved Bradley Walsh's performance, as he realised that he had become the white man for whom Parks was asked to relinquish her seat. Parks' protest arose out of inaction, rather than action, and this is what the Doctor and her companions were forced to do. They had to do nothing once they were on that bus.
Younger viewers will have missed a monster this week, but there were monsters on screen - the racist citizens of 1955 Montgomery, Alabama.
As someone who was familiar with Rosa Parks and her story, I didn't need the lecture, but I suspect that a great many people watching will have been educated by this episode. I normally don't like being preached at, but in this instance anything that can make people sit up and take notice of racism and the history of the civil rights movement is fine by me. It is rather shameful to consider that co-writer Malorie Blackman is the first writer of colour to have ever been asked to write for the programme, and still one of only a handful of women writers. Chibnall is certainly shaking things up on the diversity front, both on screen and behind the scenes, and long may he continue to do so.
Unusually, the end titles were run with the song which had accompanied the climactic bus scene, rather than the theme music. This song, Rise Up, is by Andra Day.
Overall, a powerful story which will hopefully prompt some discussion.
Next week, we are back in present day Sheffield with a story about spiders. It promises to focus more on Yas, as we get to meet her family.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Inspirations - Robot

If there is another thing that Terrance Dicks is very good at, it is telling the same stories over and over again on DVD commentaries and documentary extras. Even when the stories have nothing to do with the DVD's main feature. You can have a drinking game if you stick on any of the commentaries in which he features. Examples of when to imbibe include knowing which part of the Pertwee era we are in by the size of his bouffant; Sean Connery and his wife at the next table when meeting Terry Nation to discuss use of the Daleks; arriving on Doctor Who just as they were trying to make the Yeti sound less like flushing lavatories; monsters should be green; companions should tied to railway tracks etc, etc, etc.
One of his other oft-quoted stories is of how he invented a tradition whereby outgoing script editors were commissioned by their successor to write the next story. There is such a tradition (sort of), but Dicks did not invent it. Actually, it isn't a tradition per se - more like this situation has happened more than once in the programme's history. When David Whitaker stepped down, handing over to Dennis Spooner, he got to write The Rescue - mainly because he had been involved in sorting out Susan's replacement for a while, and him writing this story gave Spooner a little longer to get his feet under the table. Spooner then handed over to Donald Tosh, whose first story as script editor was The Time Meddler - written by Spooner. Tosh left and the job went to Gerry Davis - and Tosh was the uncredited author of The Massacre. However, he did not write the first story which is credited to Davis (The Ark). Davis handed over to Peter Bryant for Evil of the Daleks, though Davis did co-write the next story after that. Bryant never wrote any stories. Victor Pemberton did a one-off as script editor, and did get to write a story much later. Bryant's full-time successor, Derrick Sherwin,  rewrote almost all of his stories, though not always credited, so the tradition had pretty much died out by now. Dicks took over from Sherwin, and he may have read up on the Whitaker - Spooner - Tosh days when he claims to have told Robert Holmes of the practice.
Anyway, this is a rather long-winded way of saying that on leaving the post of script editor, Terrance Dicks wrote the very next story - Robot.

