Friday, 28 June 2019
City of Death, the second story of Season 17, is credited to David Agnew, who you'll recall was also the writer of The Invasion of Time back in Season 15. Cast your mind back to that story, and you'll know that this credit was used by the BBC as a nom de plume for those occasions when the real author(s) could not be credited, for one reason or another. Back then, it was really producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read who were the actual writers, having to step in at the last minute to salvage things when the planned story proved impossible to produce.
This time, it is Williams and his new script editor Douglas Adams who are the writers, after a script from David Fisher (Stones of Blood, Androids of Tara) fell through. Whilst Williams may have contributed, it is obvious that the story as broadcast is very much Adams' work.
And what a work it is. Quite possibly the most perfect Doctor Who story of any era - funny and clever, with Tom Baker at the top of his game and a villain worthy of a James Bond movie (or Indiana Jones, or Star Wars - Julian Glover has played a villainous role in all three franchises).
If you wanted to introduce a friend to the Classic era of the show, this is one of the stories you would select to demonstrate just how good a series it has always been. Personally, I think it is better than that thing Douglas Adams is better remembered for - the thing about towels. There, it was his own show and he could do what he wanted with it, so he could be overly self-indulgent, but here he is having to work to someone else's format. It could have limited him, but it made him a lot more focused, and the humour serves a purpose - rather than being there just for its own sake.
Fisher's original storyline does bear some resemblance to City of Death, so Adams did not start again from scratch. The basic structure is Fisher's. His story was called "A Gamble With Time", and was set on in Monte Carlo in the 1920's. The Doctor and Romana would have visited the famous casino, and spotted someone using anachronistic technology to cheat at the roulette tables. The villain was doing this to raise finance to fund his time travel experiments. The action would have flitted between the 1920's and the present day. Earlier drafts had set the action in Las Vegas. Fisher included the plot about multiple copies of the Mona Lisa, and he also had an image he wanted to use of the first creature coming out of the sea on to the land, only for someone to step on it, and so upset the whole of history.
Also investigating the villain was a private detective named "Pug" Farquharson. This character was inspired Bulldog Drummond. Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond was a gentleman adventurer who was created by H C McNeille, who went by the pen name of "Sapper", in 1920. The character had been used unsuccessfully as a policeman in a magazine story, and Sapper retooled him to make him more of an independent man of means action hero. McNeille died in 1937, leaving 10 novels, a number of short stories, a couple of plays and a film treatment. The first movie was made in 1922, and a number of noted actors took on the role over the years, including Ronald Coleman, Ray Milland, Ralph Richardson and Walter Pidgeon. John Howard played the character 7 times. "Pug" - a breed of bulldog - eventually evolved into Duggan in City of Death.
The Doctor Who production office looked into filming in Monte Carlo itself - Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner working out the logistics. A number of ITC adventure series had been set on the Riviera, and they had been studio-bound, with some stock location footage to set the scene - so this was another option.
Fisher revised his scripts to move the setting to Paris, but still in two time zones - 1928 and 1979. The sequence where an artist sketches Romana was in Fisher's scripts - but it was set in a Montmartre cafe, and the artist drew her with three eyes instead of having a clock for a face. This is because the alien villain was to have had three eyes, with one in the centre of the forehead. They were known as Sephiroth at this stage, and the story had begun in similar fashion to the televised version in showing us their spaceship exploding on prehistoric Earth.
Although it was broadcast later, Fisher had already delivered his scripts for Creature from the Pit, which was the first story of Season 17 to be made. Problems began when Fisher experienced some marital problems at the time of the story's development, as well as having to move house, so he wasn't able to give it his undivided attention. There were concerns about achieving the period setting, as well as having to set some of the story in a different time zone.
When it became clear that Fisher could not proceed any further with the story, he agreed that Williams and Adams could complete it and make any alterations they deemed necessary.
The director had already been booked - Michael Hayes - so he and Adams went to stay with Williams for a weekend, during which Adams was fed with black coffee by Hayes and set to work rewriting - with Williams commenting on what he came up with and throwing in a few suggestions of his own.
To simplify things, Adams first of all set the new version of the story primarily in present day Paris. He decided to concentrate on the Mona Lisa heist, so the whole cheating at gambling idea was dropped. There would still be one visit to another time period - but this would be to Florence in 1505, as the Doctor visited Leonardo da Vinci's studio.
Leonardo moved to the Tuscan city when he was 14, to join the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, where it is claimed that his talent soon outgrew that of his master. He later moved to Milan, between 1482 and 1499. 1502 saw him in Cesena, which is when he became employed by Cesare Borgia. The soldier tasked with guarding the Doctor for Captain Tancredi (one of Scaroth's splinters) mentions having worked for the Borgias. Leonardo returned to Florence in 1503, and was there until 1506 - so the date of 1505 is an accurate one. It is known that he had begun the painting we all know as the Mona Lisa in 1503, but it was later taken on his travels and he worked on it for years afterwards. It was with him when he died in France, in 1519, where he had come under the patronage of King Henri I. The painting's proper title is La Gioconda - La Jaconde in French. The sitter with the most famous smile in art history was Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. Mona is basically a contraction of ma donna, or madam. Poor old Francesco obviously never received his commission, and it was typical of Leonardo to leave a project unfinished as his interest moved on to something else.
The plot of City of Death sees the alien Scaroth caught up in the explosion of his spaceship, which causes him to be splintered and scattered through time. Each splinter assumes a position of authority, influencing human development so that the latest of them - posing as Count Scarlioni in present day Paris - has the technology to build a time machine, so that he can go back to prehistory and prevent the spaceship from being destroyed in the first place. Time machines cost money, so Scarlioni is selling off his art treasures to raise funds - which is how Duggan has come to be employed by a group of art dealers to investigate him (finding out if the items are genuine). Scarlioni has Shakespeare's original draft of Hamlet, and a few Gutenberg Bibles in his collection.
One of the splinters - the aforementioned Tancredi - has commissioned Leonardo to make multiple copies of the Mona Lisa, which will be left bricked up in the house in Paris which Scarlioni will inhabit in 1979. Scarlioni will secretly sell all of them to various buyers, who will keep quiet about their purchases as the painting will be stolen from the Louvre. Each will think they are getting the one and only painting.
We've mentioned before that Doctor Who stories not only draw their inspiration from other sources, but sometimes they themselves inspire later ones. In 1985 ITV serialised the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Jeremy Brett in the lead, and when it came to The Final Problem they found that the plot didn't quite cover the programme run time. They also wanted to increase the role of Professor Moriarty, who only ever appears in this one story, so they added a whole new opening section - wherein Holmes is in Paris stopping Moriarty from selling multiple copies of the Mona Lisa after stealing the one from the Louvre...
Douglas Adams had briefly been a member of the Monty Python team, but he had worked on the last series, in which John Cleese had not appeared. (Adams had taken on Cleese's co-writer role with Graham Chapman). He was able to persuade Cleese to make a cameo appearance in City of Death. Cleese agreed so long as it was uncredited, and his daughter could visit the Doctor Who set. (She got to see Destiny of the Daleks being made). Adams wanted Alan Coren to partner him as the pair of art critics who mistake the TARDIS for an art installation in episode four, but Cleese suggested they try to get Alan Bennett or Jonathan Miller. Eleanor Bron eventually joined him. Cleese filmed his scene whilst he was visiting the BBC to edit the Basil the Rat episode of Fawlty Towers.
Exactly 30 years later a TARDIS did end up on display in an art gallery - Mark Wallinger's mirrored Police Box, a piece called Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, 2001.
JNT did manage to balance the books, so that Doctor Who got its first ever foreign location shoot. Only three of the cast got to go to Paris, with a minimal crew, to keep costs down - Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Tom Chadbon, who played Duggan.
As you can see, there were quite a few story elements which Fisher had introduced which made it through to the finished serial. He elected not to take any credit, but he was did accept a substantial part of his fee.
Next time: from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is a massive green blob of a monster. They call it "the Creature". It lives in an old mine shaft. They call it "the Pit"...
