Sunday 29 March 2020

What's Wrong With... Galaxy Four

Up to and including The Time Meddler most episodes still exist in the archives. From this story onward, until we get to Season 6, the vast majority of episodes are missing, presumed wiped.
This means that from this point on we will have to concentrate on dialogue and plot inconsistencies, as we no longer have the visuals.
Peter Purves is on record as saying that he wasn't terribly happy with this story, as he felt that it had been written for the old TARDIS team. He believed that much of what he had to do was originally intended for Barbara. This might well be true, as he spends a lot of time being held captive by a small group of four soldiers, three of whom are not the brightest, despite being a trained space-pilot.
Fans have tended to assume that he was a military pilot, but at no time ever is his background ever clarified.
The first problem we have to address is the title which has been allocated to it - Galaxy Four. The Drahvins claim to come from Galaxy Four, but this doesn't mean that this planet is also there. But it would be very odd indeed to name a story after the place where the villains came from. It would be like calling The Dalek Invasion of Earth "Skaro", or The Invasion "Telos". The story must surely be set in Galaxy Four, yet we are never told so - only that this is where the Drahvins come from.
There are three suns. Everyone talks about days, or "dawns". How do you define "a day" or "a dawn" on a planet with three suns?
The Doctor discovers that the planet is due to be destroyed in two days, whereas the Drahvins believe that it will last for fourteen. We've already heard that the Drahvin ship is of a very inferior construction, suggesting that their technology isn't all that great. How do they know that the planet is doomed in fourteen days in the first place? If they do have the technology to predict the life span of the planet, why get it wrong by twelve days?
The Doctor then lies to Drahvin leader Maaga, telling her that her estimate was correct. Why?
There's nothing to suggest that he believes them to be villains, because the next thing we know he's off trying to kill the Rills. Would he really just believe the word of some soldiers who have threatened him with guns and kept his companions hostage? Either he believes the Drahvins to be the injured party, in which case why lie about the time they have left, or he doesn't trust them at all, in which case why attack their supposed enemies who are potential allies?
What makes the Doctor think that sabotaging the Rills' ammonia producing equipment will only inconvenience them, when he hasn't even met them yet, and discovered anything about them?
The Doctor and Steven hear a Chumbley prowling around the TARDIS when it plants explosives. This is a scene I would dearly love to see what it looked like, as the Chumbley only needs to go a few feet to go round each side of the Police Box exterior - but the console room is much much larger. How could you hear something go right round it?
A scripting issue - if one of the robots is a Chumbley, shouldn't the plural be Chumbleys rather than Chumblies? The Rills seem to accept Vicki's name for them rather quickly. They never correct her and say "Well actually we call them --- ".
Maaga finds the concept of self-sacrifice unusual, despite expecting it all the time from her troops.
Why lie to them about a Rill killing their wounded comrade, when the Rills have already shot down their spaceship? She doesn't need to get the troops worked up against them, and letting it be known that she kills the weak links amongst her soldiers would surely add to her authority over them.
Maaga thinks that a good way to get someone to come back inside her spaceship is to threaten to kill them as soon as they do.
The Rills rely on something called "sun power" to energise their ship but can't get this on a planet with three suns. Instead, they are drilling into the ground for a gas. They then get the energy they need from the TARDIS - basically just electricity.
A couple of Hartnell fluffs:
" I wust... I must have that cable".
"We should get some long-deserved, undeserved peace...".

Friday 27 March 2020

H is for... Hart, Captain John (1)

Commander of the Royal Navy base HMS Seaspite. This was situated on the south coast of England, close to where a number of mysterious ship sinkings had taken place. The Doctor arrived at the base unannounced when he heard that a lifeboat from the most recent sinking had been taken there. Hart agreed to take him seriously only after Jo Grant had turned up with their UNIT credentials. The Doctor pointed out the circular scorch marks on the underside of the boat, and drew Hart's attention to the fact that an old Napoleonic seafort was located in the middle of the area where the ships had sunk. Hart grudgingly allowed the Doctor to investigate, sending a rescue helicopter to the fort when the Doctor and Jo were late returning. Initially resistant to accepting that the sinkings were the actions of Sea Devils, marine cousins of the Silurians, the Captain slowly began to come round as more unexplained events took place - such as the theft of electronic equipment from his stores, and an assault on one of his officers, by someone Jo claimed to be the Master - who was supposed to be under lock and key in the nearby special prison run by his golfing friend Colonel Trenchard. The theft took place when Trenchard was visiting the base, and Hart went to the prison to check that the Master was still in custody - unaware that the prison governor was under his charge's malign influence. Hart agreed to send a submarine to investigate the seafort, and was alarmed when contact was lost - leading him to finally take the Doctor's claims seriously. Determined to resolve the situation himself, he was put out that the government sent a civil servant named Walker to take charge. Walker simply aggravated the situation. When the Sea Devils attacked the base, Hart manned a cannon to help repel them. He later managed to get the Navy to delay an attack on the Sea Devil shelter, which gave the Doctor time to escape its destruction after he had sabotaged its power supply.