It is a time of change in the production office. Holmes has been script editing uncredited for a while now, and Philip Hinchcliffe has been shadowing Barry Letts for some time as new producer - an interim project having fallen through. This is Letts' final story as producer, and it retains a Pertwee vibe throughout. Even though it stars the newest Doctor, Tom Baker. The vibe is mainly down to the UNIT setting. We didn't know it at the time, but there would only be one more story featuring the Brigadier and Benton, which was originally supposed to close this 12th Season.
You are no doubt well aware of the circumstances by which Baker came to play the 4th Doctor. After critical success with the National Theatre and film work with the likes of Pier Paolo Pasolini, his career had taken a downturn and he was working on a building site in Ebury Street, Pimlico, whilst living in a bedsit. Depressed one evening, he wrote to one of Barry Letts' superiors at the BBC in search of work. His performance as the villain in the latest Ray Harryhausen Sinbad film was in the cinemas at the time, so Letts and Dicks went off to a matinee to see the actor who had been recommended to them. They loved what they saw. Other actors under consideration at the time included Graham Crowden (who did not want to commit to more than a year), Ron Moody (the favourite choice); Michael Bentine (who wanted too much script involvement), Fulton McKay (who decided to do sitcom Porridge instead, which made him a household name), plus a few more who proved uninterested or unavailable (Michael Hordern, Brian Blessed etc). Another favourite was Richard Hearne, who had played a doddering but wily old character named Mr Pastry in a number of B-grade feature films (including one with William Hartnell as a nasty milkman, which I just happened to catch on the Talking Pictures channel recently). Hearne was doddery in real life by this point, and thought they wanted him to play the Doctor as Mr Pastry. Suspecting that the next Doctor would be a much older actor playing the part like the First Doctor, Letts decided to introduce a new male companion, who would be able to handle the physical stuff - like fisticuffs and other stunts. Ian Marter had been in the frame to play Captain Mike Yates back in 1970, until he realised the part was going to be an on-going one. He had been cast by Letts as Lt. Andrews in Carnival of Monsters, and the producer returned to him for Lt-Surgeon Harry Sullivan, new medical officer attached to UNIT who was to oversee the Doctor's recovery from regeneration. Marter was now willing to accept a recurring part.

While all this was going on, Lis Sladen was convinced that her days on the show were numbered - thinking the new producer would want to cast his own new companion. Production on Robot got underway concurrently with that on Planet of the Spiders, so Sladen was doing location work on the new story at the same time she was doing studio work on the Pertwee finale. Baker had recorded his regeneration scene during the first studio block for Spiders.
For his main inspiration, Dicks looked to that classic movie King Kong. This was released in 1933, produced and directed by Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack. The stop-motion animation was by the great Willis O'Brien - the man who had inspired Ray Harryhausen. Nice twist. If it hadn't been for King Kong, Tom Baker might not have had a movie on release for Letts and Dicks to go see that fateful lunchtime... Kong is a huge gorilla, who lives on the dinosaur-riddled tropical Skull Island where he is revered by the natives as a deity. A bunch of Hollywood movie-makers visit the island and their starlet, played by Fay Wray, is captured by the beast. Rather than eat her, he becomes quite smitten by her. The parallel with Beauty and the Beast is made explicit when the film director character states at the conclusion that it was "beauty that killed the beast...", after Kong has gone on the rampage in New York, carrying Fay Wray to the top of the Empire State Building whence he has been shot down by air force biplanes.
In Robot, we have a, er, robot, instead of a gorilla. He's the K1 - standing for Kettlewell 1. This is a prototype, designed for hazardous work. In Episode 4 he is shot with a disintegrator gun, which causes him to absorb the energy and grow to massive size. He has already formed an attachment to Sarah, after she felt sorry for him when he was ordered to do something which went against his programming. Once enlarged, he picks up Sarah, as Kong did with Fay, and deposits her on top of a building when under attack by the military.

Professor Kettlewell is played by Edward Burnham, and he had already featured as a slightly less eccentric scientist in the series. He was Professor Watkins in the Patrick Troughton Cyberman story The Invasion. Another Cyber-connection is Michael Kilgarrif, who is inside the marvelous K1 costume, designed by James Acheson. He had previously featured as the Cyber-Controller in Tomb of the Cybermen, cast because of his height. Burnham elected to play Kettlewell full-blown eccentric, deliberately fluffing up his hair - inspired by images of Albert Einstein. Einstein actually suffered from a rare condition known today as Uncombable Hair Syndrome, which results from a genetic mutation.
Mention of costume designer James Acheson brings us to the Fourth Doctor's costume. The principal inspiration was a famous poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec of the dancer and cabaret singer Aristide Bruant, advertising his cabaret at the Ambassadeurs nightclub. Bruant is seen with a wide-brimmed hat and a large scarf wrapped round his neck. Acheson gave a quantity of wool in different colours to a lady by the name of Begonia Pope to knit a scarf for Baker. Not understanding the instructions to experiment with different, more manageable, designs, she knitted it all into a single scarf - and a legend was born. It was actually much longer, and had to be cut down.

