Friday 31 January 2020

H is for... Harper, Seth

Seth Harper was a gunslinger recruited by the Clanton brothers of Tombstone, Arizona, when they plotted to kill Doc Holliday - in revenge for his killing of another of their siblings. On visiting Holliday's new dentist shop, Harper mistook the Doctor for the infamous gunman - pretending to befriend him so that he would walk into a trap at the Last Chance Saloon.
Harper was later gunned down in the saloon by Johnny Ringo, who had just come to Tombstone and who was also out to shoot down Holliday.

Played by: Shane Rimmer. Appearances: The Gunfighters (1966).
  • Canadian actor Rimmer was best known for his collaborations with Gerry Anderson - most notably providing the voice of Scott Tracey in Thunderbirds. He also voiced characters in Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and appeared in UFO and Space:1999. Rimmer featured four James Bond movies - the most significant role being the commander of the US submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me. He also featured in the first three of the Christopher Reeve Superman films.

H is for... Harper, Owen

The resident medical officer with Torchwood Three, based in Cardiff. After his entire team had been killed by his boss, who then took his own life, Captain Jack Harkness had to build a new team from scratch. Owen was engaged to be married but his fiancee was suffering from some sort of brain tumour. When surgeons operated, it was found that she was actually host to an alien parasite. It released a toxic gas as a defence mechanism which killed her and the team of surgeons. Jack saved Owen, who was initially angry with him as he had known about the parasite. He eventually talked Owen into joining the team to help combat similar alien threats.
Following the death of his fiancee, Owen's personality changed - becoming something of a womaniser. On one occasion he stole some alien pheromones from the Torchwood Hub, which made him sexually irresistible to anyone who came into contact with it. He could be argumentative with Jack, the only one of the team who would stand up to him and question his actions. Owen also liked a drink, and on one occasion he was too hungover to visit London to investigate the "space pig" which had crash-landed a spaceship in the Thames. Toshiko Sato had to cover for him, bringing her into contact with the Ninth Doctor. Tosh was secretly in love with Owen, but he never showed any signs of reciprocating, and was often cruel towards her.
He became obsessed at one point with an alien artefact which could allow its user to witness events from the past  - including sensing the emotions of those involved. This led him to hunt down a murderer who had escaped justice decades ago.
When Gwen Cooper joined the team, she had a brief affair with Owen. The relationship ended when a pilot from the 1950's - Diane - arrived out of the Rift and Owen became besotted with her.
Diane had elected to risk going back into the Rift rather than stay in present day Cardiff, and this deeply affected Owen, causing him to become even more belligerent and unsettled. Going undercover he became involved in a businessman's operation to stage a fight club with the savage alien Weevils. At one point Owen almost let himself be killed by a Weevil, so depressed was he at losing Diane. He later discovered that he could exert a strange influence over the normally aggressive creatures, causing them to cower in his presence.

When Jack and Tosh became stranded in time, stuck in a World War Two dance hall, Owen decided to open the Cardiff Rift to rescue them - bringing him into conflict with Ianto Jones who advised against this. Ianto even shot and wounded him to stop him using the Rift Manipulator, but Owen proceeded anyway. This led to all manner of space / time distortions across the globe, but concentrated in Cardiff. Owen was forced to confront the consequences of his actions as people from the past materialised in the city bringing long extinct diseases with them. An argument with Jack led to Owen shooting him - and this is when the team discovered that their leader was immortal. Owen was sacked from the organisation, but Jack relented and allowed him to come back instead of wiping his memories with Retcon.
When an alien being who called himself Adam infiltrated the team, changing people's memories, he caused Owen to become the opposite of his true nature - a weak-willed, nerd.
Some time later, UNIT's Martha Jones joined the team on a temporary secondment. Investigating a pharmaceutical company which was using captured alien creatures to develop new drugs, its director shot Owen dead. Jack decided  to use the Resurrection Glove to bring him back to life so the team could make their goodbyes, but somehow Owen remained alive. He was still technically dead - with no bodily functions working. He had no heartbeat, no body heat, didn't breathe, couldn't eat or drink, and his body could never heal from injury. The lack of body heat made him the perfect person to break into the home of a reclusive millionaire - Henry Parker - who was collecting alien artefacts, one of which was generating powerful energy signals. His home was protected by heat sensors. Whilst Parker was fighting to stay alive, Owen at this point only wanted to die properly. The encounter changed his perspective and he elected to make the most of his new existence, going on to save a young woman from committing suicide. When Cardiff became infested with Weevils, Owen found that his influence over them related to his new state - as though they had sensed he would change. Only he was able to confront a being which was death personified, as he couldn't be killed by it. The creature had originally gained its presence in the city through him.
When Jack's brother Gray launched an attack on the city, Owen went to stop a nearby nuclear power station from exploding. As he spoke to Tosh over the radio, talking him through what he needed to do to stop a meltdown, he finally admitted that he did love her in return - she having told him of her feelings when he was brought back to life. She was dying when she spoke to him - having been stabbed by Gray. Owen became trapped in the power station control room, which was about to be flooded by disintegrating radiation. He managed to stop the meltdown, but perished from the radiation.

Played by: Burn Gorman. First appearance: TW 1.1 Everything Changes (2006). Last appearance: TW 2.13 Exit Wounds (2008).
  • Burn Hugh Winchester Gorman had appeared in the BBC's 2005 adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House prior to landing the role of Owen Harper. Since his departure from the show he has gone on to regular roles in Game of Thrones, The Man in the High Castle, and The Expanse. He also featured in the two Pacific Rim movies - playing a character not unlike the nerdy version of Owen we saw in the Torchwood episode Adam.