Played by: Edwin Richfield. Appearances: The Sea Devils (1972).
  • Richfield made one further appearance in the programme - as the Gastropod ruler Mestor in The Twin Dilemma. Unfortunately he was entirely covered by mask and costume, and even his voice was treated electronically - so it was a bit of a waste by director Peter Moffatt casting an actor who had been all over British film and television for decades in the role.
  • Three of his genre roles include Hammer films Quatermass 2, X The Unknown and Quatermass and the Pit. He was a guest artist in many of the ITC style adventure series - often portraying a villain, but the 1968 TV version of The Three Musketeers saw him playing D'Artagnan.
  • He's the only actor - apart from Patrick Macnee - to have appeared in every season of The Avengers.

H is for... Harry (2)

A friend of Shireen, who joined her and Bill Potts in searching for an affordable student house-share in Bristol. Like Bill, he attended St Luke's University in the city. They were joined by some fellow students - Pawel, Felicity and Paul. After some fruitless searches they were approached by a mysterious old man who had a large house to let, at a very low rent. Harry was especially enthusiastic about the property, but the landlord warned him against accessing the house's tower rooms. Like the others, Bill managed to convince him that the Doctor was her grandfather. Harry's own grandfather had once been arrested with his boyfriend after trying to steal a piece of the Great Wall of China.
It soon became apparent why the rent was so cheap, when the students came under attack from huge woodlouse creatures known as Dryads. Harry joined the Doctor in investigating the basement, where they found the personal effects of other groups of students - six at a time every twenty years, going back to 1957. The Dryads attacked once more, and Harry was caught on the wooden staircase and consumed by them. The landlord was feeding the Dryads to keep his terminally ill mother, Eliza, alive. Once the Doctor had convinced her to stop, the house began to disintegrate, and the 2017 students, including Harry, were released.

Played by: Colin Ryan. Appearances: Knock Knock (2017).
  • According to the story's writer, Mike Bartlett, Harry was supposed to have been named after his grandfather - one Harry Sullivan, late of UNIT and one-time travelling companion of the Doctor. Sadly, the scene never made it to the finished programme as it was stupidly felt to be too obscure a reference. It doesn't necessarily follow that Harry Sullivan was gay, and once tried to pinch a bit of the Great Wall, as everyone has two grandfathers, but fans have generally taken this to refer to him.

H is for... Harry (1)

Harry Sowersby was the caretaker of a seaside amusement park which had been closed down for some time, following the financial crisis of 2008. He had discovered a young female alien named Eve, whose spaceship had crash-landed on the beach nearby. Harry allowed her to stay at the park and looked after her, along with the ship's AI interface. As she grew older Eve's powers had started to increase, and Harry was afraid that she could no longer properly control them. She had abducted some homeless people who slept in the park, forcing them to play with her. The physical and mental strain she put on them was endangering their lives. When Rani came to the area to look for an old school friend who had gone missing from a local orphanage, she too was enslaved. Harry was forced to tell all about Eve when Sarah Jane Smith came in search of Rani. Once the young alien had managed to get her powers under control, she decided to leave the Earth. Rani's friend, Samuel, agreed to travel with her. Eve invited Harry along as well, so he could continue to look after her.

Played by: Brian Miller. Appearances: SJA 3.2 The Mad Woman In The Attic (2009).
  • Miller has a very special connection to Doctor Who, being the husband of Lis Sladen. 
  • He appeared on screen in the programme twice - as Dugdale, operator of a fairground Hall of Mirrors who's enslaved by the Mara, in Snakedance, and as the tramp, Barney, whose tatty old overcoat is "borrowed" by the Twelfth Doctor in Deep Breath.
  • Additionally, he provided Dalek voices for both Resurrection of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, as well as featuring on a couple of Big Finish productions.

