Sunday 30 December 2018

G is for... Ghostmaker

A mysterious being whose origins are obscure, the Ghostmaker was the leader of a travelling fairground troupe known as the Night Circus, as they only ever performed after dark. They arrived unnoticed, and left just as mysteriously. In their wake they left a trail of missing people, all of whom had visited their sideshow entertainments. In the 1920's Captain Jack Harkness had investigated them, and even joined them for a time as "The Man Who Couldn't Die". They vanished for decades, but one night a young film buff discovered an old reel of film which contained footage of the troupe. The Night Circus were able to emerge from the celluloid onto the streets of present day Cardiff, and the Ghostmaker began to harvest people's life-force - leaving them comatose and dehydrated. He kept their spirits in a small silver flask. When he tried to attack Owen Harper, he was shocked to find that the Torchwood medic had no life to take, having recently been brought back from the dead.
Jack decided to use a film camera to recapture the Ghostmaker and his kin - destroying them when the film was then exposed to the light. However, the troupe lived on in other old film reels of their earlier appearances...

Played by: Julian Bleach. Appearances: TW 2.10 From Out of the Rain (2008).
  • Bleach is one of the few actors to have guested in Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. In the former he has played Davros since The Stolen Earth, and in the latter he played the Nightmare Man.

G is for... Ghost, The

One Christmas Eve, a young New Yorker named Grant discovered the Doctor hanging outside his bedroom window. He helped him inside then joined him on the roof of the apartment block where the Doctor was trying to construct a device which would negate the temporal anomalies which surrounded the city. It was to be powered by a rare alien crystal, said to have the power to give people what they wished for. Due to a misunderstanding, Grant swallowed the crystal - thinking it was medicine for his cold. As he was a huge comic-book superheroes fan, Grant suddenly found that he had super powers of his own - like the ability to fly. The Doctor advised that he keep his new talents secret and try to live a normal life, and he checked in on him over the years.
However, whilst investigating alien activity at the city's Harmony Shoals organisation in 2016, the Doctor discovered that New York had a masked superhero protector, known as The Ghost. This turned out to be Grant. By day, he worked as a nanny for a news reporter named Lucy, who was also investigating the company. He was secretly in love with Lucy, and felt responsible for having introduced her to her now absentee husband. The Harmony Shoals aliens were transplanting their brains into other bodies, and decided that The Ghost's would make an ideal receptacle for one of their kind. They held Lucy hostage in order for him to give up his body to them, but the Doctor triggered their plan to crash a spaceship onto the city prematurely. In order to stop it crashing, Grant had to reveal his true identity to Lucy, and she then learned of his feelings towards her.
Grant decided to hang up his cape and mask and settle down with Lucy and her baby, whilst the Doctor assured him that the planet already had a protector - himself.

Played by: Justin Chatwin. Appearances: The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016).
  • Chatwin's big break came when he played Tom Cruise's son in Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of War of the Worlds.

G is for... Gharman

Gharman was a member of the Kaled race. He was a senior member of the scientific-military elite section established by the scientist Davros in a bunker close to the Kaleds' domed city. He was with Davros when he first tested his Mark Three Travel Machine - the armoured shell which was designed to contain the creatures into which the Kaleds would ultimately evolve, following exposure to centuries of nuclear and chemical warfare. Davros would later name this combination of Kaled mutant and machine a Dalek - an anagram of their race name. Gharman became concerned about changes which Davros planned to introduce into the Daleks, particularly chromosomal alterations that would see them become creatures without pity or remorse. He began consulting secretly with others amongst the elite who shared his concerns. Davros' henchman Nyder learned of this plot and had Gharman arrested. He managed to escape and set about organising resistance to Davros - demanding he made the Daleks less belligerent. The majority of the elite flocked to his side, but Davros was merely waiting for his enemies to show themselves. During a meeting, he had the Daleks attack and exterminate the rebels, including Gharman.

Played by: Dennis Chinnnery. Appearances: Genesis of the Daleks (1975).
  • This wasn't Chinnery's first encounter with the Daleks. In 1965 he had played Albert C Richardson, First Mate on the Mary Celeste, whose crew leapt overboard following a visit by a Dalek squad, in The Chase.
  • He returned to Doctor Who in 1984, to play Professor Sylvest in The Twin Dilemma.

G is for... George

A young boy growing up on a council estate, George had a number of fears and phobias. These were so strong that they sent a message which was picked up by the Doctor's psychic paper even though the TARDIS was in flight through the Vortex. He, Amy and Rory arrived on the estate and tracked the boy down to his flat, where he lived with his mother and father. The family was in debt, and being bullied by their landlord. Dad Alex was thinking about getting help for his son, and believed that the Doctor had come from Social Services to help out. George had been taught to imagine his fears banished to the wardrobe in his bedroom. When Amy and Rory became the subjects of his worries, they suddenly found themselves in an old mansion. This proved to be a doll's house which sat in the wardrobe. Other people who frightened him were also deposited here, where they were transformed into Victorian peg-dolls. When he thought that the Doctor and Alex were going to send him away, they too were sent to the doll's house. Left all alone, George was then himself transported to the house. It was only when Alex told him that he would never be abandoned did George release his fears - and all the doll's house occupants were returned to normal.
The Doctor had worked out that George's mother, Claire, could not have been pregnant immediately prior to his birth and so guessed the truth about the child. He was really an alien Tenza - a race who place their children, cuckoo-style, for others to rear. George had generated a perception filter on his parents' memories to make them believe that he had been born to them. George's fear of rejection had caused all the problems in the household. Now that Alex knew the truth, but still accepted him as their son, George's fears evaporated and he became like a normal child - though the Doctor advised Alex that he might have to call back when he entered his teenage years.

Played by: Jamie Oram. Appearances: Night Terrors (2011).

Thursday 27 December 2018

Inspirations - Pyramids of Mars

The writer credited on screen for Pyramids of Mars is Stephen Harris. You won't find anything else credited to him, as he doesn't exist. The name is actually a pseudonym for Robert Holmes and Lewis Griefer. However, what you are watching when you sit down to view this story is 100% Holmes.
Griefer was commissioned to write a story with an Egyptian theme, and what he came up with was set in the present day and involved UNIT. The plot revolved around ancient Martian seeds stored in the British Museum, which the villain of the piece wanted to use to reseed the Red Planet. Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe were not happy with the first draft and requested changes. Some further drafts were submitted but then Griefer got a job overseas and was unable to carry out any further work on the story. Holmes then decided to carry out a Page One Rewrite, retaining only the title.
For inspiration, he looked to classic horror movies - which were in turn inspired by literary works and by a famous archaeological discovery. We also have elements from a Terry Nation Dalek story, which was one of the first scripts which Holmes story-edited.