The basic plot is that a fascistic group called the Scientific Reform Society want to blackmail the planet into conforming to their ideals through nuclear blackmail. Their leaders work for the research group where Kettlewell developed his robot, and they have reprogrammed it to ignore its prime directive so that it will steal and kill for them. Back when Colony in Space was being developed, it was vetoed that one of the villains should be a woman. The leader of the SRS is the research group's director - a woman named Miss Winters. A certain niche of fan-fiction writers have had all sorts of fun with her Sapphic prison-based exploits... Dicks was never quite on board with female emancipation - see the bit about companions supposed to be tied to railway tracks above - so he has some fun with Sarah assuming Miss Winters' male underling - Jellicoe - is the one in charge.
The SRS seems to be a development of the Operation Golden Age group we saw back in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. They are another militant ecological group, but with added fascism. Dicks was presumably inspired by the work of his ex-landlord and mentor Malcolm Hulke in devising them. At the time he was still trying to make amends with Hulke after he withdrew himself from the programme in protest over the handling of Episode One of the dinosaur story. We can see that they might be a continuation of Operation Golden Age because the bloke from the fake spaceship, who was complaining about having sold his house to go to a new planet, seems to be working the door at the SRS's HQ. He takes offence at Sarah's wearing of trousers - on the basis that they are not very practical. This seems rather odd, as I would have thought trousers the most practical thing for both genders* to wear. I say this with authority, as someone who frequently sports a kilt.
(* Other genders are available).

Jellicoe is the one who has been altering the robot's circuits, on Miss Winters' orders. This brings us to the renowned Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov, and his Three Laws of Robotics. These are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to be harmed.
2. A robot must obey the orders of any human being, except where those orders conflict with the first law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.

The Doctor knows his Asimov, and deduces that Kettlewell is really part of the conspiracy - as only he could have shown Jellicoe how to make his adjustments.
Later in the story, the robot shoots his creator with the disintegrator gun, causing it to have a bit of a me(n)tal breakdown. The Doctor mentions it having an Oedipus Complex. This comes from that well-known Austro-Hampsteadian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who posited that a child has a desire for its opposite sex parent, and a jealousy towards its same sex parent. Around 429 BC Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus - abandoned as a baby and oblivious to his regal parentage - inadvertently sleeps with his mother and kills his father. This play gave us the well known 'Riddle of the Sphinx': What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? The answer is, of course, us - walking on all fours as a baby, upright on two legs as adults, and leaning on a stick in old age. Oedipus Rex was filmed in 1967 - by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Oh, the synchronicity...
Anyhow, the Doctor makes a bucket of anti-robot metal sludge, and throws it over its foot. It shrinks and dies. The End. Harry Sullivan gets invited on a trip in the TARDIS - but the new producer has other ideas...
One final bit of synchronicity ('Coincidence' for conspiracy theorists): the location for all this giant robot action is the same place where they filmed Jon Pertwee's first story, after it had been struck by industrial action - so Barry Letts ends up back where he started when he was shadowing Derrick Sherwin very briefly at the beginning, back in 1969.
Letts isn't praised enough. This was the man who saved the programme when it was collapsing in the ratings. He took Doctor Who into colour, and realised the opportunities that CSO could afford. The UNIT Family came into being on his watch. He introduced the Master, and cast the brilliant Roger Delgado in the role. Axons and Azal. Omega and Ogrons. Silurians and Sea Devils. Draconians and Drashigs. He cast Katy Manning as Jo. He cast Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. And he cast Tom Baker as the Doctor. Russell T Davies?, Steven Moffat?, Chris Chibnall? - they're all still in the nursery...
Next time: Hinchcliffe & Holmes. One Golden Age may have ended, but the ending has been prepared for...

Tuesday 16 October 2018

F is for... Futurekind

A degenerate branch of the human race, who were able to survive until the end of the universe. A savage people, they decorated their flesh with tattoos and piercings. Having reverted to cannibalism generations ago, their teeth were now sharp fangs. A small band inhabited the planet of Malcassairo. They hunted for stragglers in the wastelands near to the silo where the last humans were sheltering, preparing to take a rocket flight to a place known as "Utopia", where the only other known people were. Not all the Futurekind had tattoos and piercings, so anyone arriving at the silo had their teeth checked before being given admittance. One of them managed to sneak in, however, and she sabotaged the rocket preparations. The Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack Harkness assisted Professor Yana with the repairs, and the vessel took off. yana turned out to be the Master, his personality hidden for many years by a chameleon arch. Once his true nature was unleashed, he unlocked the silo gates to admit the Futurekind before stealing the TARDIS - leaving the Doctor and his companions at the mercy of the creatures. They escaped at the last minute using Jack's Vortex Manipulator - leaving the Futurekind alone on the planet. Presumably they would have turned on themselves, if they did not already do this.