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
In which the TARDIS hurtles out of control across the skies over England, with the newly regenerated Doctor on board - just. In the village of Leadworth, near Gloucester, a girl named Amelia Pond is praying to Santa for someone to come and fix the crack in her bedroom wall. She hears strange sounds coming from it, and it looks like a huge crooked smile. A noise from the garden sends her hurrying outside, where she finds the TARDIS crash-landed - demolishing the shed. She assumes that the Doctor has been sent to help and so invites him inside. She reveals that she lives with her aunt, who has left her home alone for the night. The Doctor is hungry, but nothing seems to satisfy until he has had fish-fingers with custard. He then goes to look at the crack. Examining it, the Doctor realises that it is no ordinary crack. It exists independently of the wall - a breach in the universe. He uses his sonic screwdriver to open it a little, and they hear a voice booming out that "Prisoner Zero has escaped", then a huge eyeball appears and examines them. The crack closes but before the Doctor can do anything else he hears an alarm from the TARDIS. He tells Amelia that he will be back in a few minutes as he needs to dematerialise the ship to stop the engines self-destructing. However, when he returns, he finds that it is now broad daylight. He has worked out that beyond the crack lies an alien prison, and the mysterious Prisoner Zero may well have escaped into Amelia's home. He goes upstairs and discovers a room on the landing which has been protected by a perception filter, rendering it almost invisible. He is suddenly knocked unconscious, and wakes handcuffed to a radiator and confronted by a WPC. His sonic had rolled under the door of the strange room when she hit him. He demands to know what has happened to Amelia, whilst the WPC's attention is drawn to the door, which she can now see. She goes inside and tells the Doctor that his sonic is on top of a table - suggesting that the room must be occupied. The Doctor warns the officer to check her peripheral vision - and she sees a large serpentine creature with massive fangs.
The Doctor manages to free himself as the WPC runs out, and both see the door open to reveal a man with a dog. Both move in unison, and both have huge fangs. The Doctor realises that this is the alien, able to mimic other lifeforms - even multiple ones. They run outside where the WPC reveals that she is Amelia Pond, now grown up and known as Amy. The Doctor is many years late in returning. She isn't a police officer but a kissogram. Although he has only just met her, the Doctor has unwittingly made a significant impact on Amy's life, as no-one would believe her stories of the "raggedy Doctor" and his Police Box - believing he was some sort of child's imaginary friend. Elsewhere in Leadworth, at the local hospital, a nurse named Rory Williams has been helping to care for a number of patients who have inexplicably fallen into deep comas. The problem is that Rory has seen all of the patients walking around the village, and his superiors don't believe him. He is told to take a holiday. The Doctor and Amy go into the village where they discover that every loudspeaker, TV and radio is broadcasting the message that Prisoner Zero has escaped. A huge crystalline spaceship with a giant eyeball at its centre appears over the village and scans the area, and the sky darkens slightly as a forcefield is placed over them. The Doctor notices that Rory is the only person not looking up - he is taking a photo of the man with the dog, who ought to be in the hospital. Amy tells the Doctor that Rory is her boyfriend, which he corrects to fiance.
The Doctor discovers that the spaceship belongs to the Atraxi - the people who run the prison beyond the crack in Amy's wall. They have traced Prisoner Zero here, and plan to incinerate the entire planet to destroy it. However, the escaped convict is able to disguise itself, so can't be found by the Atraxi. The Doctor has to find a way of drawing their attention to the creature so that it can be arrested without harm coming to the planet. He uses the laptop of one of Amy's neighbours to make contact with a panel of experts who have come together to study the alien threat and comes up with a plan. He then sends Amy and Rory to the hospital to evacuate it, as this seems to have a link to Prisoner Zero. All the comatose people are in this state in order for Prisoner Zero to replicate them. Amy and Rory are confronted by a woman with two girls who all have huge fangs - another multiple form for Prisoner Zero. The Doctor's plan was for every clock on Earth to reset to zero, to attract the Atraxi's attention. Prisoner Zero explains that it will be killed if recaptured as it has escaped before. It even copies the Doctor and young Amelia before attacking Amy and trying to duplicate her, as it has had years to get to know her. However, the Doctor is able to get Amy to remember it in its original form as the Atraxi scan the hospital, and it is found. before it can be transported away it makes a cryptic remark about silence falling and something called the Pandorica...
The Doctor, much to Rory's consternation, then summons the Atraxi back. Helping himself to some new clothes, he goes to the roof and orders the Atraxi to scan their records for information about him. He tells them that the Earth is defended. Seeing how he has defeated many alien menaces, they flee back into space.
The Doctor discovers that the TARDIS has repaired itself, with a whole new console room. He takes it for a quick test run before returning to see Amy. However, it is now night, and he discovers that six months have passed. Despite being in her nightdress, Amy accepts a trip in the TARDIS - even though she is due to be married the following day...
The Eleventh Hour was written by new showrunner Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 3rd April 2010. It was all change for the series. As well as Moffat taking over, it saw the arrival of new executive producers Piers Wenger and Beth Willis. It marks the debut of the 11th incarnation of the Doctor - Matt Smith. Apart from the two relaunches for the series - the 1996 Movie and 2005's Rose - this is the first time since Spearhead from Space in January 1970 where there had been so little continuity with the previous season, and even that had featured the already established character of the Brigadier. There are no companions to bridge the regeneration, as we are introduced to Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and companion-to-be Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). Even the music has changed since the RTD era, with a new arrangement of the theme courtesy of Murray Gold, and we have a new logo to go with it as well. The TARDIS is supposed to be travelling through the same Space Time Vortex it has always passed through, but now it looks like a tunnel of storm clouds, with lightning bolts striking the ship.
The TARDIS is redesigned inside and out. The Police Box shell is a darker shade of blue, and the St John's Ambulance Maltese cross badge is back - last seen back in the Hartnell era. Moffat was inspired particularly by the TARDIS as it had appeared in the two Peter Cushing Dalek movies for the new look. The interior is more brass and copper than coral, with the console now on a raised, glass floored dais.
The old sonic screwdriver was destroyed when the Doctor tried to attract the Atraxi, and the ship produces a new one for him, which has a green light instead of a blue one.
The setting for the story is a small English village, whereas the Russell T Davies era had featured London-based companions and their families, and many of his contemporary stories were set in the capital. The new Doctor will rarely visit London, apart from a few historical stories.
Smith wears a roughed up version of his predecessor's outfit for most of the story - only picking up some new clothes towards the end. These include a tweed jacket and a bow-tie. This was likely a nod back to both Pertwee's first story and the Paul McGann Movie, as the Third and Eighth Doctors also "borrowed" their outfits from hospital locker rooms.
A new story arc is introduced and, little did we know it at the time, this one will run throughout the 11th Doctor's entire tenure - some elements only being explained in his final story.
There is the crooked smile crack in the wall which is really a crack in the universe, and Prisoner Zero tells the Doctor that "Silence will fall" and mentions the Pandorica.
The guest cast is a relatively small one. One person of note is Olivia Coleman, who plays the woman with the two girls. She was already fairly well known to UK audiences at the time, but has gone on to achieve international fame - even bagging an Oscar in 2019. Her name was bandied about as a potential Thirteenth Doctor. Doctor Who fans will be pleased to see Arthur Cox as one of the villagers - Mr Henderson, whose car door Amy traps the Doctor's tie in. He portrayed Cully in The Dominators back in 1968.
There is a cameo for TV astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, as one of the experts gathered on-line who help the Doctor. The young man (Jeff) whose laptop the Doctor borrows is played by Tom Hopper. Soon afterwards he would take up a regular role in the BBC TV series Merlin (as Sir Percival), as well as appearing in Game of Thrones (as Dickon Tarly). More recently he's been in The Umbrella Academy. Jeff's grandmother is played by Annette Crosbie - probably best known for playing Victor Meldrew's long-suffering wife in BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Rory's boss in Nina Wadia, whilst the young Amelia Pond is played by Caitlin Blackwood - who is, of course, Karen Gillan's cousin. Despite being relations, the pair had never actually met.