H is for... Harrison

John Harrison was a ruthless businessman who was Chief Public Relations Officer for the reclusive IT entrepreneur Joseph Serf. Serf had not been seen in public for a number of years, following a serious road accident. Everyone was excited when he announced a new laptop computer launch, where he would make a personal appearance. Sarah Jane Smith attended in her capacity as a journalist, and was alarmed to see Serf apparently "glitch" momentarily. Everyone at the launch was amazed at the new laptop, and even Sarah found herself impressed. She managed to get an interview with Serf, which Harrison insisted on attending. She discovered that Serf was merely a complex holographic projection. He had actually been killed in the accident, but Harrison had kept this secret i order to keep the business going. He had bought some captive aliens through the black market in extraterrestrial technology - diminutive cyclopean creatures known as Skullions. He enslaved them and forced them to create and operate the hologram Serf. The new laptop was really very basic, but anyone using it was subjected to a hypnotic field which made them see it as something amazing. Sarah was kidnapped and locked up at the Serf HQ. Clyde and Rani got Mr Smith to analyse the new laptop and saw that it was bogus. They infiltrated Serf HQ for the second part of the launch, posing as IT journalists, whilst Luke and Sky - Sarah's adopted children - managed to discover the area where the Skullions were forced to work.
An SOS was sent out to attract a Skullion spaceship to Earth. It rescued the captives, and they took Harrison with them as their prisoner after he got caught up in their teleport.

Played by: James Dreyfus. Appearances: SJA 5.3 The Man Who Never Was (2011).
  • Dreyfus first came to fame opposite Rowan Atkinson in BBC sitcom The Thin Blue Line, which also featured Mina Anwar (who played Rani's mother). 
  • More recently he has been playing an early incarnation of the Master on audio for Big Finish.

H is for... Harris, Frank & Maggie

Frank Harris was a senior technician with ESGO, a company which processed natural gas from beneath the sea off the coast of England, pumping it to homes and businesses across much of the country. He and his wife Maggie lived within the grounds of the company's high security compound. Frank's boss was the bullish Robson, who demanded hard work from his staff. When Frank became concerned about unexplained pressure drops and strange sounds emanating from the pipelines, Robson refused to heed his warnings. He found an ally in the Doctor, however, when he and companions Jamie and Victoria inadvertently trespassed onto ESGO land. A pair of maintenance men - Oak and Quill - who had first been sent to investigate the strange phenomena had become mentally enslaved by a sentient seaweed creature which the gas drilling had disturbed. They were dispatched to stop Frank from investigating further, and attacked Maggie in her home. After being overpowered by a toxic gas they emitted, she was compelled to walk out into the sea - another mental slave of the weed creature. Frank took charge after Robson suffered a mental breakdown and was then taken over by the weed, and he helped the Doctor defeat it - forcing it back into the depths of the sea thanks to Victoria's amplified screaming. The weed released its slaves once it had retreated, and Maggie was returned unharmed. Victoria decided she no longer wanted to continue travelling in the TARDIS due to the terrors she had been forced to face, and Frank and Maggie agreed to let her stay with them.

Played by: Roy Spencer (Frank) and June Murphy (Maggie). Appearances: Fury From The Deep (1968).
  • Both actors appeared in one other role apiece in Doctor Who. Spencer had been Manyak, who defended the First Doctor and his companions when put on trial in the first half of The Ark. Murphy's other role also had a nautical flavour, as she was 3rd Officer Jane Blythe in The Sea Devils. Its director, Michael E Briant, had been the Production Assistant on Fury From The Deep.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

David Collings (1940 - 2020)

It has been announced that the actor David Collings has passed away at the age of 79.
He appeared in Doctor Who on three occasions - in a wide range of roles, all of them aliens of one sort or another.
His first appearance was in Revenge of the Cybermen, when he appeared under a full head mask as the Vogan militia leader Vorus, the villain of the piece. The part demanded a good voice actor, and he was an experienced radio performer. You'll spot his distinctive tones in a number of BBC Radio 4 dramas.

A couple of seasons later he was back starring opposite Tom Baker, this time without the hindrance of a mask, as Poul in The Robots of Death. A much meatier role for him, he played the undercover government agent investigating a potential robot revolt - who just happens to suffer from Robophobia.
He returned to the programme for the final time during the 20th Anniversary season, this time opposite Peter Davison, in Mawdryn Undead - playing the titular character. This involved more make-up, as he appeared horribly burnt initially, before being seen with bulging brains on top of his head.
For Big Finish he featured as an alternative Doctor in the audio "Full Fathom Five", as well as featuring in other of their productions, including a reprise of Poul.

Outside of Doctor Who, he is remembered for his performance as 'Silver' in Sapphire & Steel - stealing the show from its stars whenever he featured. Another genre piece was a role in the final episode of Blake's 7.
A notable radio performance was as Legolas in the BBC's famous adaptation of Lord of the Rings.
His work tended to be concentrated on stage, TV and radio, but one memorable movie outing was as Bob Cratchitt in the film of the musical Scrooge, opposite Albert Finney.