In 1903 Dracula author Bram Stoker had published The Jewel of the Seven Stars. This was a tale about an archaeologist who breaks into the tomb of an Egyptian Queen who was a practitioner of the Black Arts. At the same time that he and his colleagues enter the tomb, his wife dies in childbirth back in London, leaving him with a baby daughter. 16 years later, the Queen's spirit, which has been inhabiting a mummified cat at the archaeologist's home, is ready to be reincarnated in the daughter's body. Stoker revised the story in 1912, to give it a happier ending. As well as a TV adaptation as part of the Mystery and Imagination series in 1970, the story formed the basis for Hammer's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971), and the Charlton Heston movie The Awakening (1980).
Stoker was deeply interested in Egyptology and carried out rigorous research. Egyptologist Flinders Petrie is mentioned in the text, and all the artifacts described are accurate.
The first craze for Egypt and all things Egyptian had taken place back in the early years of the 19th Century, when Napoleon Bonaparte had taken an army of archaeologists with him on his Nile campaign. French Empire style contains many Egyptian motifs.
The next big bout of Egyptomania began in November 1922, when Howard Carter discovered the untouched tomb of the "Boy King" Tutankhamun. Carter's expedition was financed by Lord Carnarvon, who frequently wintered in Cairo following a serious motoring accident. Carnarvon was about to pull the plug on Carter when a set of stone steps were uncovered in an obscure corner of the Valley of the Kings where excavations had been abandoned a couple of seasons earlier.
The find made headlines across the globe, but soon a curse became attached to the dig. Lord Carnarvon was bitten on the cheek by a mosquito. Shortly afterwards he cut the wound whilst shaving and contracted blood poisoning, and died on 5th April, 1923. It was claimed that all the lights in Cairo went out at the moment of his death (even though each of the city's quarters had its own power supply), and back home in England his dog is supposed to have let out a wail and dropped dead. Other personnel associated with the dig were said to have met untimely deaths. Carter himself seems to have been unaffected, living until 1939, though his reputation has come under some scrutiny in recent years.

10 years after the discovery of the tomb, Universal released The Mummy, starring Boris Karloff. Karloff is only seen very briefly in the famous Jack P Pierce make-up, before his character - Imhotep - reappears in a more rejuvinated form a couple of years after the tomb of the Princess Ankh-es-en-amon is discovered. Imhotep was her High Priest, and he was condemned to be mummified alive after attempting to bring her back to life. He encounters a young woman who just happens to be her spitting image, in a tale of reincarnation which actually borrows heavily from the format of the studio's earlier Dracula adaptation. The film spawned a number of 1940's sequels, in that they had the Mummy trying to find the reincarnation of his princess, though the creature was renamed Kharis. Despite Karloff never revisiting the role, scenes from his film were used as flashbacks to Kharis' fate.
When Hammer came to revitalise the Horror Movie genre in gory technicolour, The Mummy was one of the first they remade. This time Christopher Lee was Kharis - who is condemned to the same fate for the same reason, and once again one of the characters just happens to look exactly like his lost princess (in this case the wife of Peter Cushing's archaeologist).
Hammer never made any sequels, unlike their Dracula and Frankenstein franchises, but they did make other Mummy movies - including the adaptation of the Stoker story mentioned above, plus standalone films like Curse of the Mummy's Tomb and The Mummy's Shroud.
One thing many of these films has in common is a fez-wearing Egyptian villain - usually the member of a sect which has sworn to protect the tomb from desecration and who uses the Mummy to wreak vengeance on the people who have uncovered it. Hammer's The Mummy sees George Pastell take on this role. He would later play Eric Klieg in Tomb of the Cybermen - another Doctor Who story inspired by Mummy movies. Roger Delgado played a similar tomb-protector role, albeit without a fez, in The Mummy's Shroud.
In Pyramids of Mars, we have the character of Namin, who is last of a long line of Sutekh worshipers.

Being Doctor Who, there is a science fiction rationale behind the horror trappings. The Mummies are service robots, covered in protective wrappings. The Egyptian god Sutekh is really an animal headed alien. The only walking cadaver we see is the reanimated body of Professor Marcus Scarman, the Egyptologist who discovered Sutekh in his prison-tomb - brought to life by Sutekh's mental powers as he himself is held immobile by a power emanating from a Pyramid on Mars. Sutekh has Scarman build a missile to destroy the Martian pyramid - and, of course, it just happens to be pyramid shaped. Sutekh also has Scarman set up a forcefield around the grounds of his estate, and the devices which power this are shaped like Canopic jars. These were used to store the viscera of those who had been mummified, to accompany them on the journey to the afterlife.
Sutekh's race are the Osirans. Sutekh is based on the Egyptian god Seth, who was the brother of Osiris and Isis. Seth killed Osiris, but was challenged by Horus, son of Osiris and Isis. In the battle, Horus lost one of his eyes, only to have it restored later. The Eye of Horus therefore became a symbol of good luck for Egyptians. Sutekh is said to have the head of a jackal. The jackal-headed god of the Egyptians was Anubis, who was associated with the dead, as jackals were often to be seen scavenging around cemeteries. Anubis helped to embalm Osiris after his murder by Seth, and so he became associated with the process of mummification. The priests who carried out the process wore jackal masks.

Part Four has some notable padding, as first Scarman and then the Doctor and Sarah have to get past a number of logic puzzles and death traps in the Martian pyramid. Sarah remarks that they are just like the City of the Exxilons - despite the fact that she never got to see any of those in Death to the Daleks. Perhaps the Doctor told her about them... This section of the story was inspired by that Dalek story, which was one of the first which Holmes worked on once he had been given the Script Editor job - although he wasn't yet credited. Death to the Daleks also features the notion of ancient astronauts visiting the Earth and influencing our ancestors. Both the Exxilons and the Osirans may have given us pyramids.
In an unlikely stroke of good fortune, Sarah just happens to have put on a period dress, just right for 1911. The Doctor says that he thinks Victoria wore it. If so, it wasn't in any of her televised stories, and the dress looks Edwardian rather than Victorian.
One sequence in the story has caused a few headaches - the bit where the Doctor takes Sarah and Scarman's brother Lawrence to 1980 to see what would happen if Sutekh were to get free. The TARDIS has never done this before, and there are all sorts of established rules in place that it shouldn't be able to do this. The 1980 date will also cause problems later on when it comes to UNIT dating, as the Brigadier will categorically be shown to have retired from the organisation by 1977.
Next time: it's welcome back to Terry Nation and Barry Letts, but farewell to Harry Sullivan and Benton of UNIT, as the Doctor and Sarah do a Steed and Mrs Peel in a quaint English village where strange things be happening...

Monday 24 December 2018

Story 200 - The Next Doctor

In which the TARDIS arrives in Victorian London. The year is 1851, and the Doctor discovers that it is Christmas Eve. As he takes in the festive atmosphere, he suddenly hears someone calling for him to come and help. Rushing to the scene, he is surprised to learn that it was not him who was being called for, but another Doctor... He meets a man who claims to be the Doctor, who has a companion named Rosita, and who is hunting down a Cybershade. The Doctor recognises this creature as the product of Cybertechnology, probably based on an animal. The Cybershade pulls both Doctors up to the upper level of a warehouse and across the floor. Rosita arrives in time to prevent the creature pulling them out of the far window to their doom. The Doctor suspects that he may have encountered a future version of himself, but is intrigued by the fact that he does not recognise him. Also, the other Doctor's sonic screwdriver appears to be a normal one. Wanting to know more, he decides to follow him. He hears the other Doctor and Rosita talking about a funeral due to take place that afternoon - that of the Rev. Aubrey Fairchild. The Doctor follows the other Doctor to Fairchild's home and the two break in. The Doctor scans for technology and they find a stash of metal cylinders, which the Doctor recognises as info-stamps, which can store and download data. They are then attacked by a pair of Cybermen. The other Doctor uses one of the info-stamps to destroy the Cybermen, beaming the data into them and overloading them.