H is for... Harmony Shoal

A parasitical race of brain-like creatures, which planned to take over the Earth. Their intention was to have themselves transplanted into the heads of the world's most powerful and influential figures. They infiltrated a global company - Harmony Shoal - which had constructed headquarters buildings in most of the Earth's major cities. A derelict spacecraft was in a hidden orbit, programmed to crash onto the city of New York. The Harmony Shoal building was built especially to withstand such a catastrophe, whilst the rest of the city would be destroyed. The plan was that all the leading figures in each country - politicians, businessmen and military leaders - would observe this and take refuge in other Harmony Shoal buildings, in fear of further attacks from space. There, they would have their brains removed and replaced by the aliens.

Those already taken over exhibited a livid scar running diagonally across the face, and they sometimes bled a blue fluid which was secreted by the creatures. The head could be opened along this scar-line.
The Doctor and his companion Nardole were investigating the New York operation, when they encountered an investigative journalist named Lucy, who was similarly suspicious of the company and its boss, Mr Brock, who had been converted by his colleague Dr Sim. They were rescued from Sim by the arrival of the city's masked superhero, known only as The Ghost. Brock and Sim became determined to capture the Ghost so that one of their number could be transplanted into his body.
The Doctor scuppered their plans by crashing the spaceship prematurely - knowing that the Ghost would save the city. UNIT were then called upon to raid all Harmony Shoal buildings across the planet. The Sim alien escaped, however, by transferring into the body of a UNIT soldier.

The Doctor had met this species before, in the far future, when he and River Song had rendezvoused with potential buyers for a fabulous diamond on the spaceship Harmony and Redemption. River had stolen this diamond whilst it was still embedded in the skull of her latest husband - the cyborg King Hydroflax - by removing his head from his robotic body. What the Doctor and River didn't realise was that the buyer - a man named Scratch - was a member of the Shoal of the Winter Harmony, a branch of the same parasitical aliens, and they worshipped Hydroflax like a god. All of the guests at the restaurant where the exchange was to take place exhibited the same diagonal scarring. The Doctor and River only escaped by deliberately crashing the spaceship onto the surface of the planet of Darillium - killing all on board, including the members of the Shoal.

Played by: Robert Curtis (Scratch), Tomiwa Edun (Brock) and Aleksandar Jovanovic (Sim). Appearances: The Husbands of River Song (2015), The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016).
  • Moffat elected to bring back these aliens in their own story for the 2016 Christmas Special, following their brief appearance towards the end of the previous year's festive special as he felt they had the potential to carry a story on their own, where he could develop them further.
  • The second appearance has Brock simply disappear, and Sim escape in a different body, so the option was there for further appearances.
  • The question has to be asked: if the creatures have to be transplanted into other people's heads by someone else, how was the first one created?

H is for... Harkness, The real Captain Jack

When Captain Jack Harkness and colleague Toshiko Sato were transported back in time to the Second World War and the Cardiff Blitz, they found themselves in a dance hall which was derelict and reputedly haunted in the 21st Century. The venue was still full of life in this time zone, frequented by many servicemen and their girlfriends. Tosh found herself under suspicion from some RAF men, due to her Japanese heritage, but their commander stepped in to save her. Tosh was shocked to hear him introduce himself as Captain Jack Harkness. Jack later admitted that he used an assumed name - one he had taken from a real Captain Jack Harkness who had died during the war. Jack realised that this was the last night of his namesake's life. In the morning he and his men would set off on a mission from which he would never return. He turned out to be gay, and Jack convinced him that, in wartime, everyone had to live each day as if it might be their last. The two men danced together, to the bemusement of Captain Jack's men - before Jack and Tosh were transported back to their own time.

Played by: Matt Rippy. Appearances: TW 2.12 Captain Jack Harkness (2007).

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Inspirations - Arc of Infinty

With the 1983 season being the 20th one, producer JNT asked his superiors if transmission of the series could be held back to the autumn so that it would be broadcast around the time of the anniversary on 23rd November. His BBC bosses declined the request, but plans were initiated to produce an anniversary special for later in the year.
In the meantime, scripts were developed by JNT and script editor Eric Saward. JNT would later claim that the decision to have some element of the show's past in every story was a conscious one, and was used in publicity for the season - but we now know that it was only later that this coincidence was pointed out to JNT by Ian Levine, the fan who was beginning to make his presence felt as a sort of unofficial continuity adviser.
The 10th Anniversary season had featured The Three Doctors, though this wasn't the actual anniversary story. (It began broadcast in December of the year before the anniversary, and technically it was the interconnected Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks which were felt to be the real anniversary episodes).
The Three Doctors had as its villain the legendary Time Lord Omega (though strictly speaking he was blasted into the anti-matter universe before the Gallifreyans became Time Lords). To launch the new series, it was decided to bring him back. The character was fairly fresh in people's minds, as The Three Doctors had been one of the repeats shown as part of The Five Faces of Doctor Who run, just before Davison's first season. Now the obvious people to resurrect the character were his creators - Bob Baker and Dave Martin. However, their writing partnership had broken up a couple of years before, and besides JNT had an aversion to using writers who had worked on the show prior to him taking over the producership.
The task of resurrecting Omega instead fell to Johnny Byrne, the creator of Nyssa, who had previously written The Keeper of Traken and who had been JNT's first choice as script editor when he took over.