Overall, it is a very good start to the new era. Worries about Smith's youth prove unfounded, as he carries off the "old man in a young man's body" well. As he says in the dialogue, he is still cooking, but there are glimpses of the clumsy and childlike character we'll come to love. At this early stage, the future bodes well.
Things you might like to know:
- Not real fish-fingers, but sponge cakes, which didn't stop many fans trying real fish-fingers with custard.
- Bow ties are cool.
- It was reported by the Harris Tweed Association that demand for their product rose sharply following Smith's debut.
- The TARDIS crash lands on its side, and the Doctor tells Amelia that the swimming pool is now in the library. We saw the TARDIS pool - described as the bathroom - in The Invasion of Time, whilst in Paradise Towers we hear that the Doctor had to delete it after it had sprung a leak. We'll see it again, briefly, in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.
- The opening sequence of the TARDIS flying out of control over London, with the Doctor hanging from the door and almost hitting the weather vane on top of Big Ben, was filmed as its own separate production block, with its own director and producer.
- We learn that the TARDIS manufactures the Doctor's sonic screwdrivers.
- A mistake by the costume department meant that Rory's ID badge has a 1995 date on it - which lead to all manner of fan speculation. It was just a mistake.
- Another mistake was Amy's alarm clock passing from 11:59am to 12:00pm - i.e. noon - when it was supposed to be midnight.
- One sequence with the mother and girls has the children on opposite sides of their mother - the bit where the fire engine ladder smashes through the hospital window. This is because the scene had to be flipped, due the the characters looking in the wrong direction.
- This is the first story since Series 2's Fear Her in which no-one is killed on screen.
- When first shown on BBC America, the episode was heavily cut to fit a 60 minute broadcast slot, with adverts, and one of the bits lost was Prisoner Zero mentioning that "Silence will fall" - a key element of the new story arc.
- The images which are shown to scare away the Atraxi are an odd bunch. They are supposed to reflect how the Doctor has defended the Earth from alien aggressors, yet they show an Ood and a Hath, who have never threatened the planet, and a Sea Devil - who has as much right to be here as we do.
Sunday, 23 June 2019
In the best traditions of the Classic Era of the programme - especially during this first season - we start with a reprise of the cliffhanger from last week's episode. You'll remember that the TARDIS had just fled prehistoric Earth (probably) and arrived in a misty forest of strange looking trees. The Doctor asked Susan to check the radiation meter on the console, and it read normal. After she walked away, the dial then went up into the danger zone.
Presumably it is still flashing away throughout the first episode of this new story - when they gather back in the console room after freshening up, and again when they come back from their walk through the forest, and even when they are all standing around the console preparing for the Doctor to take them away from here. And yet no-one seems to notice it flashing away. It's not that you have to turn it off and on - Susan simply checks it as though it reads automatically, so it should be indicating "Danger" the whole time.
It should be noted that the biggest thing that went wrong with this opening installment was the entire episode. There was audio feedback from the production gallery on the soundtrack, making it unbroadcastable, and so the whole thing had to be remounted a couple of week's later.
There was one advantage to this, however. Designer Ray Cusick had been unhappy with the model of the Dalek city which Shawcraft had supplied. He later claimed that they were good prop makers, but not good designers. He had sketched out his idea for the city, and they had taken his scribble a little too literally. The remount allowed him to get them to redo the model.
|How it might have looked...|
|How it did look...|
In the forest a wind machine is used to rustle Ian's hair, drawing his attention to the fact that the branches aren't moving. However, the scenic backdrop is also seen to move in the breeze.
Back in the TARDIS, no-one seems to notice the Doctor bending down to sabotage the mercury fluid link under the console, even though they are all standing around it. No-one has noticed that he has disappeared out of sight seconds before the fault occurred - or put 2 + 2 together to work out what he has just done.
Once they get to the mysterious city, the equipment in the laboratory clearly isn't designed for a race who have sink plungers as their only means of manipulating things. None of it matches the other machines we later see, which have large round dials.
Once everyone is incarcerated in the cells, we get one of Hartnell's most famous fluffs - when he talks of "anti-radiation gloves" instead of "anti-radiation drugs". I suppose we could allow him this, as the Doctor is delirious and suffering from radiation poisoning at the time.
There is no way that the message Susan writes for the Thals is anything like what the Dalek dictated to her. Her signature takes up half the page for a start. Later on, when the Thal leader Temmosus reads it it will have changed anyway.
One Thal says they left their plateau a year ago, whilst another says it has been four years since they set off.
The TARDIS crew seem not to have noticed that they were being spied upon in the cell until the Daleks mentioned knowing about the Thals - which they could only have overheard. However, we know that the Dalek security cameras move around (as seen in the first episode), so it seems odd that no-one in a bare cell noticed the camera-shaped gizmo moving about as they walked around and realised that it was a camera.
One of those things which don't make sense only in hindsight - the Dalek mutant removed from its casing has a man-sized hand, with fingers. No other Dalek seen later in the series has an appendage like this.
Ian seems to know that the Daleks are lead by a council, despite this never having been mentioned when either the Doctor or Susan was with them.
The dome of the casing which Ian was hiding in has clearly been pre-cut prior to its destruction.
You can tell that Ian Chesterton was very well brought up. He politely waits until Temmosus has finished his speech before jumping out and warning him he has walked into a trap - which allows the Daleks time to prepare to exterminate him. And none of the Thals seem to notice the sinister metal machines which have emerged from the shadows to surround their leader. He beckons them forward when the Daleks have moved to a few feet from him.
I am not going to raise the issue of the cardboard cut-out Daleks which are used to bulk out the numbers in the control room scenes, as most critiques of this story are wont to do. Naturally, we all watch these episodes on DVD on HD TVs, the stories all digitally remastered. We need to remember the context of viewing this story as it went out in the winter of 1963 / 64. Audiences would have been watching this on 405 line televisions, with relatively small screens. The cut-outs simply wouldn't have been all that noticeable.
Whether or not the audience might also have seen the rubber ring used to inflate the tentacled swamp monster is another matter.
The sequence where the Doctor and Susan carry out a bit of sabotage on a piece of Dalek equipment sees the flash going off too soon and not matching with the sound effect.
Another miscued sound effect is the Dalek scanner in their control room which relays pictures of the Thal camp. The images appear before the sound effect of their being shown.
How on Skaro does Ganatus know that Earth has a "ladies first" custom?
In the cavern trek scenes, the rock Barbara uses to secure the rope for Ganatus is either a very light volcanic type of stone, or it's made of polystyrene. We suspect the latter, as it is the same stuff which Ian grabs onto when he's almost dragged into a chasm. You can see the white core of the material when he breaks a bit off with his fingers.
The climax of the story involves a countdown, as the Daleks prepare to release more radiation into the atmosphere of Skaro. This countdown reaches 40, then we cut to a scene of the Thals, with Ian and Barbara, trying to get through the closing section doors. This takes the better part of a minute, yet when we return to the control room the countdown has only just moved on to 39. The countdown stops at 4 when the Thals break in to the control room and there is a lengthy battle sequence, yet the radiation doesn't get released whilst they are fighting. This can only be explained by the countdown leading to a manual release of the radiation - so the Dalek in charge fails to proceed because his boss has stopped counting.
The Daleks are defeated by their power draining away, and yet the lights stay on and Susan seems to think that their food - produced by artificial sunlight - will still be available to the Thals. And just what sort of food is it that the Daleks eat anyway?
Last but not least, the Doctor seems to think that birds will re-evolve on the planet in one or two generations. Maybe the Thals have told him that there are birds elsewhere on Skaro - just not here - and he hopes they will migrate once the Thals start to cultivate the land.
The next story is set up when we see the TARDIS console explode and the ship is plunged into darkness. It's a much smaller console room than the one we saw in the last story, and in the first episode of this one. It'll be huge again when next we see it - but that's for another time...
Thursday, 20 June 2019
In order to launch Season 17 with a bit of a bang, producer Graham Williams decided to bring back the Daleks after a five year absence. He had been reluctant to use them in his first couple of years, feeling they had been overused in the past, with their impact diminished. He was also of the opinion that he had overused the Time Lords, or Time Lord lore, over the last two years and wanted to move away from them. He and his new script editor Douglas Adams approached Terry Nation, and found him agreeable to the idea - so long as he got to write the story. They then had to wait a while as he was still busy preparing the third season of Blake's 7. Nation had hoped to have a crossover between B7 and the Daleks, but his producer had vetoed the idea.