The Doctor takes the opportunity to examine his other self using a stethoscope, and learns that he only has one heart. The funeral is gatecrashed by Miss Mercy Hartigan, who is employed at one of the city's workhouses. The mourners are shocked by her presence, but soon come under attack from her allies - the Cybermen. A number of the mourners are spared - all supervisors of other workhouses in the area. They are to become mental slaves of the Cybermen. The Doctor goes with his other self to a stable yard which he is using as a base of operations. Asking to see his TARDIS, the Doctor is shown a blue gas-filled balloon. The other Doctor claims the acronym stands for Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style. The Doctor finds that some of the info-stamps recovered from the Rev. Fairchild's home contain the history of London from 1066 to the present day. More info-stamps are discovered hidden in the belongings of a man named Jackson Lake, who it is claimed disappeared just before the Cybermen appeared. The Doctor notes that there is too much luggage for just one man. He sits the other Doctor down and explains to him what he thinks might have happened. The other Doctor is actually Jackson Lake. One of the info-stamps contained data about the Doctor, and this was accidentally downloaded into his mind - causing him to believe that he is the Doctor. Lake starts to remember how the Cybermen invaded his home and killed his wife. There is something else about that night which he struggles to remember - but can't.

They go to Lake's home and find a Dimension Vault device, stolen from the Daleks. This must have allowed the Cybermen to escape from the Void and come to Victorian London. The Doctor attempts to confront Miss Hartigan, but she is protected by Cybermen and Cybershades. The Cybermen have a base beneath the Thames, and here they are constructing a Cyberking. Miss Hartigan will be used to control it. However, her mind is so strong that she overcomes their mental conditioning. She destroys the Cyberleader and takes command over the others. The enslaved workhouse supervisors are compelled to bring all the children from their establishments to the Cyberman base, where they will be used as slave labour to complete the machine and to power it up. The Doctor and Jackson break in as the machine begins to activate, and start to get the children out. Jackson then recalls the other thing he lost the night his wife was killed - his son. He is here in the base, and the Doctor helps to rescue him. As the children flee the base, Rosita sees a massive machine, shaped like a Cyberman, rise from the waters of the Thames. This is the Cyberking, which the Doctor recognises as a dreadnought-class battleship, with a conversion factory built into its body.

The Cyberking begins to fire on the city. The Doctor takes to Jackson's TARDIS and goes to confront it. He attempts to reason with Hartigan, but she is bent on conquest. The Doctor uses a number of info-stamps to break the Cyberman conditioning and she sees what she has become. Unable to accept this, she is destroyed, taking the Cybermen and Cybershades with her as she is mentally linked to them. The Doctor then uses the Dimension Vault to send the collapsing Cyberking into the Void. Back on the ground, the Doctor hears Jackson tell of how people will talk of this for centuries to come, and is puzzled as to why it never makes it into the history books. He allows Jackson to see the interior of his TARDIS, before accepting an invitation to have Christmas dinner with Jackson, his son, and Rosita.

The Next Doctor was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on 25th December, 2008. It was to be the first of a series of Specials throughout 2009 which would culminate in David Tennant's departure the following Christmas. As his departure had already been announced, viewers were left to speculate if David Morrisey was indeed going to be a future incarnation of the Time Lord. (Matt Smith would not be announced to the public as the Eleventh Doctor until early in the New Year).
Morrisey and Tennant had worked together in the past - in the BBC's musical drama Blackpool.
You will note that I make this the 200th Doctor Who story, whereas the next special - Planet of the Dead - will make this claim. This is all down to whether or not you take Utopia to be the first episode of a three-part story, or if you count it as a stand-alone episode in its own right. (I have, of course, gone for the latter). Even Russell T Davies was confused on this, himself previously claiming that it was stand-alone. Previous production teams had become confused about numbering, with Trial of a Time Lord sometimes being claimed as a single story, or split into separate interlinked stories.
The Victorian setting was one which Davies thought worked in the programme, especially for a Christmas Special. The workhouse elements remind you of Oliver Twist, and Dickens has become synonymous with Christmas thanks to A Christmas Carol, and the showing of The Signalman as a Christmas ghost story by the BBC. When Dickens had appeared in the programme itself, it was in a story set at Christmas time (The Unquiet Dead).

One of the first images Davies came up with was of the Cybermen in a graveyard, in the snow. The Cybermen are basically walking corpses, so this seemed a suitable setting for them. 5 years later, Steven Moffat would have the climactic scenes of his first proper Cyberman story set in a cemetery.
Davies also had in mind the image of the female villain arriving at the funeral in a bright scarlet dress - the only colour in an otherwise monochromatic sequence.
Miss Hartigan is played by Dervla Kirwan, who had come to prominence in the BBC drama series Ballykissangel. Jackson Lake's son, Frederic, is played by Tom Langford. He had previously appeared in the Torchwood episode Out of the Rain. In the same way that the Doctor once had a companion named Rose, so Lake's companion is called Rosita. She is played by Velile Tshabalala. The script implies that she was once a prostitute. Rosita is Spanish for "little rose".
As well as a similarly named companion, the other Doctor has his own TARDIS - really just a hot-air balloon - and a sonic screwdriver. The latter is just an ordinary screwdriver, and is only sonic in that it makes a noise if you hit it against something. Before he works out just who this new Doctor might be, the Doctor suspects that he may have used a Chameleon Arch, as seen in Series 3, to conceal his true identity, but Lake's fob watch is just that - an ordinary watch.

There are a few new additions to the Cyberman mythos. There is a new Cyberleader design - based on the Controller from The Age of Steel, with its transparent brain casing. It sports a black face plate, possibly inspired by Kroton, the Cyberman with emotions who appeared in the DWM comic strips of the 1970's and '80's.
The Cybershades have beaten copper face plates, and are said to have been created using animals rather than humans. Then we have the steam-punk Cyberking - a massive Cyberman shaped battlecraft. The Cybermen - Cybus ones who survived the events of Doomsday - are having to use what local technology they can find in Victorian London.

Overall, a perfectly fine Doctor Who episode for Christmas night viewing. The Cybermen are used well, and Miss Hartigan makes for a great new villainess. David Morrisey would, indeed, make a good Doctor.
Things you might like to know:

  • Davies was going to use the name Aubrey Fairchild in an earlier story - as the British Prime Minister who succeeded Harold Saxon - but changed his mind. He liked the name, however, so used it in this story.
  • Davies had previously talked about ignoring the 1996 TV Movie (even including this in his scripts for Series 2 of Queer as Folk, where the McGann Doctor was said not to count). However, the 8th Doctor was then seen as one of the drawings in John Smith's "Journal of Impossible Things" in Human Nature. In The Next Doctor, the Doctor activates an info-stamp and we see images of all the previous Doctors, and there is Paul McGann amongst them.
  • Should you be interested, the clips of the other previous Doctors come from The Time Meddler, The Ice Warriors, Terror of the Autons, City of Death, Arc of Infinity, The Mysterious Planet, Time and the Rani, and Parting of the Ways.
  • The interior of the Cyberking was filmed on the set of the Torchwood Hub.
  • This was the first Christmas Special not to have a direct link with the conclusion of the previous season. If you've read Davies' book The Writer's Tale, you'll know he anguished over whether or not to have the Cybermen turn up in the TARDIS at the conclusion of Journey's End, and the sequence was actually filmed. He was talked out of including it by DWM's Benjamin Cook, co-author of the book, in that it comprises a series of e-mails between the two. The scene appears as an extra on the Series 4 box set.
  • The DVD release contains alternative takes to those seen in the broadcast version. (Fans have compared the delivery of certain lines of dialogue).
  • This was the last story to be made in standard definition. The next Special would be filmed in HD, and so become the first ever Blu-Ray release.
  • Some references to previous Cyberman stories include Miss Hartigan saying "Excellent!", as previous Cyberleaders were want to do, Mickey Smith thought that the Void Ship might contain a "Cyberking", and the Cybermen recognising the Doctor via a video feed is reminiscent of the scene from the second episode of Earthshock, where they review video footage from one of their sentinel androids.
  • Davies was ultimately dissatisfied with the ending, believing that Miss Hartigan should have been redeemed and she was the one to send the Cyberking into the Void, rather than the Doctor. He was also unhappy with Jackson's over-reaction to being inside the TARDIS, suggesting that he write a story in which the Doctor took him on a brief adventure to an alien planet before bringing him back to Christmas Day in London, 1851.
  • A young audience member at the preview of the episode asked the question as to why the Cyberking wasn't mentioned in the history books. It was pointed out that no spaceship had crashed into Big Ben in 2006, so things were different in the Doctor Who universe. Later, Steven Moffat used the Cyberking as an example of things being removed from time by the cracks in time and space in Series 5.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Normal service will be resumed...

... as soon as possible. Am under the weather with a nasty cold at the moment, so am taking a short break until I get over it. Hopefully back at the weekend.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Absence of the Daleks (aka Toxin of the Fandom)

Suffering a bit of insomnia tonight, so made the big mistake of looking at some Series 11 reviews on You Tube. Overwhelmingly negative, and relatively few measured opinions. The apposite epithet, as Mr Ainley's Master would say, would be "hate-filled", I'm sad to say. All of the ones I looked at, around 8 or 9, went on about the preachiness of the new Doctor, bad writing by the showrunner, bad writing by the guest writers, political correctness and so forth. The latter issue was the most prominent. I had never heard of the acronyms SJW or NPC until tonight, and I can't say I fully understand them, not being someone who even cares about social media let alone uses it, beyond this blog.
The videos I saw seemed to come from some righter than centre region, complaining that the show has a bias towards some lefter then centre region - evidence being such things as the Doctor's current companions ticking all the ethnic demographic boxes, white males being vilified etc.
I would like to think that you will never have seen anything like that here.
Readers with long memories will know that I was quite negative about the idea of a female Doctor back when Matt Smith announced his departure. I had mellowed my views by the time Peter Capaldi had left, and I am on record as welcoming Jodie as the new Doctor. I did add the caveat that I didn't care what face he / she wore so long as the stories were good. If you have read my reviews of this last season, then you'll know that I have been terribly disappointed on that score. We've had a couple of very fine stories (with weak elements that have dragged them down somewhat - the historicals that should have been purely historical in my opinion, or had far stronger alien presences, for instance). I really liked the second half of the season more than the first - mainly because Chris Chibnall was writing less. The finale was just another episode and nothing remotely special - mainly due to what had gone before.
Throughout my reviews I have not been kind to Mr Chibnall - but that's because, as a long term fan, I don't believe he he has been kind to me. In my view he has given us very weak fare indeed, as shown up by the far superior contributions from the other writers.
I could be one of those commentators who give a list of 10 things which he and the BBC need to do to "fix" the programme. But I won't. I rarely rant. (Rarely, note - not never).
The problem with current Doctor Who fandom - if You Tube can be used as an indicator (and it must be, what with the numbers involved) - is a divisiveness, or polarisation, not seen since the tail-end of the JNT era, when fanzines like DWB were calling for his severed head to be displayed atop Television Centre, just about. Oh! the irony that one of the torch-wielding mob, immortalised on VT, is one Chris Chibnall of the NW England DWAS fan group... That clip is going to come back to haunt him big time.
I think that the hate in the past was a product of insecurity. This was the greatest TV programme in the universe, and someone was messing about with it and putting it at risk. Fans would do whatever it took to protect it. Somehow I don't see quite the same thing. A lot of the videos I have just looked at aren't saying they hate the programme per se. Underneath all the negativity there is a genuine love, and feelings of betrayal. They're saying that they don't like its current incarnation and cancelling the show would be better than another year of what we just had.
13 years in: close down, wait a while, regroup, then relaunch. That's actually what the naysayers are saying, if you cut through the vitriol. Either that or give us some adventure and excitement, just for once, why don't you?
Which brings me to the title of this post. Back in 2003 / 4, poor Rob Shearman didn't know from one week to the next whether his story would be allowed to have Daleks in it, so he called it "Absence of..." and Russell T Davies came up with what would later become the Toclafane. For some reason, fandom has got it into its collective head that the New Years Day Special will feature at least one Dalek. It's a withered branch dangling above a drowning man, it would seem. If January 1st has a classic monster, explosions and lots and lots of running, I suspect that a huge amount of the negativity will start to evaporate. Chibnall was just easing himself into the role etc. Experimenting a bit.
Daleks are back, and all's right with the world. Series 12 will be more like this, so lots to look forward to...
The problem is - what happens if the Daleks are a no-show? If it turns out to be that f***ing P'tang again, I might start up a You Tube channel of my own...

Inspirations - Planet of Evil

In the previous season, one of the Hartnell writers almost returned to the show after a long absence (John Lucarotti, who had first stab at what became The Ark in Space). As Season 13 gets properly into its stride, another Hartnell writer is invited back - Louis Marks. He had first written for the show at the end of its first season (though held back to open the second), with Planet of Giants, though his absence was not as long as Lucarotti's, having come back for the Jon Pertwee story Day of the Daleks.
Season 13 is the Gothic Horror season - a genre favoured by both Script Editor Robert Holmes and Producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Planet of Evil is the first story not to be commissioned by the outgoing production team, and we see the Hinchcliffe-Holmes partnership working on its own. Holmes loved Horror and the Grand Guignol - whether it be in literature or at the movies.
This story has literary references, as well as movie ones.
The starting point would be Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, first published in 1886 and written by Robert Louis Stevenson during a period of illness and a particularly vivid dream (he complained about the person who woke him up). It was claimed that Stevenson burned the first draft, then rewrote it. The writer was inspired by his researches into a story he was writing about Deacon Brodie - a pillar of Edinburgh high society who led a double life, breaking into houses at night purely for the thrill of it, and to pay off gambling debts. He was arrested and hanged in the city in 1788. Legend has it that he wore a metal collar under his shirt in order to survive the drop, bribing the hangman to make sure his body was whisked away before anyone found out, and it was claimed that he was later seen alive and well in Paris. The idea of a person harbouring both good and evil was what prompted Stevenson to write his novella, in which scientist Dr Henry Jekyll attempts to separate the two sides to his nature by chemical means. He transforms into a totally different character whom he names Edward Hyde. Through Hyde Jekyll is able to do everything which his usual nature prevents him from doing - acts of vice and cruelty. The story was staged in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, and you are sure to have seen that TV movie with Michael Caine as Inspector Abelard where the actor playing the double role comes under suspicion. Hollywood had visited the story on seven occasions when this Doctor Who story was written - the first worth mentioning being the silent one with John Barrymore in 1920. In 1931 Fredric March essayed the role, in what is arguably the best adaptation. The 1941 remake with Spencer Tracey is also very good. He dispenses with the grotesque make-up and concentrates on the psychological transformation, leading to many regarding this as the superior version.