Omega's inclusion pointed towards a Gallifrey setting for the story, but JNT also wanted to film abroad. The City of Death had been very successful, and canny budgeting (by JNT himself) had meant that a story could be filmed overseas so long as it entailed minimum cast and crew, and they didn't venture too far afield. The BBC already had a production base set up in Amsterdam, thanks to the soap opera Triangle. This rather unglamorous soap was set around a North Sea ferry service, going between England, France and Holland - hence the name.
It was therefore decided that Byrne's story should be set partly in the Dutch city, with the script designed to show off as much of Amsterdam as possible, so as to justify going there. The problem was that Byrne then had to come up with a reason for the city's inclusion. The earlier Paris set story had revolved around the theft of the Mona Lisa, so the location was intrinsic to the plot. The best that Byrne would manage was that some piece of technology vital to Omega's plan had to be operated somewhere below sea level.
Something else Byrne had to incorporate into his script was the return of Tegan. It had looked as if the Doctor and Nyssa had run off without her at the end of the previous season - never to be seen again - but it had always been planned that she would be reunited with them at the start of the following season. She has now lost her job - the one he was always going on about over the last year - and so has decided to cheer herself up by joining her cousin Colin, who is travelling around Europe with his friend, Robin, when they hit Amsterdam. A lot of stories rely on coincidence, but this pushes that a little too far. The backpacking youths are reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London and other horror movies, and their decision to spend a night in a creepy crypt only adds to the horror vibe.

The other half of the story is, as we've  said, set on Gallifrey. It links directly with the two previous Gallifrey stories in that it features the character of Borusa - now President proper, rather than just the power behind the throne. We also have another Castelan, who is not terribly nice (as with his predecessor Kelner). What we don't get is Leela or Andred, though the Doctor does at least ask after his old companion. K9 is absent as well. Byrne instead comes up with two entirely new old friends of the Doctor - the technician Damon, and Hedin, member of the High Council. Once again, as with two of the last three visits to his home planet, the Doctor finds himself on trial from his own people (The War Games and The Deadly Assassin).

Arc of Infinity is also another of those evil doppelganger stories. Every Doctor apart from Pertwee had met an evil version of himself (whilst Pertwee had to make do with evil doppelganger of all his friends). Omega needs a body in the universe of matter in order to cross over between dimensions, and he elects to use that of the Time Lord who had defeated him last time. Prior to Davison taking on the double role, Omega is played not by Stephen Thorne as you might have expected but by Ian Collier, who was last seen playing dippy hippy Stu in The Time Monster. We also don't get the same costume as seen back in the 1970's. This naturally annoyed fans at the time, and since. If you're going to bring back a classic villain, then do it properly. The only reason for not having Omega look or sound like Omega is that they wanted to keep the fans guessing as to who this villain might be. They simply name him as "the Renegade" for the first two episodes (remember that the series was being shown twice weekly at this stage, so the Radio Times covered two episodes per week). It's just a pity that at least one tabloid newspaper stated who the villain was going to be when they printed the publicity photos of the TARDIS crew messing about on bicycles in Amsterdam several months before broadcast.

Another failed attempt at engendering mystery was with Omega's secret helper on Gallifrey. Out of a relatively small cast of characters who it could have been, it was far too obviously Michael Gough's Councillor Hedin.
One unintentional nod back to The Three Doctors was in giving Omega a poorly realised monster as an accomplice - then the Gellguards, and here the boney chicken-like Ergon. The Doctor even comments on how rubbish it is.
Next time: one of the series' rare proper sequels. Lots more Buddhist references as the Mara make their return...

Sunday 26 January 2020

Fugitive of the Judoon - Review

Blimey! What a lot to take in.
It all starts off looking like it's going to be a fairly light-hearted runaround, in the style of a Russell T Davies episode, or a story from The Sarah Jane Adventures, with a platoon of Judoon arriving in the city of Gloucester in search of the titular fugitive. So far, so Smith and Jones. We knew that someone was gong to be returning to the show this episode, thanks to a BBC America tweet earlier in the week, and it looked as though this might be the Master, as the Doctor is searching for him as we first see the TARDIS and its crew. However, the returnee proves to be the surprise reappearance of Captain Jack Harkness. Sadly, he never gets to meet the Doctor, let alone interact with her. He scoops up the three companions accidentally, and only just has time to warn them about an upcoming storyline, before vanishing. This was a great shame, as we would have loved to see how Captain Jack would have interacted with the latest Doctor, though I think a Barrowman / Capaldi meeting would have been the one most fans would have loved to have seen. Jack promised he would be back, and hopefully we'll see this later in the season, when the character is properly integrated into the plot and not just some fan-pleasing bolt-on. The suspicion is that he won't be back this season, though, as Chibnall has spoken of a 5 year plan for the series. Let's hope the ratings give him the opportunity...
Question: if Jack knows all about the "lone Cyberman" from her future, why doesn't he know that the Doctor is now female?
Then, just when you think that was the big surprise of the episode, we get the big reveal of tour guide Ruth's real identity. She's used a chameleon arch to hide her real self - a hitherto unseen incarnation of the Doctor which must predate the Hartnell one. A previous regeneration cycle, or some sort of alternative timeline one? Time, as it always does, will tell.
Question: if the Ruth Doctor does predate the Hartnell one, why does her TARDIS look like a Police Box?
Frankly, the whole thing was a bit of a dog's dinner, not entirely sure of what sort of a story it was telling. We were simply whacked on the head with revelation after revelation - none of them particularly satisfying.
Question: how much of this story was written by Patel, and how much by Chibnall?
All these big developments meant that the Judoon were under utilised, Neil Stuke was under utilised, and Captain Jack was under utilised. Even the city of Gloucester was under utilised. It could have been filmed anywhere, with the cathedral only appearing in a couple of scenes. They could have filmed inside Landaff Cathedral and saved some money, for all we saw of it.
Question: what is it with all these badly acted old ladies getting killed these days?
The Ruth Doctor's TARDIS was nice, and the opening TARDIS sequence was also very well done, with a more brooding Doctor, snapping at her companions. A shame we haven't seen more of this.
And even if he wasn't properly integrated into the proceedings, it was great to see Jack again.
I've asked a few questions above, but there are obviously lots of big questions thrown up by this series so far. Series 11 deliberately avoided any story arc, beyond the dropping of a reference to the "Timeless Child" way back in the second episode, then having the villain of the first episode reappear for the final episode. Perhaps we've gone too much the other way with this series - and we're only half way through. There's been the return of the Master, the Judoon and Captain Jack. The Timeless Child has been mentioned again. Gallifrey has been destroyed due to some dark secret in its history. A new earlier / alternate Doctor has been introduced. We've got Cybermen on the way (and more Daleks in the next festive special), and the Doctor is now hinting that something is coming for her, manipulating time around her. Chibnall had really better deliver an exceptional pay-off to all this.