As it turned out, this was to be the last story which Nation wrote for Doctor Who, as he would soon up sticks and move to the US.
For Destiny of the Daleks, Nation opted to go for a straight sequel to his creations' last outing - 1975's Genesis of the Daleks, which had introduced the character of Davros. Nation liked the character as he was more interesting to write for - even he admitting that the Daleks could be a little boring when it came to dialogue - and he was keen to resurrect him.
Williams had read an Isaac Asimov story in which two great battle fleets had become locked in a stalemate due to their reliance on logical strategic battle computers, and so Nation introduced this element into his new story. There had to be a good reason for the Daleks to return to Skaro to find their old creator, and so he devised the long-running war between the Daleks and another robotic race called the Petrans (who would later be renamed the Movellans). The Petrans were originally envisaged as being all female. In the first draft, the Daleks didn't want Davros himself - just some technology from his life-support unit.
For some inexplicable reason, Nation wrote the Daleks as though they were wholly robotic - even having the Doctor comment that they once had organic components as though a thing of the past. When next written for, by Eric Saward, this development was entirely ignored, despite Nation having script approval.
When he wrote the first Dalek serial back in 1963, Nation had regretted killing them off at the conclusion, and decided not to make the same mistake with Davros. He was certainly fired upon by his creations at the conclusion of Genesis, but the screen had gone to a white-out and we never actually saw his destruction. When he contributed to the 1977 Dalek Annual, he had made sure to mention Davros' in-built automatic life-support systems, although he had also earlier written that Davros' brain was now housed on one of the moons of Skaro.
Nation was insistent that he would not include K9 in his story. John Leeson had left the programme during the break between seasons, and a new voice artist had been recruited - actor David Brierley. He wasn't employed on this story as K9 wasn't going to feature, other than a brief scene in the TARDIS at the beginning where he was struck down by laryngitis. The croaks he makes were produced by Roy Skelton, who was going to be doing the Dalek voices.
One of the reasons Nation was happy to bring back Davros was because he had been impressed with Michael Wisher's performance. Sadly, Wisher was unavailable, being on tour in a play, and so David Gooderson was cast in the part. The costume, chair and mask had all been on view in the Blackpool and Longleat Doctor Who Exhibitions since 1975, and were in a dreadful state of repair. The mask was patched up as best they could but did not fit Gooderson very well, and the heavy brown make-up used around the mouth in some scenes does rather give the suggestion that Davros has been munching chocolate bars throughout his supposed hibernation.
The Dalek casings were also in a very poor state, and can clearly be seen to have been haphazardly patched up in places, with no uniformity to the paint schemes. A number of crudely made lightweight plastic ones were created for the location scenes (filmed at the same quarry in Dorset which had featured as Atlantis in The Underwater Menace). These would be seen to be carried by extras - bobbing about rather than gliding. As he hated the Daleks so much, Tom Baker was allowed to detonate the VFX explosion which destroys the suicide squad at the conclusion.
Nation loved to reuse elements from previous Dalek stories, which is why the TARDIS doors become blocked early on - preventing the Doctor and Romana from escaping. He had used this in The Dalek Invasion of Earth with a bridge collapse, but here it is a rockfall. Come to think of it, The Chase had also seen Daleks being blatantly carried on location across sand dunes - so an unintended homage to another earlier story.
Graham Williams had toyed with the idea of Romana, as a young Time Lord, simply being ready for her first regeneration - suggesting it was a natural process all Time Lords went through at a certain age, rather than always being the result of fatal injury. He even thought about casting a different actress as Romana for each story of the season. As mentioned last time, however, Mary Tamm had noticed how Tom Baker had got on well with Lalla Ward, playing Princess Astra in The Armageddon Factor, and she had half-jokingly suggested to Williams that he employ her as her replacement.
On screen, no explanation for Romana's regeneration is offered and, much to the dismay of fans, Douglas Adams chose to play with the process by having her try on various other bodies before settling back on the likeness of Astra. This seemed to fly in the face of accepted canon about Time Lords having a limited number of regenerations. We can now excuse this in hindsight, as it was later explained that regenerations were "pliable" in the first 15 hours.
There is a sequence on the Movellan spaceship where the Doctor and Romana play Rock-Paper-Scissors, to demonstrate a logical impasse. This game goes all the way back to the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC - 220 AD). A later Japanese variant was known as Frog-Slug-Snake. The thumb represented the frog, which could be beaten by the little finger denoting a slug, whilst the index finger representing the snake beat the other two.
As well as the Romana regeneration sequence, Douglas Adams made his presence felt in other ways. When the Doctor becomes trapped under a concrete pillar he takes a book from his pocket to read whilst he awaits rescue. This is Oolon Colluphid's Origins of the Universe. Colluphid had been referenced in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where he was known as the author of a trilogy of philosophical works - Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway?.
Another scene which Adams rewrote was the one where the Doctor and his party escape from the Dalek city up a shaft. The Doctor taunts the Dalek pursuers: "If you're supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don't you try climbing after us?". Terry Nation absolutely hated this. He did not like the Daleks being made figures of fun - one of the reasons why a Kit-Kat ad featuring them was pulled. The only time he grudgingly permitted them to be used for comedy was when Spike Milligan wrote the notorious Pakistani-Dalek Sketch for his Q series. Nation couldn't very well deny the man who had launched his career.
Season 17 was recorded out of order. Creature From The Pit had been made first, followed by City of Death - with Destiny being produced third. During the filming of City in Paris, Adams and his friend, Destiny's director Ken Grieve were prepping the Dalek story. Bored at the office in London, they went to the pub and, after a few drinks, decided to jump on a plane and go and join the cast and crew in Paris - turning up at their hotel unannounced. Williams was furious and sent them packing. After a few more drinks, they hopped on a plane to Berlin where they knew of some late night watering holes. Both flew back to the UK the next morning, with a very hungover Grieve having to go straight to the Dorset location to start filming.
Next time: One of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever written - probably...
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
An English solicitor who, in 1746, was employed as Commissioner of Prisons by the Government in London to process Jacobite prisoners. He had decided to make his fortune by selling a number of the captives into slavery in the West Indies and had entered into partnership with a pirate named Trask, who had led a mutiny and taken control of The Annabelle, on which he had served as First Mate. Its captain was now in chains down below, facing the same fate as the Jacobites. The prisoners would be coerced into being transported abroad willingly. Grey saved the Doctor and his companion Ben from being hanged - but only so they could also be sold into slavery. The Doctor later escaped after hoodwinking Grey's assistant, Perkins. He and Polly then set about getting weapons to pass on to the prisoners on the ship, where Ben had led a revolt against the signing of the documents Grey needed to legitimise his plans. The captives succeeded in freeing themselves, and Trask was thrown overboard. A young piper named Jamie McCrimmon decided not to leave with them on the ship - headed to safety in France. Instead he would guide the Doctor and his companions back to where they had left the TARDIS. Grey was waiting for them with some soldiers, but the Doctor managed to steal his documents. Without his evidence, Grey was arrested by Lt ffinch, accused of illegally trading in slaves.
Played by: David Garth. Appearances: The Highlanders (1966/7).
- Garth would return to the programme in 1971, when he played the Time Lord emissary who comes to warn the exiled Doctor that the Master has arrived on Earth, in Terror of the Autons.