Stevenson's story has been interpreted in many ways, including as a mirror of the city of Edinburgh itself, with the ancient Old Town, full of cramped slums and riddled with crime, contrasted with the New Town of elegant squares and Georgian respectability.
Louis Marks took Stevenson's story and applied it to a whole planet - Zeta Minor. This is why the story has the title it has. The planet is relatively benign during the day, but becomes a place of evil as soon as the sun goes down. This is touched upon in the first episode, but once the monsters turn up then the idea becomes somewhat diluted. It's not the planet that's evil - it's the thing that lives on the planet that's evil.
The Jekyll / Hyde theme appears later as well. Professor Sorenson, head of a scientific expedition to Zeta Minor from the planet Morestra, has come looking for a new fuel source as their sun is dying. He is presented as the typical obsessed, driven scientist, determined to carry out his work with little thought to his colleagues, or to his own health and sanity. The crystals he is mining infect him, causing him to begin mutating into a savage, primordial version of himself. He brews up an elixir which holds the transformations at bay - inverting the Jekyll / Hyde idea where the potion triggers the transformation. Problem is, the effect of the crystals is getting worse and his brew is losing its potency.
It was Louis Marks who wanted to include the Anti-Matter element to the story, having read up on it recently.

The story arc which ran through Season 12 is continued here, as the Doctor and Sarah are in the TARDIS heading for 20th Century UNIT HQ, following their departure from Loch Ness in the previous story. They receive a distress call from the planet and come to investigate. Not long after they arrive, a Morestran spaceship turns up, in search of Sorenson's expedition.
This part of the story has its roots in a very famous Sci-Fi movie - 1956's Forbidden Planet.
In the film, a spaceship from Earth arrives on the planet Altair IV in search of an expedition which has not been heard from in 20 years. The crew, captained by Leslie Nielsen, find that there is only one survivor - a scientist named Morbius. (Remember that name for a couple of week's time...). He has with him a daughter, born on the planet - Altaira. Morbius is resentful of the intrusion, determined to carry on his researches despite all of his colleagues - including his wife - having died.
Morbius has awakened a monster with his research into the planet's long-dead original inhabitants (the Krell), in the same way Sorenson unwittingly provokes the Anti-Matter Monster.

The thing which Morbius creates is invisible, but can be seen as an angry red outline when the Earth ship crew fire upon it. The Anti-Matter Monster is also, initially, invisible, but later appears in red outline. The makers of Forbidden Planet were able to call upon Walt Disney animators to create the Monster from the Id, whilst the BBC had to make do with a man in a baggy suit overlaid with video effects.
Morbius eventually pays for his scientific hubris, and so does Sorenson. As originally scripted, the latter was to have perished at the conclusion of the story, after he has been transformed into Anti-Man and killed off many of the spaceship crew members. His redemption, when the planet gives him back, was only added late in the day.
Looking at Forbidden Planet, it is not hard to see its own literary roots. It is a Sci-Fi adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Morbius is Prospero, and Altaira Miranda. Altair IV is the desert island upon which they live in exile. The spaceship crew are the shipwrecked mariners. The Monster from the Id is Caliban, and Robby the Robot, who can summon up any amount of liquor you want, is Ariel.
The Doctor even quotes the Bard on a couple of occasions (from Hamlet and from Romeo and Juliet), just to remind you that this story was inspired by a movie that was inspired by Shakespeare.

The story is interesting from a production point of view as it features a cast made up almost entirely of actors who have appeared in the show before - two of them even appearing in the same story. Sorenson is played by Frederick Jaeger, and the second in command on the Morestran ship - Vishinsky - is played by Ewan Solon. Both had appeared in the late Hartnell era story The Savages.
Salamar, the ship's captain, is Space: 1999 Season One regular Prentice Hancock - who had featured in Spearhead from Space and Planet of the Daleks (the latter directed by this story's director, David Maloney). One of the Morestran crewmen is portrayed by Michael Wisher (his last appearance in the show). He had appeared numerous times since 1970, most famously as Davros in Genesis of the Daleks. As well as playing navigator Morelli, Wisher also voices an unseen crewman called Ranjit, who is killed off screen. Unfortunately Wisher uses a cod-Indian accent that can only be described as a poor man's Peter Sellers "Goodness Gracious Me" imitation from The Millionairess. (Tom Baker had essayed the same role in the BBC adaptation before landing the Doctor Who gig).

Two other crewmen are played by Graham Weston (The War Games, again directed by Maloney), and Louis Mahoney (Frontier in Space). Mahoney will be back in 2007's Blink.
Roger Murray-Leach's jungle sets, built at Ealing Studios, were deemed so good that they were used as examples for BBC design training. Philip Hinchcliffe attempted to get his work recognised for a Craft BAFTA, but science fiction in general, and Doctor Who in particular, were not highly thought of by the bestowers of awards back in 1975, pre-Star Wars. The spaceship sets, despite a nice two-level control deck, are not so hot. Murray-Leach was somewhat put out that the spaceship model maker did not consult with him, and the model and sets do not quite match up.
The TARDIS console room is seen on screen for the first time since Death to the Daleks, back in Season 11 - so it's the very first time we get to see Tom Baker at the controls of the ship. (The console room had one other notable lengthy absence from the show, when we had to wait until Season 8's The Claws of Axos to see it following its last appearance in The War Games at the close of Season 6, although the console itself had been seen in between as the Third Doctor had removed it from the ship during the intermediate season).
Next time: Are you my Mummy? The Universal horror motifs of Season 13 are Hammered home further...

Tuesday 11 December 2018

G is for... General, The

Military commander of the Time Lord forces during the latter stages of the Time War. He was on Gallifrey when it was announced that the Doctor had stolen the weapon known as The Moment from the highly guarded Omega Arsenal - intent on ending the war by destroying Time Lords and Daleks alike. Later, three incarnations of the Doctor contacted him to inform him that they had a plan to save Gallifrey. All of the Doctor's incarnations positioned their TARDISes around the planet and removed it from its location, hiding it in a pocket of time. As it vanished, the Dalek fleet destroyed itself in the crossfire.
Later, the General continued to serve under President Rassilon when the High Council chose to imprison the Doctor within the confines of his own Confession Dial, in order to learn what he knew of the Hybrid - a legendary being which it was claimed would one day destroy Gallifrey. The General was sent to negotiate with the Doctor after he had escaped and returned to the planet, after attempts to capture him had failed. The Doctor banished Rassilon and the High Council from the planet, but retained the services of the General. He had him activate an extraction chamber so that Clara Oswald could be removed from time just before she died. Hoping to keep her alive, the Doctor decided to steal a TARDIS and flee, and he turned on the General, shooting him. He first checked that he was not in his final incarnation. The General regenerated and changed gender - claiming that she had actually been female for much of her life, and she was glad to inhabit a female body once more.
The General and Ohica, leader of the Sisterhood of Karn, failed to stop the Doctor and Clara leaving Gallifrey in the stolen TARDIS.