Played by: Paul Marc Davies (leader) and Abigail Canton (female Futurekind). Appearances: Utopia (2007).
  • Davies played the Trickster in three stories of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and was also seen as Corakinus, king of the Shadowkin, in Class. Added to that an appearance as a cowled figure in the Torchwood episode Exit Wounds, he is the only actor to have appeared in all of the Doctor Who related series, discounting the regular monster performers.

F is for... Fungoids

A species of hostile plant-life on the planet Mechanus, the Fungoids had the appearance of giant mushrooms or toadstools. Carnivorous, they were able to move around and ensnared their prey by smothering them with their hoods. They were sensitive to bright light, which caused them to retreat. The Doctor's companion Vicki almost became a victim when she found herself alone in the jungle. Later, they attempted to trap a Dalek. It was Ian Chesterton who gave the creatures their name.

Another hostile plant-form, also known as a Fungoid, was native to the planet Spiridon. These plants could not move, but they spat out a thick green liquid which formed a dense vegetable mass. A number of them smothered the TARDIS exterior, cutting off the air supply to the Doctor who was trapped within. On contact with humans or animals, the secretion caused a fungal infection which, if left untreated, engulfed their victims.

Appearances: The Chase (1965), Planet of the Daleks (1973).
  • Both stories being written by Terry Nation, he must have really liked the name. Then again, Planet of the Daleks is a bit of a Nation-Dalek greatest hits show.

F is for... Functionaries

A servant class on the planet Inter Minor, of a different, though related, species to the dominant humanoid lifeform. They had grey hairless skin, and dressed in grey identical uniforms.
Though treated like slaves, they did have some rights - such as obligatory rest periods from their duties, such as manning the Eradicator Gun. There was some dissent amongst them, which had alarmed the government of President Zarb. he believed the cause to be from lack of diversion, and so permitted the lifting of an embargo on alien visitors which had been in place since a deadly space plague had ravaged the planet. The first to be admitted were a pair of Lurman entertainers, who witnessed one of the Functionaries ascending to a level of the space port from which they were banned, and begin to make a speech to its colleagues. It was shot down by the Official Kalik.

Appearances: Carnival of Monsters (1973).
  • The Functionary who gets shot is played by - who else? - stuntman Stuart Fell.

F is for... Frobisher

John Frobisher was the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, who was called upon to deal with the 456 crisis. These were a race of alien creatures who had visited the UK in the 1950's, when they had forced the government of the day to hand over a number of children to them. Captain Jack Harkness had been involved in this operation. In 2009, the 456 made contact once again, by which time Frobisher was the government liaison with Torchwood 3. He was ordered to cover up the government's previous involvement with the aliens, by any means necessary. This meant that those who were still alive were hunted down by a special forces assassination team. Captain Jack had an explosive planted inside his body, which destroyed the Cardiff Hub when it detonated. Frobisher was then made ambassador to the 456, instructed to prepare for their arrival. He was given instructions on building a huge atmosphere chamber for their delegate, who was beamed down from space. This time the 456 wanted millions of children, as they had become addicted to chemicals produced by human youngsters. Frobisher realised that he would be made a scapegoat by the government for this, and when he found out that his own daughters were not exempt from the selection process he elected to kill them, and then himself. Had he waited just a little longer his children would have been safe, as Jack was able to expel the creatures, though at the cost of his own grandson.

Played by: Peter Capaldi. Appearances: Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009).
  • Life-long fan Capaldi had guest starred the year before in Doctor Who as Caecilius in The Fires of Pompeii. He then went on to play the 12th Doctor, like you didn't know already.