What's Wrong With... The Web Planet

The surprising thing about this story is that so much more could have gone wrong - but didn't. In a season where only the Daleks get six part stories, having another story of that length in which no human characters appear other than the regulars, set on a moonscape planet entirely confined to a small studio, was a massive gamble. Many would argue that the gamble failed, but I wouldn't, and there were 13.5 million viewers for The Web Planet - a record not broken until Tom Baker's tenure.
Anyway, this is about what didn't quite go to plan, so let's go.
The history of the planet Vortis is rather confusing. The Menoptra speak as if they were only forced to flee the planet relatively recently - a year or two at most. However, the Doctor thinks that the Animus must have been growing for at least a century, and it doesn't recognise what a Menoptra looks like - asking the Doctor if he is one.
The Optera also talk as if the Animus has been around for centuries. Presumably they diverged from the Menoptra well before they were forced off the planet, as evolution couldn't possibly account for them being a more recent development.
If the Menoptra have been away for a lot longer than a few years, why do they want to return? Vortis is now a barren world, with hardly any vegetation left. What's more, the air is very thin, which begs the question of how they are able to fly now.
Pictos is described as not suitable for them, so why not find a new home elsewhere altogether?
We hear that the Animus is growing very very slowly at the planet's magnetic pole. Vortis is a big planet, so why couldn't the Menoptra just have relocated to another part of the planet to establish a base there?
Some stories seem to imply that the TARDIS materialises out of the Vortex momentarily before landing. This is presumably what happens here, otherwise the Animus is really very very powerful indeed, so why would it want to master the human race's ability to travel through space - a primitive form of travel in comparison to what it can already achieve.
As mentioned, there are no humanoid species on Vortis. The Zarbi actually look okay on screen, there obvious means of construction and operation more visible in static photographs. The Menoptra are more impressive, but you can see where they decided to change the design between the filming at Ealing and the studio sessions. On film the faces are just makeup rather than masks.
The Optera aren't anywhere near as effective, their subsidiary limbs clearly being costume parts. The Venom Grubs, or Larvae Guns, or Sting Grubs can't work out what they want to be called... Easy to see how they are operated by an extra down on all fours - except when they whizz along the wooden studio floor, pulled along on a trolley.
How do the Menoptra know that the Animus has a "dark side"? As it happens, when we finally get to see it, it doesn't really have any particularly dark side.
The Menoptra seem to accept the Doctor and his companions fairly readily, and yet insist on the correct password from their own kind.
Time we said it - one of the Zarbi rushes towards a camera, and crashes right into it.
The Doctor's Astral Map is clearly hollow, the images on it printed on card.
When Ian and Vrestin fall down the chasm to the lair of the Optera, you can hear Roslyn De Wynter laughing hysterically as the dust falls on them.
Hartnell has some problems in the first episode with his dialogue, throwing William Russell a couple of times. Ian has to rather awkwardly ask which galaxy Vortis is in, to get Hartnell back on track with the script. We then have the scene where Ian asks the Doctor how they are going to open the TARDIS doors without power. Watch Russell's face as Hartnell hums and hahs over his ring.
Some Hartnell fluffs:
"The question is, is it some natural phenomena or... is it intelligent or deliberate, or... for a purpose? Hmm?".
"... if I can only trick her into neutralising this section of area...".
And: "We have been on a slight exploitation...".
It is said that it was during the making of this story that William Russell decided to quit the show. If it was down to the production rather than for off screen reasons, then there is fun to be had working out which scene might have acted as his final straw...

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Unseen Stories (3)