Played by: Ken Bones and T'Nia Miller. Appearances: The Day of the Doctor (2013), Hell Bent (2015).

G is for... Gelth

The Gelth were an alien race who had lost their physical forms as a result of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. They arrived on Earth in the 1860's through a rift in space and time centred on the Welsh city of Cardiff. Here they began to inhabit the bodies of corpses in the funeral parlour belonging to a Mr Sneed - reanimating the cadavers for a brief time. However, they found the planet's atmosphere hostile and reverted to a gaseous form. They felt most comfortable in the gas supply at Sneed's home. Sneed's servant girl, Gwyneth, had psychic abilities, and was able to communicate with them. The Doctor arranged a seance at which one of the Gelth appeared. She claimed that they were a benevolent species, few in number, and the Doctor felt responsible for their predicament as he had fought in the Time War. He agreed that they should be allowed to come to Earth and permanently take up new bodies from amongst the dead. Once the rift had been opened, however, it transpired that the Gelth were many, and they planned to take over the planet. The writer Charles Dickens was present during these events. He discovered that by flooding the environment with gas, the Gelth could be drawn out of their murderous human hosts. Gwyneth then sacrificed herself to seal the rift, destroying the Gelth and preventing more from crossing over to Earth.

Played by: Zoe Thorne. Appearances: The Unquiet Dead (2005).
  • Thorne later provided the female voice for the Toclafane in The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords.

G is for... Gellguards

Servants of Omega, the Gallifreyan stellar engineer who had supposedly been killed supplying his people with the power they needed to begin their time travel experiments. He had instead been blasted into the universe of anti-matter, where he remained trapped for millennia. The Gellguards were created by his willpower from raw anti-matter, in a process called psychosynthesis. Omega realised that the only way he could escape his captivity was to find another Time Lord who could take his place and maintain the domain he had created. He began draining the energy of the Time Lords and then sent a gell-creature to Earth to seek out the Doctor. This creature could survive in both universes, and was designed to transport the Doctor into Omega's realm. When it failed, Omega sent more gel creatures to attack UNIT HQ, forcing the Doctor to take refuge in the TARDIS. He was joined there by his earlier incarnation - sent by the Time Lords to assist him. Blobby, one eyed, creatures, the Gellguards had a single limb which could fire powerful energy bolts. Once the Doctor and Jo had been transported through a Black Hole to the universe of anti-matter, Gellguards were sent to capture them. They later captured the Second Doctor and Sergeant Benton, after UNIT HQ had been transported through the Black Hole.
As they were creations of Omega's mind, they would have ceased to exist once his domain was destroyed.
A later attempt at psychosynthesis by Omega resulted in the Ergon creature.

Appearances: The Three Doctors (1972 / 73).
  • The naming of these creatures varies. I have gone for the most common version, but you could also have Gell Guards, Gel Guards or Gelguards.

G is for... Gebek

The leader of the miners on the planet Peladon. He was angry about the conditions in which his colleagues had to work, and felt that the planet's membership of the Galactic Federation had benefited only those in power. Whilst his deputy Ettis wanted to foment armed rebellion to overthrow the elite, and expel all aliens from the planet, Gebek was a moderate, who wanted to achieve better conditions through negotiation. Concerned about his popularity amongst the miners, High Priest and Chancellor Ortron sought to discredit him. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith arrived on the planet, the Doctor sided with Gebek's views, and tried to get Queen Thalira to listen to him. Later, Federation ambassador Alpha Centauri was tricked into calling in military support to halt the rebellion which Ettis had started. This came in the form of an army of Ice Warriors led by Azaxyr, who established martial law. Gebek and the Doctor got the miners to pretend to go back to work so that the Ice Warriors would have no further cause to stay on Peladon. However, they were a breakaway group intent on seizing the mineral wealth whatever happened. Gebek helped the Doctor to rally the miners and the palace guards against the Martians, and Azaxyr and his men were defeated. Ortron had perished in the struggle, and Thalira wanted the Doctor to take his place as Chancellor. He recommended Gebek for the role instead.

Played by: Rex Robinson. Appearances: The Monster of Peladon (1974).
  • Gebek was the second of three roles for Robinson in the programme, all in stories directed by Lennie Mayne. His first appearance was as Dr Tyler in The Three Doctors, and his last was as Dr Carter in The Hand of Fear.

G is for... Gaztaks

A mercenary group led by General Grugger and his lieutenant Brotadac. They were employed by Meglos, last of the Zolfa-Thuran race, to abduct a human being from Earth. Meglos needed him as a body print so that he could impersonate the Doctor and retrieve his power source - the Dodecahedron - from the neighbouring planet of Tigella. Grugger was quite prepared to double-cross Meglos and steal his equipment, but the alien foresaw this and trapped them in his control room until they accepted his authority. Once Meglos had assumed the Doctor's appearance, the Gaztaks ferried him to Tigella, where they captured Romana and forced her to take them to the entrance to the Tigellans' subterranean city. The Gaztaks wanted to plunder the city as part of their payment, whilst Brotadac seemed more interested in getting his hands on the Doctor's coat. Once Meglos had achieved his aims, the Gaztaks returned him to Zolfa-Thura where the Dodecahedron would be used to power a weapon capable of destroying Tigella. The Doctor sabotaged this, and the Gaztaks were destroyed along with Meglos when the device self-destructed.

Played by: Bill Fraser (Grugger), Frederick Treves (Brotadac). Appearances: Meglos (1980).

Sunday 9 December 2018

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos - A Review

This was a perfectly fine episode of Doctor Who - but as a season finale it was rather weak. It would not have looked out of place mid-season. Chris Chibnall decided to dispense with a story arc this season, only to spring one half-heartedly at this late stage, with direct references to the first and second episodes. The Ghost Monument had simply mentioned the Stenza and introduced the Sniper-bots, who are as inept here as they were in their first outing. They hardly make the Stenza look like any kind of serious threat if this is the best they can manage. After The Ghost Monument, the Stenza were never mentioned again. Perhaps if they had been threaded through the rest of the season then their reappearance here might have worked better. As it is, we did not get to see them in their massed ranks. All we got was the one from the opening episode - "Tim Shaw". He's been hanging around a planet for 3407 years, building a weapon with which he plans to take his revenge on the Doctor. He's aided in this by a pair of humanoid aliens called the Ux, who are basically Earthbenders from Avatar: The Last Airbender. They think Tim is their god, or creator.
One thing which really did not work for me in this episode was the way in which the Ux simply stopped believing in Tim after a few minutes chat with the Doctor. Half a dozen planets have already been destroyed by the weapon, and yet they only now suddenly realise Tim might be up to no good?
What made them think he was their creator in the first place, considering he was just a weak individual from a relatively minor species?
The idea of planets being removed and shrunk is hardly a new one for the series. Davros and the Daleks were stealing planets back in Series 4, and the Captain and Queen Xanxia were doing it as far back as Season 16's The Pirate Planet.