F is for... Frazer, Colin

Colin Frazer was the cousin of Tegan Jovanka. After being left behind at Heathrow Airport, she had subsequently lost her job, and so to cheer herself up she arranged to meet Colin in Amsterdam, as he backpacked around Europe with a friend named Robin. Prior to her arrival, Colin lost his passport. Worried about the authorities, Robin persuaded him that they could stay overnight in the crypt of an old city mansion. They were awoken in the night by the arrival of a TARDIS, that of the Gallifreyan Omega. Colin was captured by Omega's servant, the Ergon, and mentally enslaved to assist the creature in preparing for Omega's escape from the universe of anti-matter. Later, Tegan was reunited with him when she too was captured. Colin was freed after Omega's ship had been wrecked by the Doctor's sabotage, and the Ergon destroyed.

Played by: Alastair Cumming. Appearances: Arc of Infinity (1983).
  • There was a long-standing myth among fans that Alastair was the son of director Fiona Cumming, who worked on the series during the Peter Davison era. Not so.

F is for... Frax

Sadistic chief of security in the Mentor lair on Thoros-Beta. He arrested the Doctor and Peri soon after they arrived, when he found them standing over the body of the Raak. This was a genetically enhanced sea creature which had attacked them, though Frax suspected they had attacked it first. He later succeeded in preventing a revolt when he recaptured Peri, along with King Yrcanos and a young Thoros-Alphan named Tuza. The uprising occurred anyway when the machine controlling the slave workers was destroyed. Frax was killed by Yrcanos when he attacked the scientist Crozier's laboratory, where the Mentor ruler Kiv's mind had been transferred into Peri's body.

Played by: Trevor Laird. Appearances: Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 5 - 8) AKA Mindwarp (1986).
  • Laird returned to the programme in 2007 when he played Clive, the father of Martha Jones.

Monday 15 October 2018

Episodes 3 - 6 Synopses

If you've read my reviews for Series 11 so far, then you'll know that I am taking a little time warming to the new set up. We now have brief synopses of the next four episodes, and I must admit that they do look intriguing. We already know a little about Episode 3 - Rosa - as we have seen the trailer. It is centred around Rosa Parks and events in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, and involves a man played by Josh Bowman out to change history. Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall co-write.

I'm particularly looking forward, despite being a terrible arachnophobe, to the fourth episode as it is all about spiders and is set back in present day Sheffield. It looks like Yaz is going to get some attention as her family is mentioned. The story is called Arachnids In The UK, and is written by Chibnall. The image above suggests that it might have something to do with genetic engineering of our 8-legged friends.

Episode 5 sees us back on an alien planet. It's called The Tsuranga Conundrum and it's also written by Chibnall. The synopsis states that the Doctor and her companions are injured and stranded in a far-flung galaxy, and have to band together with a group of strangers against an unusual and deadly creature.

Demons of the Punjab fills the sixth slot. Another historical story, it is set in the Punjab in 1947 - the time of independence and partition. The synopsis mentions Yaz's grandmother, and the Doctor discovering there are demons in the region. The writer for this one is Vinay Patel.
Interesting that two of the three known-of history-based stories should focus on more recent events (the third being the one with King James VI and I, so it's either going to be about the Gunpowder Plot or witches).
I might actually be starting to get excited about Series 11...

Sunday 14 October 2018

The Ghost Monument - A Review

This week's episode was about a journey - and that's what the new series is on. It is heading somewhere, but is not there yet. Things are starting to fall into place after the relatively low key opener. We've now heard and seen the new theme tune arrangement and title sequence, and the TARDIS has been retrieved. The four travellers had the opportunity to bond a little on their journey, but we still don't really know them.
I have a sneaking suspicion that come Episode 10, the show-runner might be regarded as the weakest of the writers - something you could never say of his two predecessors.
Before I talk about the plot, a word about the items above. First of all, I very much like the new title sequence. It has definite hints of the howlround of the Hartnell era. The music I have yet to warm to. Maybe it's just my TV set, but it sounded a little murky, as though two different arrangements were competing with each other. New arrangements of the theme always do little for me initially, but some versions have come to grow on me over time.
The new TARDIS console room we haven't seen properly yet. I am assuming it isn't always going to be as dark as this. I have read somewhere that the crystal buttresses light up, so we may have to wait until next week to see it in flight to get the full effect. Nice to see the old "You've redecorated" joke pulled out again - though this time it is the Doctor talking to the TARDIS itself, and she does like it. I definitely don't like the little spinning plastic police box model, though you can never argue with a custard creams dispenser.
I think it was a mistake to let on so early that the ship was the titular "Ghost Monument" - I would have preferred to have worked that out for myself.