As far as references to unseen adventures are concerned, things change with the arrival of the Third Doctor. For a start he has had his memory tampered with by the Time Lords - dematerialisation codes, temporal flight equations, etc. He surprises himself when introduced to Liz Shaw by recalling that the people of the planet Delphon communicate with their eyebrows. This doesn't necessarily mean that he has been there, however, but if his eyebrow wiggling really does mean "how do you do?" in that language then it might just suggest he has personal knowledge of the species, who have never featured in the series.
He tells us in The Silurians that he has been potholing before, but not recently, and intimates that he has seen dinosaurs in the flesh. He'll encounter a lot from this incarnation on, but again they haven't been seen on screen before. This story also features the infamous line where the Doctor seems to be suggesting that he is thousands of years old. What he actually says is that his experience covers thousands of years - as in he has witnessed that sort of time span in his travels.
On hearing the alien signals being beamed to and from the aliens in The Ambassadors of Death, he clearly states that he recognises them, but just can't recall the details. He has encountered them before, but the Time Lord-induced amnesia is interfering with that recall. Strange, though, that there doesn't seem to be any trace of recognition when he finally sees their spacecraft and meets the aliens in person.
Another vague memory is of the noise heard when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, as mentioned in Inferno. He may have been there in a multi-Doctor adventure, as we know that the Ninth Doctor was also there at the time of the eruption. He mentions meeting the Queen's grandfather in Paris. That would be George V, who reigned 1910 - 1936. We know he visited France during the First World War, as he suffered a serious accident when he fell from his horse whilst inspecting troops there in 1917.
It should be pointed out that all of these references must relate to his First or Second incarnations as, of course, he is stuck on Earth at this period.
His familiarity with the technology and physical attributes of the Lamadines might just be learned knowledge, but his memory doesn't fail him when it comes to recalling his youth on Gallifrey, and his schooldays with the Master.
That "thousands of years" line makes a comeback in The Mind of Evil, when he is about to claim he has been a scientist for that length of time. This one is harder to square, however, as he really does seem to be suggesting it is his lifespan to date - despite only being around 450 in Tomb of the Cybermen, and travelling uninterrupted with human companions since that story.
This story also has the Doctor telling Jo Grant about the time he was locked in the Tower of London with Sir Walter Raleigh, who would go on about this thing called a potato he had brought back. Raleigh was imprisoned by both Queen Elizabeth and King James, so this is at least his second time spent in the Tower, as he previously told Ian and Barbara that King Henry VIII had sent him there.
The Third Doctor is the first to really name-drop at any opportunity. Saying that he is a personal friend of Chairman Mao might simply have been a way of ingratiating himself with the Chinese peace conference delegate, so doesn't necessarily mean he has met him, let alone count him as a friend.
The Daemons suggests that he has some clouded memory of the titular creatures, the mere mention of Devil's End sending him running off into the night to stop the archaeological dig. Hearing the Master talk of world domination makes him think about Hitler, or possibly Genghis Khan - he can't remember which - suggesting he may have heard both of them speak. Whilst the former could be from a recording, the latter means he must have seen him in person. (He does later claim that the Khan's assembled hordes failed to break into the TARDIS).
Another name-drop is Napoleon Bonaparte in Day of the Daleks. He claims to have given "Boney", as he was entitled to call him, the phrase about an army marching on its stomach. This one does sound a bit more made up for Jo's benefit.
More royal connections: he claims to have attended the coronation of either Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria - again he can't recall which.
His claim to be a personal friend of Lord Nelson does sound as if he means it, but his other claims in The Sea Devils to have been at Gallipoli and El Alamein are clearly just attempts to coax someone into lending him their boat. He also mentions the Crimean War, and his Second incarnation had previously said he witnessed the Charge of the Light Brigade, so there may be a kernel of truth hidden in the lie.
In The Time Monster we get more references back to his childhood - schooldays with the Master once again, plus the story he tells Jo of his encounter with the hermit who lived in the mountains above his home. The odd thing about this latter reminiscence is that he says something along the lines of "I laughed too when I heard it" - suggesting it isn't even his own recollection. (It is pinched wholesale from a Buddhist text after all). Was he simply telling Jo an uplifting parable to raise her spirits?
Unless it took place during the potential Season 6b, the banning of Miniscopes occurred before he left Gallifrey. He has visited Metebelis III before, and recognises a Plesiosaur when it attacks the SS Bernice - again suggesting he has seen dinosaurs before. We know that he has claimed to have trained with the Mountain Mauler of Montana, who sounds like a wrestler, but in Carnival of Monsters he also says that he was taught some boxing techniques by John L Sullivan, who was most active in the 1880's. He won 40 of his 44 fights, and only lost one (the other three being two draws and a "no contest"). Sullivan was the last of the great bare knuckle fighters, but the Doctor insists on Queensbury Rules for his fight with Lt Andrews (drawn up by the Marquis of Queensbury - Lord Alfred Douglas' father, and so a key player in the fall of Oscar Wilde).
The Doctor definitely visited the planet of Draconia before - assisting the Fifteenth Emperor in combating a space plague. His story about attending an intergalactic conference and being captured by the Medusoids does sound like another of those made up stories told to cheer Jo up - certainly the description of the other delegates whom he encountered (horses with purple spots etc).
The Doctor finally gets to Metebelis III in The Green Death, and it's not the paradise he has previously described, so he obviously visited a different part of the planet, or he went there at a different point in the planet's history - presumably much later as it seems quite primordial here.
His comments to Sarah about the Vandals having a bad reputation might imply an encounter with them, or it might just be learned knowledge about their culture.
He tells Sarah that he has been to the planet Florana more than once in Death to the Daleks - another good place for a holiday - and also informs her that he has seen a temple in Peru which reminds him of the Exxilon city.
Finally, we get some more name-dropping in Planet of the Spiders - learning some escapology tricks from Harry Houdini (someone he will mention a couple of times in later incarnations, so presumably a real encounter), and he tells Sergeant Benton that some of the best coffee he ever tasted was made by Mrs Pepys. However, in his famous diaries Samuel Pepys states that his wife couldn't stand coffee, much preferring tea. It's possible she might have been good at making it, just never drank it herself. Pepys was also a notorious womaniser, and the lady introduced to the Doctor as his wife might have actually been one of his many mistresses.
The Doctor once again mentions the Gallifreyan hermit story to Sarah, in front of K'anpo (the hermit himself), so this suggests that his story to Jo was a genuine recollection after all.

Monday 20 January 2020

The New Series 12 Trailer

As mentioned in my review of Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror, BBC America last night released a new trailer covering the second half of the season which has now appeared on the BBC's Doctor Who YouTube channel. The timing is slightly unusual - you would have expected this to have landed after the mid point of the series, rather than after only Episode 4. It might be a sign of concern about the ratings. If you think the UK ratings are a worry, you should seek out the US ones:

Most of the clips in the new trailer haven't been seen before, although the first one is of the Doctor atop the lighthouse which we have seen. The beach setting might suggest that this comes from Praxeus, as we saw the flock of birds appear on a beach. This next shot is certainly from this story.