The episode was rather slow to get started, which meant that the ending was a little rushed. As I said, the Ux are suddenly turned against Tim and begin collaborating with the Doctor. The TARDIS is then used to send the planets back to their rightful places before they can destroy Ranskoor Av Kolos.
As usual Bradley Walsh was one of the best things in the episode. Finding out that Tim Shaw is here, he decides that if he gets the chance he will kill him - as he was responsible for Grace's death. He's prepared to stand up to the Doctor over this. In the end, he does get the chance to kill him but elects not to, and Tim ends up imprisoned in one of his own stasis chambers - leaving the door open for him to make a return appearance. Another disappointing thing this week was the title. The battle is over before we join the action. There isn't even any flashback to it as Mark Addy's character regains his memories. All in all, the title is a bit of a cheat.
At least this week we actually got some scenes set in the TARDIS and, as mentioned, the ship was used to help resolve the threat.
The BBC decided not to provide any preview screenings for the finale, prompting many fans to speculate that there would be something on screen that was worth keeping secret. I have absolutely no idea why they did this. If it was to keep us guessing if all of the Doctor's companions would make it out alive, then they should not have published that photo of all of them from the New Year's Day special (the title of which has been announced as Resolution). Rumours have been flying around that there will be Daleks at New Year, which might have featured in the throw-forward teaser. The "deadliest being in the universe" does get a mention - but then the Doctor claimed that title for the P'ting not that long ago.
We can now stand back and look at the season as a whole. For me, it has been a disappointing one. We've had a couple of good episodes, but have also had to sit through a lot of very weak ones - mostly courtesy of the new show-runner. We've had promising potential story arcs introduced then promptly forgotten about - the Timeless Child, for instance. Dispensing with old monsters, in favour of ineffectual new ones, was a mistake in my view. As I have said before, the Doctor is defined by how they respond to the monsters, and Jodie Whittaker simply wasn't given anything substantial to stand up to this year.
Then today it was announced that there would not be another series until at least January 2020. The complexities of making the series have been cited. That's the same complexities which Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat faced, and they managed to give us at least a season of specials or half a season every year, bar 2016. Hopefully Chibnall will use the downtime to take some script-writing classes...

Thursday 6 December 2018

Inspirations - Terror of the Zygons

Terror of the Zygons is one of only two stories written by Robert Banks Stewart. (A third commission was never completed, but did form the basis for Robert Holmes' The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Producer Philip Hinchcliffe was an admirer of his work and sought him out for the show. Stewart asked to do an Earth-based story, having little interest in outer space type tales. As a Scot, he was naturally inspired by his homeland's most famous mystery - that of "Nessie", the Loch Ness Monster.
Doctor Who had touched on the subject of Cryptozoology on a couple of occasions in the past, with Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, and sea serpents in Carnival of Monsters.  Cryptozoologists study animals which are as yet unknown to normal zoology - either because they are thought not to exist at all, are believed to be extinct, or simply haven't been discovered yet. Every year new species of animals and birds are discovered. Just recently a monkey was spotted in South America which was thought to have become extinct over 50 years ago. DNA research has allowed zoologists to discover that a number of animals thought to be of the same family are actually quite distinct species. The most famous cryptids are the ones for which there has never been any proven physical evidence. Sea serpents and lake monsters, Yeti and Bigfoot are the most famous examples.

The earliest mention of a water-based monster in the Loch Ness region, in the North East of Scotland, comes from the 7th Century, when a man named Adamnan wrote a history of Saint Columba, who brought Christianity to the area. In August 565 AD Columba came across a burial party, and was told that the man had just been killed by a monster in Loch Ness. Needing to cross the body of water, Columba asked one of his acolytes to swim out and fetch the dead man's boat which was floating adrift. As he did so, the monster reappeared. Columba called upon the power of God to repel it and so saved his follower. The local people were so impressed that they converted. The problem with this account is that it was written a century after the event described, and the text refers to the River Ness, rather than the loch itself.
Loch monsters are popular in Scotland, the most well known being the Kelpie or Water Horse. These malevolent creatures appear on land as ordinary horses, but when someone climbs on their backs they leap into the water and their victim is drowned. It is thought that the Kelpie myth was created as a means to deter children from playing by the water.
In modern times, interest in the monster gained momentum in the late 1920's, when a new road was built along the length of the loch, opening up almost uninterrupted views. A couple out on a drive one day described seeing a large, humped animal crossing the road. Soon after, the infamous "Surgeon's Photograph" appeared. This has since been exposed as a fake - it was a model dinosaur head stuck on a toy submarine. Many other photographs began to appear, however, which were harder to debunk. Eye-witness statements began circulating from tourists as well as locals. During World War II, the Italians even claimed to have bombed the loch and killed the monster - such was the fame that Nessie had acquired globally.
Sightings continued sporadically throughout the 1950's and 1960's, but there was a sudden upsurge in interest in the 1970's. In 1975 Robert Rynes and naturalist Sir Peter Scott stunned the world with some colour photographs which appeared to show a large diamond-shaped fin, and a long necked creature. It was later shown that these images had been heavily "cleaned up", and the original pictures were inconclusive, to say the least.
This was the backdrop to Stewart's story.

What was also topical in Scotland in the 1970's was the North Sea Oil boom. Gas reserves had been found in and around the North Sea from the 1850's, and gas was being drilled for in the 1960's. In 1969 oil was found off the coast of Norway, and further explorations discovered other oil fields over the next few years, including some off the coast of Scotland. Following the 1973 oil crisis, the oil companies increased their explorations and soon a number of significant fields had been identified. Two fields (Ardmore and Forties) began producing oil in 1975, with more planned.
In developing his story Stewart added this topical issue to his Loch Ness Monster tale. Being Doctor Who, aliens had to be behind the monster, and so Stewart came up with the Zygons, the name inspired by zygote - the union of a sperm cell and an egg cell. The monster was alien as well, a pet of the Zygons. The name, plus a script mention of the Zygons feeding on the Skarasen's lactic fluid (milk), prompted costume designer James Acheson to come up with a design based on embryos. Unfortunately there wasn't much consultation with the set designer, and the Zygons could barely fit through the doors of their spaceship.
The director chosen for this story was Douglas Camfield, making his return to the programme after an absence of 5 years. His last story had been Inferno, during the making of which he had fallen seriously ill with heart problems. His wife had forbidden him from doing any more Doctor Who's, as they were so stressful to produce. Camfield had earlier fallen out with the series' regular composer Dudley Simpson (the result of a misunderstanding over income), and so he used a new composer for Terror of the Zygons - Geoffrey Burgon.
Camfield has the TARDIS arrive in Scotland and turn invisible - a nod to his earlier story The Invasion, in which the ship had also become invisible. The reason for its arrival here is that the Doctor has received a message from the Brigadier, summoning him back to Earth. This was seen at the conclusion of the previous story - Revenge of the Cybermen.