As for the companions, well Yaz has still to be given anything to do for the second week running. Hopefully she will get to take the lead in one of the next couple of episodes. I was impressed with Graham last week, but here he was just annoyed and moaning about everything. Ryan got one stand out moment when he charged off with a gun - leading to a preachy bit from the Doctor. There's a lot in the news about young men dying violent deaths in London, so this was Chibnall trying to be topical.
The Doctor being preachy is a problem at the moment. We still haven't really seen just what the character of the new Doctor is. She either cracks one-liners, similar to Tennant or Smith, or gives little motivational soundbites. To me, these do not equal fully rounded character.
As for the storyline, well it was pretty straightforward. The Doctor and companions were picked up from deep space by a pair of spaceship pilots who are on the final leg of a race. It was really obvious from the outset that both of the pilots - Angstrom and Epzo - would get joint first place in the contest. To get to the prize, everyone had to traverse a hostile alien environment. Now, it looked wonderful - being shot around South Africa. But the threats were very weak. The water is full of flesh eating bacteria, but this is something we are told about rather than shown, and hey, there is a boat to take them across the sea anyway. The vessel doesn't even run out of fuel or start to sink, so zero jeopardy.
We then get to the most rubbishy robots in the series' history. They are supposedly Sniper-Bots, but they are incapable to hitting anything. Fortunately they don't overstay their welcome.
The mystery of the planet could have been made more of. Why was it not where it was supposed to be? The idea of an entire planet being turned into one huge weapons laboratory should have been a story in itself. We then get a second monster, and I'm afraid it didn't work for me at all. Bits of animated cloth. Chibnall has had his whole life to devise great new aliens and monsters, so we have to be disappointed. Besides, MR James did spooky animated cloth far more effectively 114 years ago.
So, everyone gets to where they were going with not quite enough incident. Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch were worthwhile guest starts, but Art Malik was woefully underused, just bookending proceedings on the planet and his character, Ilin, giving in too easily at the end. His story, and that of the race, might have made for a story in its own right as well.
We were told that there wasn't going to be any story arc this year, and yet the rag monsters seemed to strike a worry in the Doctor with the mention of a "timeless child" and an outcast. It also turns out that the people responsible for turning Desolation into a desolation, and who had attacked Angstrom's world, were the Stenza - Doctor Who's answer to Star Trek: Voyager's Hirogen whom we met last week.
From what we can gather, next week sees a visit into the past, as someone is trying to change history - the bloke who looks like he's stepped off the set of Grease meddling with Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. As Jodie Whittaker mentioned in interviews trouble with technobabble, including "Vortex Manipulator", then this guy might be a Time Agent. It's by one of the new writers, so we will see if they can come up with something a little more challenging than what Chibnall has so far delivered. That jury I mentioned last week? Still out.