There are a number of shots from Fugitive of the Judoon, most of which we already saw in last night's teaser trailer for the episode. The one significant addition is a shot of a woman named Gat, who appears in this story. Possibly the titular fugitive?

The presence of a Judoon in the background shows that this has to come from next week's episode. We also see a shot of guest artist Neil Stuke, as well as the Doctor and his character's wife surrounded by Judoon in Gloucester Cathedral.
We next get a shot of actor Ian Gelder, which I'm told might be from Episode 7.

As you can see, he's in the TARDIS, and one other clip shows a figure materialise in the TARDIS out of black smoke-like particles. Now Gelder voiced the rag-like Remnants in The Ghost Monument, which might just be a coincidence, or this episode might be furthering the Timeless Child arc - speaking of which we hear, but don't see, Sacha Dhawan's Master, and the ruined Gallifrey also reappears. (Gelder is already acquainted with the Doctor Who universe, having featured in TorchwoodChildren of Earth).

We then move on to the Cyberman story - or might it be stories? There is some thought that a lone Cyberman might feature in Episode 8, to be followed by more Cybermen in the series finale. You'll recall that we were promised two-parters, plural, and it is believed that the second two-parter might be Episodes 9 & 10. That would actually mean the Cybermen are in three consecutive episodes, so the lone one might be in 7, and the Gelder story is Episode 8, just to space them out. Either that or there is no lone Cyberman story and they only feature in a double part finale. The long held rumour of a Mary Shelley / Cyberman episode might be confirmed by this image:

The actress on the right is apparently Lili Miller, and she may well be playing Shelley. The costumes look right for 1812.
We then have a few shots which are hard to place:

Most of the first trailer turned out to be from the first three episodes, but there are still a number of images which are yet to appear - such as the gas-masked soldiers wielding ray guns, soldiers being blown into the air by explosions, and Graham being confronted by some large alien looking contraption in a hanger-like space. There are also some shots of the Doctor out in the countryside, with a white church in the background. The new trailer has some similar shots, one of which appears to show a gravestone behind the Doctor.

Trailers can be deceptive. As we saw with the last one, many of the seemingly unconnected shots actually came from the same story. None of the above might come from the finale - just from the middle section of the season. Trailers can also make weak stories look much better than they eventually turn out to be. That first trailer got me very excited about Series 12, then I watched Orphan 55, so I'm going to be a little more cautious with my enthusiasm this time round.

Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror - Review

A fairly solid episode, exciting and fun in places, but perhaps a little too talky and slow to get started to be judged anything better than "good".
We're back in history again, with more real historical figures (as with the second half of Spyfall). If Mary Shelley is in a later story (and the new BBC America trailer suggests she is) then this series will take the record for historical figures featured.
The episode primarily focused on the eponymous Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American scientist who was a pioneer of sorts in many fields. A brilliant scientist, but a poor businessman who failed to capitalise on his ideas. He was well played by Goran Visjnic, who is a fan of the inventor. Also appearing is Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) who is his polar opposite. He wasn't much of a scientist, but he was a brilliant businessman who knew how to make his fame and fortune from the scientific work of others.
Tesla is set up as a mirror of the Doctor - the inventor who creates for the sake of invention, whilst Edison is there to mirror the Skithra, who simply steal other races' technology but don't have a clue how any of it actually works. If Tesla is a Doctor-parallel, then Dorothy Skerritt (Haley McGee) is his companion / assistant-parallel.
The Doctor's companions only seem to know Tesla from the Elon Musk electric car named after him. I already knew something about him, having seen the 2006 movie The Prestige in which he's played by David Bowie. Tesla died penniless in 1943, but I wouldn't feel too sorry about this as he was also a great believer in eugenics and racial purity.
The Skithra were yet another well-realised alien race, although their Queen, played by Anjli Mohindra, was a little reminiscent of the Racnoss Queen. It was nice to see Paul Kasey get a role where he wasn't smothered in latex, especially creepy when they distorted his face.
The actual Skithra plan did not bear much thinking about. It was a nice idea to have an alien menace which simply wants to abduct someone to help them fix things, rather than conquer or destroy the planet. However, if they are able to steal all this alien technology, why couldn't they abduct someone from a more advanced species who might actually understand their purloined tech? When the Doctor refuses to allow Tesla to hand himself over, the Skithra Queen does then threaten to destroy all life on the planet - despite having just told Tesla that their weapons are one of the things they want him to repair.
A minor gripe was the Doctor's description of the Silurians as "alien" when she knows full well they were the original dominant species on Earth. However, even their creator - Malcolm Hulke - had the Third Doctor describe them as "alien" in their very first story.
If the Skithra were well realised then the story had some lovely visual flourishes as well. I particularly liked the train sequence near the start, with the hooded Skithra agent being left behind on the uncoupled freight wagon, plus the attack by the aliens on the Wardenclyffe laboratory. I think it was the murky green light that did it in both sequences.
I was rather disappointed with the conclusion. I have said before that the Doctor's new pacifist stance might be problematic, and here we saw the Skithra merely chased away - meaning that they are able to simply attack some other planet to get what they want. There's also the inconsistency around the Doctor telepathically removing knowledge of herself and future events from historical figures she meets. They made a big deal of her removing the memories of Ada Lovelace and Inayat Noor Khan, yet Edison and Tesla were left with their memories intact. Surely far more dangerous to leave them with these memories than Khan, who would be dead a year or so after meeting the Doctor.
So, definitely a step up from last week's nonsense, but it fell short of greatness as far as I'm concerned, mainly due to the pacing.