Count Grendel of Gracht was a nobleman of the planet Tara, who had evil designs on the throne. He had already abducted the Princess Strella, who was betrothed to the heir, Prince Reynart, and was working on a scheme to kidnap him as well when he encountered Romana in the woods on his estate. He saved her from a savage bear-like Taran Woodbeast. She had just located the fourth segment of the Key to Time - hidden as part of a statue. Seeing the incomplete sculpture disconcerted Grendel, as its fortunes were said to be inextricably linked to those of his House. He took Romana back to his castle where he placed her in the care of his engineer Madam Lamia, believing her to be an android as she was the spitting image of Princess Strella. Grendel then had Reynart kidnapped on the eve of his coronation. Failure to attend the ceremony would mean instant forfeiture of the crown, and Grendel used his soldiers to intimidate the Archimandrite into deciding to offer the throne to him instead. However, the Doctor had succeeded in repairing an android copy of Reynart, and it made it to the throne room in time. Grendel sent an android of Romana to assassinate the Doctor, but this failed and Lamia was killed. She had carried a torch for him, but her interest was not reciprocated.
Grendel then decided to force Reynart to marry Strella but, as she refused to comply, Romana was to take her place. Reynart was doomed to die just after the wedding, and Grendel would then marry his widowed bride - who would then promptly expire soon afterwards. The Doctor arrived to save the day, opening the castle gates to Reynart's men. He and the Count fought a lengthy duel but - realising he was beaten - Grendel opted to leap from the battlements into the moat and flee to fight another day.
Played, with relish, by: Peter Jeffrey. Appearances: The Androids of Tara (1978).
- Jeffrey had appeared in the programme once before - as the Pilot in charge of the colony in The Macra Terror.
Lily Gregson was the postmistress of the village of Moreton Harwood, where Sarah Jane Smith's aunt Lavinia lived. When Sarah came to stay after working abroad she discovered that her aunt was not at home, and had not left any message as to her whereabouts. Worried, she went to visit Lily who assured her that Lavinia had not sent any telegrams for her. Later, Lavinia's young ward Brendan was abducted by a local coven who worshiped the ancient goddess Hecate - intending to sacrifice him to allay the recent poor harvests. Sarah arrived in time to stop the ceremony and the coven's leaders were stunned by K9. One of them was Lily Gregson, whilst the other was Commander Pollock, Lavinia's business partner. Lavinia had gone on a US lecture tour earlier than planned, and Lily had kept this from Sarah.
Played by: Gillian Martell. Appearances: K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend (1981).
A senior detective with Scotland Yard, who often worked with Madam Vastra in solving crimes around London. Gregson assumed that Vastra's appearance - and that of her Sontaran butler Strax - were down to some medical cause, and he had more trouble accepting Vastra's domestic arrangements with maid Jenny Flint. After Vastra had helped him solve a crime in 1892, he next encountered her when a Tyrannosaurus Rex suddenly materialised in the Thames by the Houses of Parliament. It had been brought forward through time after swallowing the TARDIS containing the newly regenerated Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald. Later Vastra called him in to help deal with a restaurant full of body-part stealing Clockwork Droids.
Played by: Paul Hickey. Appearances: Vastra Investigates (2012), Deep Breath (2014).
- Vastra Investigates was a short prequel to The Snowmen.
British Prime Minister at the time when the world was threatened by the hostile alien species known only as the 456, because of the radio frequency they communicated on. Green ordered Civil Servant John Frobisher to eliminate anyone who had prior knowledge of the aliens - which included Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood. The 456 soon made their presence known to the entire world, as they demanded thousands of the Earth's children. Green presided over meetings in which the children of the elite would be spared, whilst those from lower class backgrounds would be handed over. Frobisher's colleague Bridget Spears secretly recorded Green claiming that he would blame the Americans for the crisis and, once the 456 had been repelled and Frobisher had killed himself and his family, she and Home Secretary Denise Riley threatened to reveal the footage to the public if Green did not resign.
Played by: Nicholas Farrell. Appearances: Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009).
- Presumably Green would only have been in post for a year or so, having become PM after Harold Saxon's death.
Following the July release of Season 10 on Blu-ray, the next box-set to be announced will be Season 23 - The Trial of a Time Lord season - which is due on 23rd September in the UK.
Everyone had been expecting a McCoy season to be next.
Amongst the extras announced so far we will be getting Terror of the Vervoids with new optional CGI effects; an in-depth interview by Matthew Sweet with Bonnie Langford; and two line-ups on the "Behind the Sofa" segments - Colin Baker joins Nicola Bryant and Bonnie, and Mark Strickson will be accompanied by Frazer Hines and Matthew Waterhouse for a more neutral view of the season.
There will be another "Writers Room" piece, this time looking at the stories which didn't get made for the season. Participants include Christopher Hamilton Bidmead, Eric Saward, Philip Martin and Wally K Daly. Colin Baker will be having some friends round to dinner and, in a related piece, some of the cast will be cooking up their chosen recipes from the 1985 Doctor Who Cookbook.
The listings say there are 6 discs, despite there only being four stories (technically it's one long story, but you know what I mean) - which makes for 2 discs of extras.
I've already pre-ordered my copy from zoom.co.uk. I've gotten all these box-sets from them as they have been cheaper than that company named after a South American river - as well as faster at delivery. I got the Season 18 box-set four days before its release date, whilst another pre-order from that other company didn't arrive until the day after the release date.
Not the best season of Doctor Who by a long way, but it does have its moments. The behind-the-scenes stories are far more interesting than most of what we got on screen.
Thursday, 13 June 2019
The Armageddon Factor saw the programme at a point of some change. Though it wasn't known at the time, this was to be the last six part story to be broadcast, and the final collaboration on Doctor Who for writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who had been regular contributors since The Claws of Axos back in 1971. Anthony Read stepped down as Script Editor, and Mary Tamm decided that she would not be talked into staying on for another season as Romana. John Leeson also decided to move on from voicing K9.
In terms of starts, this story saw the first appearance of Lalla Ward, who would go on to play the second incarnation of Romana, and new Script Editor Douglas Adams arrived to oversee the final section of the story, which would wrap up the whole Key to Time saga.
We were also introduced to the Black Guardian, as portrayed by Valentine Dyall, who would return for a trilogy of stories during the 20th anniversary season.
Of course, there was one further six part story planned for the conclusion of Season 17, but Shada was cancelled part way through the studio recording period and was never completed or broadcast.
John Nathan-Turner then took over as producer and realised that he could get seven stories per season by dispensing with the six parter - which meant seven "first nights" with their attendant publicity.
It could be argued that there was one further equivalent to a six part story further down the line - once the series had moved to 45 minute episodes. This was the three part The Two Doctors.
For their inspiration for The Armageddon Factor, Baker & Martin looked to the Second World War and the Cold War. The story sees twin planets Atrios and Zeos in the midst of a decades long war. They are basically the Super Powers America and the USSR, or Britain and Germany in WWII.
The leader of the Atrian armed forces, the Marshal, gives Churchillian speeches to rouse his people, and makes propaganda use of Princess Astra of the Atrian royal family. King George VI and his wife and daughters were often employed to help raise morale in Britain, especially during the Blitz when they would go walkabout in the recently bombed parts of London.
The story opens with a bit of propaganda, which leaves the audience thinking they are going to see a badly performed story with dodgy CSO work. It's actually a programme within the programme - a piece of romantic morale boosting, which contains the immortal line "Young men, out there, are dying for it...". The Hero is referring to the war, naturally.
For research, Baker & Martin visited a Cold War bunker near Bath, which inspired the Marshal's War Room scenes. For a war story, we never actually see any of the conflict - it's all done with computer displays and radio communications.
It transpires that there is a third force at work, manipulating both sides behind the scenes - the Shadow. This isn't a new thing for the series. Indeed, the very first Dalek story was originally to have featured the arrival of an alien race in the closing episode, come to claim responsibility for starting the war between the Daleks and the Thals. They would have reconciled the two Skarosian races, agreeing to help rebuild their planet, and it is unlikely that the series would have lasted more than a couple of seasons had this early draft been the one which was made and broadcast.
Later we had the Earth and Draconian empires being manipulated into going to war with each other, this time by the Master and his Ogron allies, who were in the pay of the Daleks. They planned to invade the galaxy once the two empires had weakened themselves through the manufactured conflict.