Monday 23 March 2020

Inspirations - Terminus

A terrible plague for which most people think there is no cure. Odd writing about this story in the middle of a pandemic, as it revolves around a disease. There is supposed to be a cure, at a place called Terminus, but as no-one ever comes back from there it is generally assumed that victims go there to die. The ailment is known as Lazars Disease, and it is presented as an affliction similar to leprosy. At the time, the similarity was picked up on by a leading charity who complained that it was presenting leprosy as an incurable disease, and damaging the educational work they were doing. Lazar derives from the biblical character of Lazarus. His name was actually Eleazar, and he was the brother of Martha and Mary. He had died four days before Jesus arrived in their home town of Bethany. Jesus performed a miracle and raised him from the dead. It was believed that the illness which had killed him was leprosy. During the Crusades, the Order of Saint Lazarus was set up by some knights who had all suffered from leprosy (established at a leper hospital in Jerusalem in 1119).
Medieval maps had Jerusalem at the centre of the known world, just as Terminus lies at the centre of the known universe. Notable sufferers of leprosy, it's believed, included King Henry IV of England and King Robert the Bruce of Scotland.

Terminus was written by Stephen Gallagher, and one of its functions was to write out the companion Nyssa, as played by Sarah Sutton. It also forms part of the Black Guardian Trilogy, which introduces and establishes the new companion, Turlough. Having failed to destroy the Doctor's ability to regenerate last time, the Black Guardian now instructs Turlough on sabotaging the TARDIS. He is only partially successful in this, causing the ship's defences to break down, destroying its structural integrity. A hitherto unheard of defence mechanism causes the ship to lock onto a nearby craft - which just happens to be a spaceship carrying Lazars to Terminus.
One of Gallaghers' main inspirations for this story was Norse Mythology. The people who run Terminus, which appears to be a huge space station, are the Vanir, who have Scandinavian sounding names like Bor and Sigurd. The Vanir were one of two sets of Norse deities. They represented nature, fertility etc, whilst their opposite number - the Aesir - included those Norse Gods we are more familiar with - Odin, Thor, Loki, and were based in Asgard. The two groups of deities waged war against each other.

Bor comes from Borr - the father of Odin. Sigurd is an alternative version of Siegfried, the Germanic hero who slew a dragon. A number of Norse kings were named Sigurd. Valgard is a relatively new Norwegian christian name (dating from the late 19th Century). Eirak is presumably just another version of Erik - another popular Viking name. There's an Olvir mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga.
In Terminus' forbidden zone - a heavily irradiated part of the station, the result of ancient engine damage - resides a huge canine creature called the Garm. Garmr was a dog or wolf associated with Ragnarok and Hel (who presided over the Norse Hell). Garmr may well be another name for Fenrir, another wolf associated with Hel and Ragnarok (and familiar as the inspiration for The Curse of Fenric, which is also loaded with Norse mythology). Fenrir might be a species, of which Garmr was an example.
Gallagher was not at all impressed with the Garm as realised on screen - intending that it should just be a dark shape in the shadows, with glowing eyes.
Ragnarok was a series of events which presaged the end of the world - including natural disasters and a great battle. Many of the gods would perish in this, ascending to Valhalla, and the world would be drowned, only to be reborn anew. One of these events was an invasion by giants (Jotnar), and we see that the long-dead pilot of Terminus is a giant of a man.

Some fans who witnessed recording of this story mistook the Vanir armour for Ice Warrior costumes. The skeletal body of the armour was based on memento mori depictions on medieval tombs, which depicted the deceased in a skeletal state - a reminder of what comes to us all. Another popular medieval memento mori image is King Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Vanir helmets, however, are clearly inspired by the famous Sutton Hoo helmet, now in the British Museum. Sutton Hoo lies near Woodbridge in Suffolk, and comprises a number of burial mounds (nearly 20) dating from the Bronze Age onward. Over the centuries, a number of these mounds had been raided by treasure hunters and antiquarians, but on the eve of the Second World War the landowner, Mrs Edith Pretty, gave permission for her groundsman, Basil Brown, to excavate one of the larger mounds - Mound 1. Brown discovered an intact ship burial, dating to the 7th Century AD. It is generally believed to have been the grave of the Anglo-Saxon King Raedwald, who died c. 624, a member of the Wuffingas dynasty of East Anglian kings. The British Museum states only that the grave is of an East Anglian King. Most of the helmet is gone, but it has been reconstructed. The ship had deteriorated, leaving only a ghostly outline and the iron rivets to indicate the size and shape.
The war interrupted the excavations, and the area even had tanks driving over it, but after hostilities ended, the excavations continued. Even though she was entitled to the finds as treasure trove, being the landowner, Mrs Pretty insisted that they be gifted to the nation.
The substance which the Vanir take to combat radiation sickness is called Hydromel. This derives from the Greek for water (hydro) and the Latin for honey (mel).