Friday 17 January 2020

Technical Hitch - Update

I'm happy to report that my IT issues have now been resolved, so I can continue to post regularly again. The next post will be the review of Sunday evening's episode, which promises to be far better than last week's one (could hardly be worse), then things return to normal thereafter with additional posts through the week.
Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Season 14 comes to Blu-ray

On April 20th Season 14 will be released in the UK as the latest Blu-ray box set.
Another Tom Baker set had been expected  soon,  just to even up the releases.
This was the final season for producer Philip Hinchcliffe, and also saw the departure of Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and the arrival of Louise Jameson as Leela. Jameson will feature in the "Behind the Sofa" segments with Baker and Hinchcliffe.
It is a varied mix of stories. The Masque of Mandragora is one of the better pseudo-historicals, with great production values and an excellent cast. It is the last 10 minutes or so of The Hand of Fear which raise it above the average, with Sarah's heartbreaking departure. Then we have the game-changing The Deadly Assassin which dared to rewrite Gallifreyan history (something no one would be foolish enough to attempt these days surely...). Then we get the introduction of Leela in The Face of Evil, the superb Robots of Death and finally the much admired, though somewhat controversial, Talons of Weng-Chiang. The controversy lies in its use of caucasian actors portraying Chinese people, as well as its depiction of the Chinese characters in general, having as one of its inspirations the Fu Manchu stories.
Extras include a major piece on the life and career of Lis Sladen, and Matthew Sweet interviews Hinchcliffe. Sweet and Baker also add some new commentaries on some of the episodes from the fourth and sixth stories. Toby Hadoke's contribution is to catch up with some of the participants from the Whose Doctor Who documentary, which was broadcast just as the season ended.
Naturally, my copy is already pre-ordered.
No word when the US release may be, though I did hear that you will be getting the Season 26 box set on 24th March. The way this release keeps getting delayed in the UK, we might finally get it about then as well...
Strangely, still no word when the two Troughton animated stories are going to be released. I'm hoping the first - The Faceless Ones - will be out in March, as that was when The Macra Terror came out last year.

Monday 13 January 2020

Orphan 55 - Review

Oh dear.
After a promising start to the series we seem to have taken several steps backwards. I really didn't think highly of this episode at all, I'm afraid. Very good monsters, though wholly unoriginal, and nice location, but I can't credit it for anything else. The supporting characters were cardboard thin, and there were far too many of them - so none were properly developed. Was Kane supposed to be a businesswoman or a soldier? Kind of neither. Worse was Bella, who had a rollercoaster of a story arc, going from potential love interest for Ryan, to saboteur and killer, with a history of bomb-making, to reconciliation with her estranged mother, all in a matter of minutes. Such character development really needed time to play out, but it just never had a chance here. She switched from one thing to another in seconds.
Is there some kind of joke I didn't get about Hyph3n? Was she some kind of postmodern comment on bad costume and make-up? A woefully realised character.
The biggest laugh for me was one that wasn't intended, I'm sure, when the Doctor leads the rescue mission to retrieve Benni. She takes a pensioner, a little boy and a squirrel woman on a potentially lethal mission, in a hostile environment and in pursuit of savage monsters that have just slaughtered 20 or so vacationers.
The insistence on not showing anything gory on a Sunday evening meant that Benni's fate took place entirely off camera, and we didn't even get to see what Kane did with him. Telling us things rather than let us see for ourselves was one of the problems last series.
One interesting story element was that Orphan 55 was actually the Earth, and the Dregs were a devolved form of the human race. A nice idea - just a pity that it was done much better back in 1989 in The Curse of Fenric. 
Development of the Doctor also took a great leap backwards. Am I the only one getting really annoyed that she knows everything, recognising viruses, computer systems, and even weapons at a glance. Would it hurt to have her have to ask what something is, rather than just reel off technobabble?
It was also extremely annoying that the resolution just happened to rely on that virus fixing the teleport - very lazy plotting.
As for the big speech at the end... I have no problem with messages in a story, so long as they derive from he narrative. I don't like being lectured. Doctor Who fans are an enlightened lot, and I'm sure most people watching already have environmental concerns, so it really was preaching to the converted. Again, all this was done much better in the past, by Jon Pertwee in Colony in Space, The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Chibnall and Hime are simply jumping on the  XR / Thunberg bandwagon.
Like I said, I did like the Dregs, but as with the Thijjarians last season, it is a monster design which has been rather wasted, as what else can you do with them? I have to say that whilst the costume was rather good, there was some shockingly bad CG in evidence when we saw them en masse.
Overall, fairly dreadful, bringing back bad memories of last series.

Thursday 9 January 2020

They dare to tamper with the forces of creation?

Details of the next few new episodes of Series 12 confirmed in the latest issue of DWM today. After this weekend's Orphan 55 which involves that big new monster which looked a bit like the Creature from the Black Lagoon attacking a holiday resort (Tranquility Spa), we have the clumsily titled Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror. This is the one in which Tesla and Thomas Edison encounter Anjli Mohindra's arachnids Queen Skithra, set in the New York / Niagra Falls in 1903. Episode 5 is the Judoon one - Fugitive of the Judoon. Only a single partner, as Episode 6 is Praxeus, whose synopsis mentions the Doctor having to tackle multiple incidents across the globe. Apparently this is the one with the swarms of black bird-like creatures (which might just be black birds).
This latter episode got me thinking about the theme which Chibnall said would run through the season (as opposed to a story arc). From what we've seen so far I suspect this might be something to do with tempering with nature. Spyfall was about rewriting human DNA. Orphan 55 might revolve around the creature fighting back because the holiday resort has been built in its habitat. Praxeus possibly about wildlife turning against humans? We know the Cybermen are coming soon, and they're a perfect example of what happens when science interferes with nature. If there is a Mary Shelley story (other than the Cyberman one) then that obviously also ties in with humans tampering with nature. Back in the summer there was mention of a story revolving around environmental issues, like plastics in the oceans.
So that's my prediction for Chibnall's series theme - tampering with the forces of creation, as Daleks were also once wont to do.