Once he is on the Shadow's "planet of evil" - which actually looks like a space station but is frequently referred to as a planet - the Doctor encounters another Time Lord by the name of Drax. This character actually originated in an unused version of the writers' The Hand of Fear scripts. This was when that story was a six parter, intended to conclude the 13th Season. The character was described as having a mop of curly ginger hair, but the director - Michael Hayes - must not have read that bit when he cast the balding Barry Jackson. Drax speaks with a cockney accent, having spent some time in HMP Brixton after being caught stealing parts for his TARDIS.
Drax was employed by the Shadow to build a computer called Mentalis, which runs the Zeon armed forces - the original population of the planet having been wiped out years ago (presumably by the Shadow rather than by the Atrians, though this is never specified on screen). If Mentalis is destroyed, it will trigger the Armageddon of the title, wiping out this entire sector of space.
Another long running war is referenced when Drax uses the dimensional control from his TARDIS to shrink himself and the Doctor. They then hitch a ride inside K9 to get into the Shadow's lair undetected - using K9 as a Trojan Horse. The Doctor fails to mention that he gave Odysseus that idea in the first place.
The sixth segment of the Key to Time proves to be Princess Astra - the sixth child of the sixth dynasty of the sixth house of Atrios. Baker and Martin were originally going to have the segment the Shadow's shadow. When it came to discussing the story arc with Anthony Read, it was explained to them that the Black and White Guardians were gong to be two aspects of the same character, but it was then decided to make the relationship between the two more vague.
Baker and Martin also wanted to have it made more explicit that the Shadow wasn't the only agent of the Black Guardian whom the Doctor and Romana had encountered throughout the season. As it is, only Cesair of Diplos, in The Stones of Blood, might just have been an agent, but even that isn't clear.
For the second year running, Producer Graham Williams spent a frantic few days trying to convince his leading lady to stay on the show, and for the second year running he failed. Tamm was unhappy that the character had not turned out in the way originally promised her when she accepted the role, and felt there was little more she could do with it. She half-jokingly suggested Lalla Ward as her replacement one lunch time, having seen how well Tom Baker got on with her, and was surprised to later hear that the idea was taken seriously. Tamm became the third companion to leave without any farewell scene - the first being Jackie Lane's Dodo, who disappeared halfway through The War Machines, and the second being Caroline John whose Liz Shaw vanishes between seasons 7 and 8.
Companion departures are obviously a much bigger deal these days - interminably so in the case of Clara Oswald.
The general consensus is that The Armageddon Factor is an unsatisfying conclusion to what had been a season-long story. The Black Guardian turns up at the very last minute, posing as his White counterpart, but is quickly seen through by the Doctor. The Key is then broken up and re-scattered through Time and Space, never having really been seen to do what it was supposed to do - namely restoring universal balance. Astra is reconstituted - implying that all the other segments have gone back to where the Doctor and Romana found them. This is a problem, if true, as their whereabouts are now known. The final TARDIS scenes were the first to be overseen by Douglas Adams as he took over his new role.
Graham Williams had come to the job intending to do a season-long story arc, but after Season 16 he decided it was a case of "never again". The arc had meant that he did not have the freedom to swap stories around and respond easily to production problems. By way of signifying this, the Doctor installs a new piece of equipment to the TARDIS console - the Randomiser. This will mean that he has no control over where they will land - hoping that the Black Guardian won't know where he has gone either. As it is, if you've read my post on the Randomiser back when I reviewed the Season 17 stories, the device was continually over-ridden - or just plain ignored by the writers of that season.
Next time: Douglas Adams introduces a lot more humour into the series, which is welcomed by Tom Baker, but not so much by Terry Nation...
Monday, 10 June 2019
Since my last post, when I announced that I would be looking at some of the things which didn't quite go to plan, or just don't make much sense, I decided to rename the series - see above (sorry Homer).
I also had a thought about boom mike shadows, which other blogs catalogue in painstaking detail, and decided not to bother mentioning them at all. An actual boom mike in shot is another matter, however.
Our first story is, of course, that which is generally titled An Unearthly Child. I did a whole post a couple of years ago on the names of the stories up to and including The Gunfighters, so I won't be revisiting that debate again here.
William Hartnell is generally on good form here, but there is one instance when he and William Russell talk over each other when standing outside the TARDIS in the junkyard.
Just why did the TARDIS assume the form of a Police Call Box? It must have happened on this landing, as Susan and the Doctor are surprised and upset when they see that it hasn't changed its shape when it lands in the prehistoric landscape. Police boxes were not made of wood - only the doors were, the rest was concrete - yet Ian doesn't comment on this. They were already starting to go out of use and were being dismantled by 1963, being replaced with radios in cars.
Ian rightly remarks on it being strange that such a box might be located in a junkyard. There is an explanation for this. The Chameleon Circuit (as it will later be called) is on its last legs, evidenced by it breaking down altogether when the ship next moves, so hasn't quite got things right for the time period or the location.
Once inside the ship, Ian states that the Doctor closed the doors: "He closed the doors from over there. I saw him." - when in fact it was Susan who did this, as the Doctor had instructed her to do: "Close the door, Susan".
When Ian goes to operate the control there is a slight pause before the sound effect kicks in, and you can just about hear someone off camera giving him his cue.
When the TARDIS dematerialises we see an aerial shot of London (presumably Shoreditch) which implies that the ship lifts off vertically - which it doesn't do at this stage. The dematerialisation makes the Doctor and Susan ill, and is enough to knock Ian and Barbara unconscious. The lights dim, and the dematerialisation sound is heard within the ship. Whilst the noise might be heard again in the TARDIS on a couple of other occasions (such as the end of the following story), the rest of this is unique to this story. A possible explanation here is that the ship hasn't been properly repaired and has taken off when not ready. It would be some design flaw if you invented a ship which made you ill every time you used it.
The first episode ends with the shadow of a figure looming over the terrain in front of the Police Box. This was shot on a forced perspective set, so the shadow is too big.
Why does the Doctor take a Geiger Counter with him, when the ship has a built-in one - as we'll see at the end of this story?
We will be looking at some plot elements with the benefit of hindsight as we proceed with these posts - so not things which were wrong at the time, but look odd when viewed back. The first of these is the Doctor smoking a pipe. The next three episodes are all about fire, and the TARDIS crew's inability to provide it for the tribesfolk. Ian dropped his torch in the junkyard, and told Barbara he didn't have any matches when she suggested using one to find the torch. Clearly she doesn't have any either. The Doctor loses his pipe and matches when he is attacked by Kal. It seems very odd indeed that neither Ian nor Barbara smoked in 1963, a time when even doctors used to endorse cigarette brands.
As for the Doctor and his pipe, he is never seen to smoke again, or even mention having smoked.
Later Ian will make fire, in best Boy Scout fashion, by rubbing two sticks together. Why didn't he think of this when they were first locked up in the Cave of Skulls?
Just how long have the tribe gone without fire? The chronology is very hard to work out. Did Za's dad just die, taking the secret with him? If it is just the approach of their first winter without fire that the tribe is worried about then why does Horg talk about fire like it was something he hasn't seen for a very long time - a memory only the old people have? If they have gone many years without fire, why worry now - it's not as if they would know there was an Ice Age round the corner.
There is another mistimed cue as Susan screams long before the Old Woman even starts to push her way into the cave by the secret entrance. And if the tribe live here, why don't the rest of them know about the other entrance?
We have our first example of a prop which is supposed to be very heavy indeed looking lightweight, as Za and Hur try to move the great stone from the main entrance.
Talking of the Cave of Skulls, I previously mentioned that some cliffhangers were filmed afresh at the start of the following week's recording. This is noticeable when you look at the skulls at the end of Part Two, and the more plastic-looking ones at the start of Part Three. One of the skeletons seems to have managed to remain wholly articulated, but has the oddest collar bones. It looks like a single bone running from shoulder to shoulder, like something from a joke shop.
After the time-travellers have been recaptured and placed back in the cave, Jacqueline Hill stumbles over one of her lines - the one about the stone with a hole in it, which she almost gets back to front before correcting herself.
The cave on film is far larger than the cave in studio - a common issue when episodes have a mix of filming (usually at Ealing) and studio recording (in the cramped Lime Grove Studio D).
When the Doctor and his companions place the skulls on flaming torches to scare the superstitious tribesfolk, the trick lasts only until one of the torches falls over. Or rather gets yanked by a piece of out of sight string.