It was Gallagher's intention to show that the Terminus space station, which is at the exact centre of the known universe, was the cause of the Big Bang, when it fell back through time and jettisoned fuel from its damaged engines into a void. Its destruction here would somehow destroy the universe, but Gallagher wanted to suggest that there was a never-ending sequence of universes - one's destruction leading to the creation of another - a linear model rather than having parallel ones. This cycle of death and rebirth tied in with the Ragnarok theme.
Strike action, and a failure to complete the studio recording on time, meant that a remount was necessary. This would lead to the anniversary season ending prematurely with the lacklustre two part The King's Demons.
One thing the story really fails to do is move the Black Guardian / Turlough story on very far. Turlough and Tegan spend most of the story trapped in a ventilation shaft. This at least allows more time for Nyssa to take centre stage in her final story. She leaves the TARDIS after being cured of the disease, to help the Vanir refine the cure. Her decision to strip off some of her clothes for no real reason was apparently inspired purely as a favour to the dads watching.
Next time: Space ships - as in ships in space. Someone develops an eternal crush on Tegan whilst it all gets too much for Turlough, causing him to go overboard, in a story partly inspired by bored relatives...

Friday 20 March 2020

What's Wrong With... The Time Meddler

Alone in the TARDIS now that Ian and Barbara have returned to their own time, the Doctor and Vicki hear a noise. At first they think that it might be a Dalek. Why? Did the Doctor leave the doors open? A silly thing to do when you consider all the potentially hostile animals and plant-life which might infest the jungles of Mechanus. There's the Fungoids for a start. How does he know that every Dalek was destroyed in the battle with the Mechonoids? Some might still have been patrolling the jungle.
Once they know that their interloper is astronaut Steven Taylor, the Doctor goes on to describe the TARDIS to him in terms of a television set - including a horizontal hold. The scanner might have such a thing, if it wasn't digital, but how would the whole ship have such a thing?
The Monk's plan doesn't really bear thinking about. It suggests that a single event will change everything - including things not directly connected to it. A regime change, for instance, does not automatically lead to advances in technology. The Monk talks of averting the numerous wars with France as though this will lead to aircraft and television being invented centuries early. If anything, it's sad to say, wars promote technology. A lot of peace time developments have arisen out of military necessity. Look at the links between the Bletchley code-breakers and modern computing. The rockets which took Mankind to the Moon owe their origins to V2 rockets, and the work of a Nazi scientist, a man who should have been prosecuted for war crimes. The first jet aircraft was a military one. Florence Nightingale's improvements in nursing care came out of the Crimean War. The list goes on and on... The Monk's hoped for centuries of peace could just as easily have led to stagnation in technology.
To keep his plan on track the Monk would have had to make numerous other interventions later on.
One of his earlier schemes - putting a small amount of money in a bank account in 1968 then collecting a fortune in compound interest two hundred years later - shouldn't have gone well, as he would have been looking to collect right in the middle of the Dalek invasion of Earth, when I'm pretty sure the banks were shut. These days banks have a habit of closing small accounts which haven't been touched for a while anyway.
The Monk writes his plan on a parchment scroll. Why does this have to be non-anachronistic, if he has a gramophone, radio, hot plate, wristwatch etc, etc, etc.?
The Monk's TARDIS console room differs from the Doctor's in one significant way - the console itself is raised considerably higher off the floor. This would actually make it harder to operate all the controls, especially for someone as vertically challenged as he is. Was he particularly tall in a previous incarnation and got fed up getting a crick in his neck bending over, and just hasn't got round to changing it back?
Then we have the dimensional control. Relatively easy to remove, wouldn't you say? Why, if it renders the ship practically unusable? A bit of a design flaw there.
Presumably the electrical cable which runs from the altar is so that he can power his cooking equipment. Wouldn't cable-free equipment have been more convenient - solar powered or battery operated? Why not just cook in his TARDIS in the first place? The cable gives away the location of his supposedly disguised ship.
The Monk also appears to have a transistor radio in his kitchen area. What does he plan to pick up on it, in the 11th Century? Was there a "Ye Olde Radio Northumbria" playing the week's top ten madrigals, and late night Gregorian chants?
Talking of music, a wind-up gramophone is surely a bit of a liability, as indeed we see it alert the Doctor to there being something wrong at the monastery and leads to the interruption of his plans.
The one everyone talks about - Viking helmets with horns. The type of horned helmet we see Vicki find on the beach is of the cliched variety. If some Vikings did have horns - or wings - on their helmets then it usually denoted someone of high status, or someone wearing purely ceremonial head gear. It's something you would, quite literally, be seen dead in. Your standard Viking pillager didn't wear this sort of thing. A leather cap would be more likely.
Edith is apparently raped by the Viking scout party. On screen this actually looks like she has been killed, as her eyes are open and unblinking when husband Wulnoth finds her. Next minute she's her old chipper self, the perfect hostess, as though nothing has happened.
Most of the above relates to the script and not to the production itself. That's because we have the excellent Douglas Camfield directing. Considering that his first job on Doctor Who was to direct the Ealing Studio filming of the brutal fight between cavemen Kal and Za in An Unearthly Child, it is a surprise that the fight between the Saxons and the Vikings is so poorly realised. (Actually not a surprise at all, as it shows that external pre-filming could be done properly with a degree of leisure to get it right, whilst studio recording had so many constraints, especially of time).
By the end of the story the Doctor has ensured that history will run its intended course - 1066 and all that. Bad luck for nice Edith and Wulnoth etc. who will have murderous Vikings and traitorous Anglo-Saxon royals descending on their village very soon, then William the Conqueror harrying their northern home a few years later, assuming they've survived. We don't see the Doctor suggesting to those he has befriended that that they might want to think about moving home to a safer region, and perhaps learning Norman French whilst they're at it - "s'il vous plait", "merci" and "une cruche d'hydromel" at the very least.
Hartnell has a great fluff when he is talking to Vicki and Steven about getting up off the beach to the clifftop above:
"I'm not a mountain goat! I prefer walking to anyday, and I hate climbing".
A line to the Monk about "no monkey business" comes out as "no more monkery".
Even Peter Purves has a slip-up in his first proper episode when he talks about the TARDIS landing on the beach. Watching Hartnell dribble pebbles down a rock he talks about the TARDIS landing on pebbles, clearly distracted by what his co-star is doing.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Unseen Stories (7)