Friday 12 October 2018

Inspirations - Planet of the Spiders

Back in the 1990's, genre TV shows began to work to season-long story arcs. Sometimes - such as with The X-Files - it was a series-long arc. Previously, series were comprised of stand alone episodes which could be shown in any order when sold to other broadcasters. When Russell T Davies was called upon to bring back Doctor Who, he looked to some favourite American series (such as Buffy) and decided that the revamped show would have an arc. Most people know that Doctor Who has had story arcs before - namely the Key to Time season. You could argue that the entire run of stories from An Unearthly Child to The Chase is one long story arc - the quest to get Ian and Barbara back home to London.
There is one other arc which is often overlooked, and that is the Pertwee Era story arc, which reaches its conclusion in Planet of the Spiders. It's less noticeable because it is made up of smaller character arcs - Jo Grant's. Mike Yates' and the Doctor's. We've already talked about how Jo grew as a character, starting with her being hypnotised by the Master and ending up being able to resist him, or how she wrecked the Doctor's experiment when she first met him, to doing something similar to Prof Clifford Jones, who will become a new attainable Doctor-figure for the more mature Jo. her story ends here, as she returns the wedding present which the Doctor gave her - the blue crystal from Metebelis III. This planet formed part of the Doctor's arc. He wanted to go there as soon as his exile was ended, which began with his first story. He finally got there in The Green Death, and now that visit is gong to have deadly consequences. Back in The Time Monster, when locked in a cell with Jo, he told her the story of his wise old guru back on Gallifrey. In this final story of the Third Doctor's run, we get to meet that old man. It is never explicitly stated, but we can be pretty sure that the Buddhist lama K'anpo Rimpoche is the Time Lord who pointed out the daisyest daisy to him.
The Green Death had also seen Mike Yates sent under cover into Global Chemicals, where he was brainwashed into assassinating the Doctor and turning a gun on his commanding officer. Cured by the blue crystal he went on sick leave, which is when he fell under the spell of Operation Golden Age, who turned him into a full blown traitor. This story picks, and concludes, up his arc, as he has gone to a meditation centre in the countryside to sort himself out - a centre which just happens to be run by the Doctor's old guru. And he's there just as the rulers of Metebelis III decide they want their crystal back, and burnt out executives are just the people they need to get to Earth.

Back in 1969, when it was decided that Doctor Who should be retooled for the 1970's, with the Doctor exiled to Earth and working for a military organisation, the TV series Quatermass was often mentioned as an inspiration. We've already seen how Spearhead From Space borrows heavily from Quatermass II, and seen elements of Quatermass and the Pit in The Silurians and The Daemons. Nigel Kneale famously declined the offer to write for the programme as he claimed that he saw his work on screen every time he watched an episode. Well, Planet of the Spiders also borrows from Quatermass and the Pit in its opening episode. The Professor helps paleontologist Dr Roney to complete a machine he was working on - a method of visualising what the wearer is thinking. When Roney's assistant puts the headset on, she sees the Martian locusts wiping each other out. Later, it transpires that a significant percentage of the population have latent ESP abilities.
Planet of the Spiders begins, as far as the Doctor is concerned, with a trip to see a stage mind-reader, Prof. Clegg. The Doctor has worked out that the man is not faking it, he really has paranormal abilities. When called upon to visit UNIT HQ, the Doctor has him linked up to his IRIS machine - which is exactly the same as the Quatermass device -  a headset linked to a TV monitor. When given the sonic screwdriver to handle, Clegg sees Drashigs (despite that particular screwdriver being left behind in the lunar penal colony). When given a parcel which has arrived from South America, sent by Jo, the Professor sees spiders then promptly dies. This is because his handling of the package has coincided with the giant spiders of Metebelis III making psychic contact with a group of men who are staying at Mike Yates' Buddhist retreat. The Prof's death also sees the Doctor's lab struck by a telepathic whirlwind - just as we saw in the Quatermass story as people fell under the Martians' sway.

The group's leader is a man named Lupton, who must have one of the most mundane motivations ever for any Doctor Who villain. He is a jaded businessman who was forced out of his job by younger up-and-coming rivals, and he has a big chip on his shoulder about it. (He'll shortly get a big spider on his shoulder to go with that chip...). He doesn't start out wanting to world domination or to rule the cosmos. He just wants to kick back at a society that does not value experience.
The link between the meditation centre and UNIT HQ is Sarah Jane Smith. Mike has called her in to investigate what Lupton and his circle are doing, as he is too ashamed to contact his old boss in person. Sarah meets one of the Tibetan monks who run the centre- Cho-Je. We'll come back to him later.
Lupton has one of the Metebelis spiders join with him, merging invisibly onto his back and giving him some of its powers. He is sent to UNIT HQ to steal the blue crystal.
The inspiration for the second episode is basically Jon Pertwee himself. It is one extended chase sequence, employing a variety of vehicles on land, sea and air. As this was Pertwee's last story, Barry Letts decided to indulge his star. As well as "Bessie" we have another appearance by what is commonly known as the "Whomobile", which has been completed since its first outing in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, when it sported a temporary hood. The gyrocopter had been spotted by Pertwee and Letts during the location filming on The Daemons, and noted down for potential future use. We also get one man hovercraft and a speedboat.