Last, but not least, we have the conclusion with the aforementioned radiation meter. This takes an age to register the heavy irradiation at their next landing sight - so long that Susan has had a good look at it and they have all wandered off to freshen up. It doesn't have any sort of aural alert, which seems to be another design flaw - or is it also faulty?
Apart from the naming protocol for the story, the other big debate about An Unearthly Child is just where and when it is set. Later episodes will suggest that it was prehistoric Earth the TARDIS visited, but this is never mentioned in the story itself. The Doctor states that his "year-o-meter" is reading zero and so not working, implying they have travelled in time but not necessarily in space.
One of the alternative story titles was "100,000 BC". However, there is a gap in the fossil record in Britain covering 180,000 - 60,000 BC - apparently because it was far too cold this far north at that time. There was a land bridge where the English Channel now is, and any people living in the area where London later grew would have migrated south. One popular fan theory, for those who don't think this is prehistoric Earth we are visiting, is that we are actually in the far future, when the human race has been reduced to a primitive state following some great catastrophe, such as nuclear war. Fire is a metaphor for the technology which will lead to our destruction. Another theory is that this is actually the planet Skaro they are already on - so Ian giving the cave people the secret of fire will eventually lead to the creation of the Daleks...
Saturday, 8 June 2019
Doctor Who, even unto its present incarnation, has often got things wrong. We get ropey CGI, plot holes and weird discontinuities in the more recent series, whilst in the Classic phase of the show there were props which didn't work, actors forgetting their lines, and things in shot which shouldn't have been there. There were also many, many things which did not quite make sense. I try to be as positive as I can about all aspects of the programme - we tend to forgive flaws in the things we love - but I thought it might also be fun to highlight some of the times when things did not exactly go to plan. I'm therefore going to embark on a new occasional series looking at each story from the start, looking at what sometimes went wrong. Naturally, this will include some of Bill Hartnell's most infamous fluffs - though he wasn't the only one to trip over their tongue. We'll also have bad special effects, the occasional wobbly set (quite rare actually, despite public perceptions) and those plot holes. In many cases an argument can be found to explain the latter, and I'll try to do this as we go along.
So - not a criticism of the series in any way, more a recognition of the time and financial restraints under which the series used to be made.
Back in the 1960's video tape was so expensive that directors were rationed as to how many edits they could make, as the tape had to be reused (which is one reason why so many old programmes are lost to the archives). If things went wrong, unless it was a complete disaster, the cameras just had to keep rolling - which is why there are so many fluffs in the earliest stories and fewer as time went on. Actors quickly learned that if they wanted a scene to be redone, then they should swear very loudly.
Had it been made just a few years earlier, Doctor Who might have gone out live on a Saturday evening. When an actor dried, the Assistant Floor Manager had a switch on the studio wall which cut the sound, so that the actor could be prompted. On 30th November, 1958, an actor by the name of Gareth Jones was performing in an Armchair Theatre production called Underground. His character suffered a heart attack in the play - and Jones then suffered a real, fatal, one between scenes. His colleagues improvised around this and completed the programme. The show, as they say, must go on.
Live TV in the 1950's also meant that if you wanted to repeat a programme, such as a play, then the cast had to reassemble and perform it all over again. Occasionally, a telecopy might be made - by pointing a camera at a monitor showing the programme. This is why we still have the first two episodes of the original Quatermass Experiment serial from 1953. Unfortunately an insect decided to settle on the monitor, remaining on screen for half of Part Two, so we have a real life giant bug making an uninvited appearance long before the alien creature appears, as anyone who has seen the DVD release will know. The BBC decided not to telecopy the remaining four episodes - so this classic TV series is totally lost to us in its entirety.
In its earliest years, Doctor Who was made "as live" - in that the programme would be recorded entirely in story order in very long takes. The cameras would not necessarily cut at the end of a scene. There might be a scheduled fade to black - inserted so that foreign TV stations could include an advert break - but generally there was a roll-on. If actors had to move to another set, the camera might linger on the face of an actor who wasn't in the next scene, or on some prop or bit of set - all to give cast and cameras time to get ready to continue filming. The cast rehearsed for the week and went into studio on the Friday night - later the Saturday night - for recording of an episode that would be screened about three weeks hence. During Patrick Troughton's time, this was reduced to just one week at times. Once exterior filming came along, these sequences would always be filmed in advance of the studio day so that they could be played in during recording. The actors often had to come out of rehearsals for one story to film the exterior stuff for the forthcoming story - often sacrificing their days off as well to do this.
Music and sound effects would be played in live to the studio, rather than be dubbed on afterwards. Even the opening and closing titles would be played into the studio on cue.
Sometimes the cliffhangers would be telecopied for inclusion at the start of the next week's episode, but a lot of the time they were reenacted by the cast at the start of the following week's recording - which is why they don't always match. Of course, this was long before the days of home video recorders, and viewers weren't expected to recall exactly what the end of the previous week's installment had looked like. At least Doctor Who never went down the path taken by some of those Saturday morning cinema serials such as Flash Gordon, The Undersea Kingdom or King of the Rocketmen, when the filmmakers cheated blatantly. I recall one scene when the characters in one of these serials go over a cliff in a truck - seen clearly in the cab as it falls. Next week, they are seen jumping clear well before the vehicle goes over the edge.
A quick look at the "Pilot" episode of Doctor Who - the first attempt at An Unearthly Child - demonstrates the way the programme was made at the beginning. The episode was recorded in two sections - firstly everything from the opening school corridor scene up to Barbara pushing her way into the Police Box on the junkyard set, then the TARDIS interior scenes were recorded in another single take. To achieve the first section in one go, the camera stays with Susan, making weird Rorschach doodlings when Ian and Barbara leave the classroom - allowing William Russell and Jacqueline Hill to move to the car sitting outside the junkyard gates. Carole Ann Ford then remains in the classroom set to be filmed for the flashback scenes. Ian and Barbara are heard but not seen in these flashbacks, as the actors are sat in that car. This first half of the episode went mostly to plan, although it was Ford who made the programme's first ever dialogue fluff - giving John Smith and the Common Men's chart positions the wrong way round, so that they have gone down the chart rather than up it. The second half of the episode had to be done three times (twice fully and once abandoned part way through), as the TARDIS doors refused to close properly. If you've seen this footage you'll know that the doors continue to open and close behind the actors, banging loudly at times, as the stagehands struggle to control them.
The episode had other problems of a non-technical nature - namely some dialogue which Sydney Newman didn't like, and some of the performances. Susan specifically states that she comes from the 49th Century, and she is seen to be wearing a futuristic silvery tabard. Newman preferred the time-travellers' origins to be more mysterious and less defined, and wanted Susan to wear conventional clothing which teenage viewers could relate to. He also disliked the way that the Doctor and Susan were played - she being a little too alien, and he being too unlikable. Newman also hated the Rorschach bit, which he found incomprehensible.
Producer Verity Lambert and Director Waris Hussein were taken out to lunch by Newman and he set out his objections to the pilot, before ordering them to remount the episode.
Next time, we'll be looking at that remount and the subsequent three episodes which make up the first Doctor Who story, and what still didn't quite go to plan...
Tuesday, 4 June 2019
It has been announced that the next "lost" Doctor Who story to get the animated treatment is to be The Faceless Ones, which first aired over six weeks in April / May 1967. This was broadcast immediately after the last one to be animated - The Macra Terror - and was the last story to feature companions Ben and Polly.
Unlike The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones has two episodes intact in the archives, which were released on DVD as part of the "Lost in Time" box set many years ago. These episodes will be on the new release, but as extras, as Parts One and Three are also going to be animated - making a change from previous releases of partial stories where only the missing episodes were animated (i.e. The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase, The Ice Warriors).
This is to be welcomed, as the animated episodes of The Faceless Ones are to be presented in colour, and it has always been somewhat jarring to switch from the animated parts to the live action ones.
This should make a future Season 4 Blu-ray box set much more appealing to buyers, as it is one of the seasons with the fewest existing episodes.