In this final instalment, for now, we consider those on-screen references to unseen adventures from the Sixth to Eighth Doctors, starting with:

The Sixth Doctor
Shortly after regenerating, the Doctor mentions a couple of planets which he knows might be suitable for a holiday, such as Vesta 95, which might suggest a prior visit. He seems to know a lot about Titan 3 as a good place to become a hermit. There is always the possibility that he knows of these worlds by reputation only. What has definitely taken place off-screen is a visit to Jaconda during his Fourth incarnation. He reminds Azmael of this visit, which he specifically states was two regenerations ago. His stay ended with a drunken night by a pool.
He mentions the Terrible Zodin once again, revealing that they were female. He seems to know Telos at the time when the Cryons were still in power, before the Cybermen took over the planet. There is also the issue of he and Lytton knowing each other rather well, despite the two never properly meeting in Resurrection of the Daleks.
On meeting the Rani in 18th Century England, he seems to imply that they have encountered each other since she left Gallifrey. He says once more that he has met Shakespeare, and is thinking of going to see him again.
The Doctor has met scientist Dastari before, perhaps on more than one occasion. At least one of these meetings took place before he left Gallifrey.
As The Two Doctors opens, we learn that the Doctor has fished for gumblejacks on this stretch of river before. The Second Doctor and Jamie have dropped Victoria off somewhere to study graphology (handwriting analysis). The Doctor claims to have dined at the Tour d'Argent restaurant in Paris. This famous eatery at 15 Quai de la Tournelle claims to have been founded in 1582, despite the area where it is located being a swamp until 1650. It does not appear in any guide book until 1860. Pressed duck is a house speciality. The Doctor has been seen to visit Paris on three occasions, but none of them after 1860, although he did mention meeting King George V in Paris in Inferno.
The Doctor recognises the peel of bells of the cathedral in Seville - something he must have personal knowledge of.
He has a lot of calling cards (or at least contact details) from various famous scientists and thinkers, presumably collected in person. These include Archimedes, Aristotle, Brunel, Dante, and Leonardo.
An unseen adventure proves to be pivotal to the the events of Timelash. The Third Doctor visited the planet Karfel with Jo Grant and someone else (whom fans have always assumed to have been Mike Yates). The Doctor saved the planet from some unspecified disaster and met a young scientist named Megelan, reporting him to the authorities for unethical experiments with the Morlox creatures. Megelan would go on to become the tyrannical Borad.
The Doctor knows Professor Arthur Stengos personally, well enough to feel obliged to visit his grave site on the planet Necros - although he doesn't seem to have ever met his daughter Natasha. It's implied that he has had some personal experience of the Knights of Oberon. Orcini gives the Doctor his medal to return to the Order, but doesn't say where he should go - suggesting that the Doctor doesn't need to be told where they are based.
There is a definite suggestion that quite a considerable period of time elapses between Revelation of the Daleks and Trial of a Time Lord.
Just before the TARDIS goes to Thoros Beta, the Doctor and Peri have encountered a dying Thordon warlord, which is what prompts the Doctor to come here in the first place.
We then have the whole Mel situation. From the Matrix, the Doctor selects evidence from his own future, when Mel is already travelling with him. We never get to see their first encounter, or know how long they have been travelling together before the adventure with the Vervoids. Like Stengos, the Doctor knows the investigator Hallett well, and in person. He has also had a previous encounter with Commodore Travers, seemingly in this current incarnation, as "Tonker" Travers recognises him on sight. Travers was just a captain at this time.