Before we proceed any further, we should step back a bit and look at how this story came about. It is a season finale, so once again Robert Sloman has been called upon to write it, with input from Barry Letts. The year before, it had been intended that this slot would be filled by a story which would have written the Master out of the series, as Roger Delgado was finding that producers and directors were assuming that he was working on Doctor Who full time, and so unavailable for other work. Offered the choice of leaving with the door ajar for possible later appearances, or being killed off, Delgado chose the latter. A rough idea had been for the Master to die saving the Doctor's life and averting universal catastrophe. As it was, Delgado died in a car accident in Turkey on his way to a film location. Sloman and Letts therefore had to come up with another scenario. As the giant maggots had proved very popular with the audience in The Green Death, Sloman opted to include another of his pet phobias - spiders. A quick on-line search finds that Arachnophobia is the UK's fifth most common phobia, and the 8th globally. Surprisingly, more people are afraid of snakes in the UK than spiders, despite there not being that many snakes to be found in this country, with only one variety being poisonous. Worldwide, more people are afraid of dogs than they are of spiders. (Britain's top phobia is acrophobia - the fear of heights, whilst the worldwide top fear is of germs - mysophobia).
The Buddhist elements in the plot come from Letts, as he was a practitioner of this religion / philosophy. Not only do we have the meditation centre, run by (apparently) Tibetan monks, the spiders themselves represent greed and selfishness, with their Great One being the embodiment of Ego. The Doctor is brought down by his own selfishness and ego - his determination to explore and learn new experiences having taken him to Metebelis III, where he obtained one of the blue crystals.
When interviewed later, Letts made sure everyone knew that the whole story was intended as a Buddhist parable.

From Part Three onward, the story splits between events at the meditation centre and events on Metebelis III in the far future, after Sarah is accidentally transported there on following Lupton. The Doctor takes to the TARDIS and goes after her. There have been a couple of mentions recently about the ship's telepathic abilities, and here the Doctor tells Mike that he just sets the general destination, and the TARDIS selects the precise landing point. We have seen Earth colonies before in the series, and this one appears to have been inspired by Hispanic culture. The architecture suggests this, along with the big Zapata moustaches worn by most of the villagers. The Doctor becomes the Man With No Name, turning up to help free the terrified peasants from their oppressors.
Back on Earth we have the character of Tommy, who has a learning disability and who does odd jobs around the centre. Exposure to the crystal, which he has purloined, causes him to be "cured" of his condition. He's quite literally enlightened. Later, his inherent innocence, having lived a sheltered life away from society's evils and temptations, will make him impervious to the spiders' attack.
The Doctor finally gets to meet K'anpo, and recognises who he is. His old guru advises him once again - prompting him to acknowledge his greed for knowledge and experience. This very egotistical Doctor must return to Metebelis and confront that monstrous ego, the Great One. This is a vast spider, who lives in a cavern where she is building a web from the crystals, which she hopes will allow her to mentally enslave the whole universe. The web is generating lethal radiation, however, so the Doctor is making the supreme sacrifice in going there. The Great One declines to heed his warnings that the web will destroy her, and the Doctor flees back to Earth, dying.

He takes a few weeks to get there, from the perspective of Sarah and the Brigadier. When he does turn up, the TARDIS having brought him home, he collapses on the point of death. However, we have just seen that Cho-Je was really a projection of K'anpo's future regeneration. He turns up and gives the Doctor's own regeneration a little push, and Perwee becomes Tom Baker. This was the first time that the process of regeneration was actually referred to as such.
Tom Baker came in to film his scene early in the story's production, and he was making his debut story at the same time that this was being recorded. Lis Sladen had to run between shoots, often forgetting which story she was on. Script Editor Terrance Dicks handed over officially to Robert Holmes at this point, so that he could be credited with writing Robot, and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe had another project fall through, so that he ended up shadowing the outgoing producer for far longer than Letts had been allowed when he took over.
Next time: Asimov meets King Kong. It's a new Doctor, but it still looks and feels like a Pertwee era story...