No release date has been set, other than that it won't be coming out until next year - presumably late February / early March.
I was sorry to hear today of the death of Paul Darrow, at the age of 78. He appeared twice in Doctor Who - first as Captain Hawkins of UNIT in the 1970 story The Silurians, and later as the villainous Tekker in 1985's Timelash.
His appearance in the latter was noted for its theatricality, as Darrow played the wicked Maylin as if he were channeling Laurence Olivier as Richard III. It was claimed that this over-acting was quite deliberate - a response to Colin Baker having gone over the top in his series, when he played Bayban the Butcher in the 1980 Blake's 7 episode City at the Edge of the World.
Darrow will, of course, be best remembered for playing the anti-hero Kerr Avon in four seasons of Blake's 7, appearing in all but the very first episode. He assumed the lead when Blake actor Gareth Thomas left the series, and indeed was the last man standing in the final episode. he reprised Avon for some audio adventures, as well as voicing other characters in the Kaldor City range of audios, which contained elements from Blake's 7 and the Doctor Who story Robots of Death in a shared universe. (Had Terry Nation got his way, the worlds of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 would have been more closely linked, as he wanted to have the Daleks feature in Star One, the finale to Season 2).
Later, he filmed scenes for the 2002 Bond movie Die Another Day, but unfortunately they were deleted before it hit the cinemas.
Paul Darrow (1941 - 2019). RIP.
Monday, 3 June 2019
David Fisher's Prisoner of Zenda pastiche was at one point going to be the fifth story of Season 16, whilst Script Editor Anthony Read had commissioned a script from the veteran film and TV writer Ted Willis. He had written the original treatment for the 1950 film The Blue Lamp, in which PC George Dixon first appeared (as played by Jack Warner). Despite the character being killed (shot during an armed robbery by a young Dirk Bogarde) Willis created the TV series Dixon of Dock Green five years later, which would run for two decades.
Read discovered that Willis was having problems with his story, and the reason became apparent when the writer visited his office to discuss the matter. Willis turned up drunk - a state he was often in at this time. Read had no option but to cancel his commission and seek a replacement, so he turned to his predecessor, Robert Holmes, for help. Holmes agreed to write another story for the Key to Time arc, having written the opening segment a few months before. The only stipulation he was given by Producer Graham Williams was that he should include the biggest monster seen in the series so far. Early titles for this story included "Moon of Death" and "Horror of the Swamp".
As it was, Williams may have retained his "Producer" credit for The Power of Kroll, but he actually played very little part in it beyond the planning stages. He fell ill, and David Maloney was asked to step in to oversee the production. Since directing a number of highly regarded stories under the Hinchcliffe / Holmes stewardship of the programme, he had gone on to produce Blake's 7. Maloney's was a watching brief only, as the day to day running of the production was left to the series' PUM (Production Unit Manager), who normally handled the financial side of things. This was John Nathan-Turner, who we will be hearing a lot more about soon. JNT had worked on and off on the series since the end of the Patrick Troughton era, and had become the PUM from Image of the Fendahl.
Holmes' second Doctor Who story - The Space Pirates - had basically been a Western set in outer space. Milo Clancey had been an old 49'er, whose claims were being jumped by Caven and his men. General Hermack and the International Space Corps had been the Cavalry, trying to maintain law and order in a frontier region, like the old Wild West. Holmes looked to the Western genre once again for this new story. The "Swampies" were the indigenous inhabitants of the planet Delta Magna, and they were forcibly relocated to one of the planet's moons when it was colonised by people from Earth. They are Native Americans, forced onto a Reservation. Now the humans have their eyes of their moon, intent on exploiting its resources - as has happened in the US when something of value has been identified on Native American lands. There was no real reason for having the "Swampies" green-skinned - unless it was a clumsy attempt to parallel Native Americans who, at the time of the writing of this story, were still being called "Red Indians" or even "Redskins".
The Power of Kroll is also a (very) rough draft for what many believe to be Holmes' best ever story - The Caves of Androzani. Both stories deal with events on the moon of a planet which has been colonised, and which contains a valuable resource (methane here, life-prolonging Spectrox there). The villain of the piece (Thawn here, Morgus there) is secretly paying a gun-runner (Rhom-Dutt / Stotz) to supply weapons to his own enemy (Ranquin / Sharaz Jek) in order to provide an excuse to wipe them out. Clearly Holmes really liked this double-cross plot idea , and felt dissatisfied at having to use it for this particular story, so returned to it later when he thought he could use it more effectively. (Holmes would later say that Kroll was his least favourite story).
Back when Tom Baker first took on the role of the Doctor, he appeared in a story which was partly inspired by King Kong - the classic 1933 RKO monster movie about a giant gorilla which is found on a remote South Seas island and later transported to New York. Terrance Dicks had created a robot which formed an attachment to Sarah Jane Smith - just as Kong does with Fay Wray's character. The robot had grown to enormous size and carried her off - and everyone had felt sorry for it when it was destroyed. Robert Holmes also chose to reference King Kong, in the end of Part One sequence where Romana has been captured by Ranquin's tribe and is to be sacrificed to their god Kroll - who is supposed to be a giant squid. The sacrifice sees her tied to a stake, and her death will be screened from the tribe by the closure of large gates. The same thing happens to Fay Wray, though there it is because Kong has to be kept secure behind massive walls, whilst here it is because the sacrifice is to be faked by a tribesman in a costume.
The story plays with the series' own conventions here - we see the monster menace Romana and think it just looks like a man in a rubber suit, but it is supposed to be a man in a rubber suit. Romana states that she was convinced, but the Doctor says that it probably looked more convincing from the front. All very meta.
As we've said, the story had to feature the biggest monster seen to date, and Holmes elected to make this a multi-tentacled squid-like creature. In the days before CGI, tentacles were hard to realise, which is why the programme tended to avoid them. Back in 1965 we had the ever so slightly static Mire Beasts in The Chase, and that was it until the first version of the Nestene creature in Spearhead from Space. Even that did not work out very well, and the Nestene scenes had to be remounted during the making of the subsequent story, The Silurians. Holmes at least knew that his monster was so big it could only be realised using a model - and model tentacles are a lot easier to do (although some prop ones were used on location and in studio). The film cameraman was misinformed about the matte scenes for the shots where location work would be seen in the lower part of the picture, with Kroll inlaid above - leading to a harsh dividing line across the screen. (Hopefully this story might get some new CGI VFX for its eventual release on the Season 16 Blu-ray box set).
The guest cast list is interesting, in that it features a number of actors who have played other roles in the series, a couple of whom only got the parts because other people pulled out late in the day. Dugeen is played by John Leeson, who normally voiced K9. The robot dog couldn't feature in the story due to the amount of location filming in marshy terrain, so Leeson got his one and only on screen appearance. He replaced Martin Jarvis. Philip Madoc (The Krotons, The War Games and The Brain of Morbius) was a late replacement as Fenner for Alan Browning, who fell ill just before the location filming. He really wanted the main villain role of Thawn, but it had been offered to Neil McCarthy, who had earlier appeared in The Mind of Evil. Ranquin was John Abineri, who had appeared in Fury from the Deep, Ambassadors of Death and Death to the Daleks.
I'm sure you already know the story about the Swampies' green body make-up proving hard to wash off, and the actors and extras having to go to a nearby USAAF base to use their showers - much to the amusement of the base personnel. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm would go out drinking with Glyn Owen (Rhom-Dutt) of an evening, and at one point they gatecrashed a policemen's function, so much fun was had on location.
On his return from sick leave Graham Williams was not very happy with certain elements of the story - in particular the set design. Note the very wobbly walls and ladder in the scenes where the Doctor sabotages the rocket. He lodged a complaint with the head of the design department, after his own boss had complained about the sets.
Next time: Lots of endings, and some new beginnings. It's the last ever six part story, and the last time Bob Baker and Dave Martin collaborate on a Doctor Who story. Mary Tamm calls it quits, as does John Leeson (at least for now). Anthony Read is also off, but he is handing over to Douglas Adams. We also get to see the first appearance in the show of the future Mrs Tom Baker...