The Seventh Doctor
After the defeat of the Rani on the planet Lakertya, the Doctor and Mel have to make a number of unseen journeys to return all the kidnapped scientists (who include Einstein and Pasteur) to their proper place and time.
At some point recently the Doctor has had to jettison the TARDIS swimming pool after it sprang a leak, which is why Mel wants to go to Paradise Towers.
At the Shangri-La holiday camp in North Wales, the bounty hunter Keillor seems to recognise the Doctor by sight. The Fourth Doctor previously mentioned having a bounty of a whole star system on his head.
The spectre of Fenric starts to rear his head in Dragonfire, as the Doctor mentions spotting strange signals emanating from Iceworld for some time. We'll later discover that this is probably the "time-storm" which Fenric used to transport Ace which he has detected.
Remembrance of the Daleks tells us a lot about what the First Doctor might have been up to in the London of 1963, just prior to the arrival in the TARDIS of Ian and Barbara - namely his hiding of the Hand of Omega and setting of a trap for the Daleks. As this seems to contradict the Doctor's apparent lack of knowledge about the Daleks in The Daleks, there is always the slight possibility that he somehow slipped back to 1963 later on in his First incarnation. The funeral parlour worker describes the Doctor as an old man with white hair, and this description could equally apply to the Third Doctor - who is more likely to have been able to get the Hand of Omega from the Time Lords.
The Doctor describes himself as President of the High Council once again, despite being told that he had been deposed in Trial of a Time Lord. Has there been another unseen trip to Gallifrey?
The Doctor has encountered a Stigorax before - in Birmingham. Which Birmingham isn't specified but we should assume the city in the Midlands as he has spent so much time in England over the centuries.
The Doctor visited Windsor in November 1638, as that is when he first encountered Lady Peinforte and launched the Nemesis statue into space. Before seeing him in his current incarnation, Lady Peinforte describes him as "a funny little man" - suggesting either that she met him as he is now, or when he was in his Second incarnation. The latter is most likely, as the Doctor seems to have forgotten all a bout the statue launch, so unlikely to have been recently for him. The Doctor also claims to have visited Windsor when the castle was first being built. He might be referring to the original Norman castle of the late 11th Century, or it might be when Edward III embarked on major building works in the 14th Century.
The Doctor claims to have been fighting the Gods of Ragnarok for a very long time. He might be talking specifically about the three beings encountered at the Psychic Circus on Segonax, or he might be referring to fighting beings like them, and what they represent - such as the Eternals or the Toymaker. He tells Captain Cook that he has had tea in the Groz Valley of Melegathon before.
Not so much an unseen adventure as one yet to be seen with Battlefield. This incarnation of the Doctor from the future sets things up for his current self here, leaving himself useful messages. This is presumably the same Doctor who everyone thinks is Merlin in the alternative dimension, as once again he's recognised by sight.
In Ghost Light the Doctor suggests he has met Neanderthal people before, and talks of an Indian takeaway he knows in the Khyber Pass. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society at different points in its history, as he mentions being a Fellow multiple times.
We then learn about his first encounter with Fenric, which took place in the Middle East around the 2nd Century AD, when he bested him in a chess game and trapped his essence in a vase.
He is familiar with the German navy's cypher room in Berlin, spotting when something is out of place, and tells the Ancient One that he has seen the polluted world that it comes from, in the far future. This would be only the third time that we know of when the Doctor has ventured to a time-line which events in the present have then stopped from happening - alternative futures.

The Eighth Doctor
Obviously a lot of time passes between Survival and the 1996 movie. Ace has left the TARDIS for a start, which we now know was to return to present day England, where she eventually set up her "A Charitable Earth" foundation. The Seventh Doctor will have had time to leave those messages for himself from Battlefield.
The new Doctor is a bit of a name-dropper, and is not averse to telling individuals about their own personal futures.
He tells Grace Holloway that he was with the composer Giacomo Puccini when he died. This places him in Brussels on the 29th of November, 1924. He also claims to have met Marie Curie (presumably whilst in Paris) and Sigmund Freud, and yet again mentions knowing Leonardo.
He seems to have first hand knowledge about Chang Lee's immediate future, advising him to be away from San Francisco the following year, and he prompts Gareth to answer the right questions in his exam as he knows he will be a significant scientist in the future, in the field of earthquake prediction. The Doctor also seems to already know a lot about Grace, though knowing why she decided to become a doctor as a child might be the result of telepathy.
Of course, we only got to see the Eighth Doctor the once, but come Night of the Doctor we'll learn of his having travelled with a number of companions over many years, and his determination to keep his distance from the Time War, plus the events which led to his regeneration into the War Doctor after crashing in a spaceship on the planet Karn.