Monday 6 January 2020

Spyfall Part 2 - Review

An episode of two halves this one. First of all we have to look at it as the conclusion to Part 1, and then we need to look at the whole story arc element that was introduced by the Master.
As the continuation / conclusion to the first episode I don't think it was a particularly satisfying one. It took an age to see the relevance of the Doctor's adventures in history, then the alien plan still didn't seem all that clear, and it all seemed rather rushed at the end, with Barton simply running away. Did the aliens intend to kill everyone or to take their places? If the former, couldn't they have just, like, killed everyone. Why rewrite DNA if just to leave billions of empty shells. Ada Lovelace's role was at least relevant, as a pioneer of computing, but Noor could have been any SOE operative, or a member of the French Resistance.
The companions didn't really have all that much to do after they had escaped from the most leisurely air crash in history. They just when on the run and hid out for a bit. They didn't really move the plot on that much - just biding their time until the Doctor had caught up with them. That escape from the crashing plane was a bit of a cheat. Why can't the Doctor just go back at the end of every adventure and leave a get out for herself and her companions?
One other thing I  wasn't happy about was the Doctor's bald assertion that she is a pacifist. Talk about setting up some fairly dull conclusions to future episodes. Enemies are obviously going to be talked out of universal domination from now on, when what we want to see is a few of them getting blown up from time to time. It's one thing for the Doctor to abhor violence and use it only as a last resort, but to go wholesale down the pacifist line is going to lead to some bland storytelling.
The thing that this episode will be remembered for is the confrontation between the Doctor and the Master stop the Eiffel Tower,  where he reveals that Gallifrey has been  destroyed. This is confirmed when the Doctor returns home to see the Capitol in ruins. We then find out that it was the Master who was responsible, because of something he found out about the foundation of Time Lord civilisation. This brings up the Timeless Child reference from Series 11, and obviously hints at more than just the Doctor having something unknown about her background. A game changer of a sequence if ever there was one.
One last thing I should mention is the glaring continuity error from that Eiffel Tower sequence. The Master asked if he'd ever apologised for Jodrell Bank - which was clearly supposed to be a reference to Logopolis but that wasn't set at Jodrell Bank. It was supposed to be filmed there, but wasn't,  although it was use for the special edition  Bluray release of that story. Jodrell Bank is in Cheshire,  but the ambulance that is seen in that story isn't a Cheshire one, so the Pharos Project wasn't based at Jodrell Bank.
Overall, a slight disappointment after the breathless opener, but made memorable by that shocking revelation.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Spyfall Part 1 - Review

It is always difficult to judge a two part story on just the first half, especially when that first half is also a festive special. Intricacy of plot isn't expected - only something fairly bright and breezy, and that's what we got last night. The episode quite literally flew along, as began with some globetrotting in the pre-titles sequence - something we haven't had for a while. Something is incapacitating secret agents all over the planet, and we see fairly early on that it is the new aliens from the trailer - the ones who can walk through walls, even those of the TARDIS. (In fact it now appears that most of the trailer derived from this first episode). As a new species, they were eerily effective,  appearing either as bright figures of white light, or taking on the texture of the walls and other objects they phased through. It would appear that they derive from another dimension, or even another universe altogether. We learned very little about them, but they did help add some darkness to an otherwise lighthearted story.
Team TARDIS were found to be all back at home as the story opened, finding excuses to give loved ones and colleagues for their recent travels. The Doctor was repairing the TARDIS in a garage, the box propped up on a hydraulic lift like a car getting an MOT. Stephen Fry's C brings them all together again, as he is the head of MI6, and he wants the Doctor to investigate the attacks on the agents. Sadly he wasn't in it for long, and won't be around for the conclusion. The other main guest artist is Lenny Henry,  playing what we were all supposed to assume to be the villain of the piece, an internet billionaire who is in league with the aliens. He is a wrong 'un, but not the main villain.
I had seen it mentioned months ago that Sacha Dhawan was going to be playing the latest incarnation of the Master, but the vlogger who mentioned it didn't seem to think the information was accurate. I did think of that vlog when I saw him appear,  especially as he hadn't been mentioned in the cast list, or seen in the trailers. It was still a bit of a surprise to see him reveal his true identity, as he had been playing such a sympathetic character, an old friend of the Doctor.
If there is one negative about this episode, it's that we didn't  get enough Graham. I think there was more Yaz in this episode than in all ten episodes of the last season put together.
Overall, a very good start to Series 12, but hardly indicative of what may follow. Hopefully Part 2 won't go off at too great a tangent, as Moffat two parters were wont to do, as a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Chibnall has promised a theme running through this series, rather than a more explicit story arc. Hard to judge what that theme might be after just half a story, but it could be about our over-reliance on technology, or things being not what they appear to be. The Master's statement that everything the Doctor knows is a lie might hark back to that rumour of a regeneration cycle before the one we have seen since Hartnell. Maybe.
One last thing, did you watch Dracula as well last night? And if you did, did you spot the Clara Oswald reference (mention of the barmaid of the Rose & Crown)?