It is clear that this story was always supposed to end the 12th Season of the show, with its direct link to that previous story and the departure of Harry Sullivan at the conclusion. The BBC had decided that the programme would do better to start the next season in the autumn, rather than the New Year, and so Terror of the Zygons was held back. After years of ITV trying and failing to come up with a series to rival Doctor Who, the BBC had also got wind of a lavishly produced new series from Gerry Anderson and Lew Grade's ITC, which might finally prove to offer real competition. An earlier start to Season 13 would steal a march on this new series - Space: 1999. They need not have worried. The Anderson vehicle turned out to be a little too sterile for British viewers, and the first season was distinctly lacking in monsters (there's only one, albeit a very good one, in the episode Dragon's Domain), so after a couple of weeks Doctor Who regained many of those who had decided to give it a try.
Harry's departure was due to the fact that it had been intended that the Fourth Doctor would have been played by a much older actor, and a younger man was needed for the action sequences. The casting of Tom Baker made Harry's function redundant. Robert Holmes argued for him to be kept, and Philip Hinchcliffe has since said he regrets having dispensed with the character when he did.
Ian Marter will be back later in the season, but it is farewell (for now) to Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier. He and John Levene had both felt during the making of Robot that their time on the show was coming to an end when Hinchcliffe arrived - intending to get the Doctor back out into Space and Time again. It was never intended that this story would see the last of the Brigadier as a regular character. A couple of later stories were to have involved Courtney, but he had taken on stage work and his availability was reduced. He simply couldn't pass up longer term work when he was being offered less to do on Doctor Who.

When the Doctor Who production team had decided to do a story set in the Welsh valleys - The Green Death - it had come under fire for its stereotypical view of Wales and the Welsh. Despite having a Scottish author, Terror of the Zygons unfortunately does the same thing with Scotland and the Scots. The story opens with a radio operator on an oil rig bemoaning the fact that their chef can't make haggis very well. Realising where they have landed, the Doctor discards his usual scarf and hat and opts for tartan alternatives. We then see the Brigadier in a kilt, explaining to Sarah that he is a member of the Clan Stewart after all. (You'll recall that he appears to have been a member of a Scottish regiment when we first saw him back in The Web of Fear, when he sported a Glengarry.
The laird has a gamekeeper nicknamed "Caber", as in the tree trunk tossed by participants in Highland Games. Hotel landlord Angus (as Scottish a name as you can get) plays the bagpipes, and has the second sight. At the conclusion, the myth of the mean Scotsman is perpetuated as the Duke of Forgill talks about saving money on the Doctor and Sarah's return train tickets. (Scots themselves often brand the Aberdonians mean. The whole meanness thing is a myth, as demonstrated by the fact that when it comes to TV telethons like Comic Relief and Children In Need, Scots donate more per capita than people from the more affluent South East of England). It should be noted that the 1970's saw a massive resurgence in Scottish Nationalism, resulting in a devolution referendum in 1979. This was mainly down to the prospect of North Sea Oil revenues and a series of weak Westminster governments, rather than a reaction to Terror of the Zygons, but you never know...
Next time: the Doctor and Sarah land on a Jekyll and Hyde planet, in a story based on a classic 1950's Sci-Fi movie, which was in turn inspired by Shakespeare...

Wednesday 5 December 2018

There ARE such things as Macra...

I thought that the next "lost" story to be animated and released on DVD might be The Wheel In Space, as a 10 minute clip from the first episode of this was screened (is to be screened? I can't recall when it's on) at the "Missing, Believed Wiped" event at the BFI.
However, according to the Digital Spy website today, the next one will actually be earlier Troughton tale The Macra Terror. Only a handful of very brief clips exist for this four part story, courtesy of the Australian censors.
It is to be released on March 25th 2019 on all formats (DVD, Blu-ray, digital download) in both B&W and a colourised version. You can pre-order it on-line from tomorrow.
Four weeks earlier, we will be getting Tom Baker's final season as a Blu-ray box-set. Extras will include new CGI effects for Logopolis, as well as the Sarah Jane Smith / K9 spin-off K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend. Expect the release date for this to change, as the last two box-sets were each shifted back twice.

Monday 3 December 2018

It Takes You Away - A Review

Now this one I really liked. Even the talking frog.
Only a couple of minor niggles with this episode, so I'll get them out of the way quickly. First of all, if that is the north of Norway in winter then I am the brother of the parent of an arboreal Simiiforme. Then we had the Doctor describe the house as "deserted", despite having just seen someone at the window and with the door heavily bolted from the inside. Also, maybe I missed it, but was it ever explained why Erik hadn't simply taken Hanne to where her mother was still alive, instead of leaving her for four days to fend for herself, believing there was a monster on the loose. Pretty dire parenting, as was pointed out in the dialogue. One other gripe - a bigger one - was that neither the Doctor nor Yaz was confronted by a dead loved one when they entered the alternate dimension. Only Graham saw his wife, Grace. It would have made far more sense if the Solitract looked and sounded like a loved one of the Doctor's, as it was she who was staying behind. Instead, it sounded like Grace and looked like one of her favourite things (the frog), despite Graham already having been expelled back to the Anti-zone.
I went into this story with low expectations. Knowing that one of the principal characters was going to be kid, I expected the worst. As it was, Eleanor Wallwork was superb as Hanne.
I also suspected that this story might be a little more fairy tale (something like In The Forest of the Night) and, in a way it was, but nowhere near as twee.
What we had was a portal to another dimension within the house which young Hanne shared with her father, Erik. Her mother had died some time ago. The portal was in a mirror, and the dimension was accessed via an intermediate domain known as an Anti-zone. Here we met Mr Ribbons - Ribbons of the 7 Stomachs - as played by Kevin Eldon. He was great, and it was shame that we did not get to see more of him. He was a very well realised character, defining everything he did through barter for food. The Fleshmoths (which eventually devoured him) were such a simple yet effective threat. Apart from the brutality of witch duckings last week, and the shocking racism of Episode 3, this series has generally shied away from overt horrific images (going out at 6.30pm on a Sunday, after all) but here we saw one of the moths crawling out of Ribbons' flesh-stripped skull. The series has sorely missed this kind of thing lately.

The alternate dimension beyond the Anti-zone is the domain of the Solitract - a force from the beginning of the universe which is a sort of disorganising principle, incompatible with the rest of the universe. In order for the universe to exist, it had to be exiled away into this place, where it is feeling rather lonely - hence its luring of Erik away with a reunion with his dead wife, and creating a false Grace to make Graham stay. We've had fake loved ones in the programme before, but it was all well handled here.
The monster in the woods which the title alludes to turned out to have been faked by Erik to stop Hanne following him. Monsters that have proven not to be so has been a sore point with me all season, but this time it fitted the plot - though you could argue that it was a rather convoluted and downright sick thing for Erik to have done. Couldn't he have just told Hanne he was going to be away for a few days and she shouldn't answer the door to strangers?
Once again Graham was brilliant. From the early humour (carrying a sandwich as he has noticed they keep missing meals) to his apparent reunion with his dead spouse, Bradley Walsh proves yet again to be the most watchable of the companions. Yaz was a lot stronger this week, and for once Ryan did not bleat too much about his terrible life. I've been waiting in vain for a punch-the-air moment this series, expecting it to come from the Doctor, but the closest we've come was Ryan finally calling Graham "granddad".
All in all, I'd be happy to see writer Ed Hime brought back for future stories.
By this stage in the proceedings I am usually very excited about the season finale. This is not the case this year. Next week is just another episode as far as I'm concerned. If Chibnall is going to finally go all story-arc on us then he has left it very late indeed. I strongly suspect that the lacklustre Stenza will be the villains, with references back to those earlier, disappointing, episodes which he wrote. Are we really expected to get excited about something which hasn't been mentioned since Episode Two? We know that all the companions survive, as we've seen them all in a photo from the New Year Special.
Hopefully the finale will see some proper TARDIS interior scenes - otherwise you have to ask yourself why they bothered redesigning it at all.