Sunday 15 March 2020

The Faceless Ones - DVD Review

If you look at the big series polls which are conducted every few years, you'll notice how those stories which no longer exist, or which have only the odd orphan episode still in the archives, tend to rate fairly low scores. The only ones that do better are the ones with Daleks or Cybermen in them. The Enemy of the World was always scored low, based on the one episode which existed, plus its reputation as the one without any monsters in the "Monsters" Season 5. Then the missing five episodes were recovered and we got to see that the orphan episode was the weak, atypical one, and the rest of it was really rather good. The story shot up the ratings back in 2014, the last time we had a DWM poll.
No such poll has been conducted since the generally overlooked The Macra Terror was released in animated format, so it will be interesting to see how this is re-evaluated.
Likewise with The Faceless Ones, which I watched last night. I opted to watch the colour version.
Two of its six episodes we have been able to watch for a while - the first and third. They are set at Gatwick Airport, and are confined, for the most part, to two main sets - the Chameleons' hangar, with its concealed control room, and the Commandant's office / air traffic control room. As well as their limited locations, the episodes are also ones in which the raw-state Chameleons don't actually appear, and there is a lot of running back and forth as the story is still setting itself up.
The story really picks up after we get beyond these episodes. Whilst Gatwick still features prominently, the action expands to take in the Chameleon space station.
There are a number of very strong characters, best of whom is the Commandant, played by Colin Gordon. Nurse Pinto (Madalena Nicol) is also a very good addition to the cast, both as the real one who helps the Doctor, and as her villainous Chameleon duplicate.

Whilst these characters have significant roles to play, the same can't be said for the companions. Innes Lloyd, inexplicably, took a dislike to Ben and Polly and ordered their removal from the series at the earliest opportunity. Since Jamie had been introduced, it was felt that there was no longer any need for a second male companion. Anneke Wills was offered the chance to stay on with Hines, but out of loyalty to Michael Craze, and a general dislike of staying in any part too long, she elected to leave as well. Both actors were contracted up to the second episode of The Evil of the Daleks, but were written out early in this story. Both vanish in the first half, reappearing only for the last couple of minutes to make their farewells in scenes filmed on location. Set up as a potential replacement for Polly is Sam Briggs (Pauline Collins). She elected not to accept an on-going role.
Ben and Polly leave because they've found out that this is the very day that they first set foot inside the TARDIS, at the conclusion of The War Machines. That story is referenced in this animation as we see a newspaper headline about the War Machines being defeated.
Other visual "Easter eggs" include wanted posters of the Master in the airport police station. Preview clips showed the Delgado version of the Master, but the DVD release now features the Sacha Dhawan version pinned beneath it. Later, we see that Dhawan's poster has been replaced with one featuring the Meddling Monk. In the airport concourse we have adverts for ESGO (the gas refinery from Fury From The Deep, which is to be the next animated release later this year) and for "Magpie Electricals" - first seen in The Idiot's Lantern.
One rather annoying distraction is the placement of names of people associated with the project (e.g. a whole wall of Hickman's Oil cans - referencing Clayton Hickman, ex DWM editor). It's far from subtle. I would be interested to know why the Doctor and Jamie hide behind copies of the "Mill Hill Times" newspaper. Mill Hill lies in North London, whilst Gatwick is in Surrey, to the south of London.
One very poorly realised sequence is the fight between Sam and the Chameleon Meadows in the car park in Episode Six - this really shows up the limitations of this style of animation.
So, is the story any good? Has my opinion of it improved? I've known the orphan episodes for a while, as well as the audio and telesnaps of the missing episodes, so I'm fairly familiar with it. I've never regarded it as a bad story, merely an okay one. It was nice to finally be able to see the whole thing in one format, rather than in piecemeal fashion, and it has gone up slightly in my estimation thanks to that. Any new early Troughton material is always to be welcomed.

Friday 13 March 2020

Inspirations - Mawdryn Undead

Only a couple of stories after cutting the companion complement down to two with Adric's demise, JNT informed Eric Saward that he wanted another male companion in the series. The "Overcrowded TARDIS" would be avoided, however, as it was intended that Nyssa would be written out in the story immediately following the new companion's introduction. Nyssa had a complicated history, having only been intended for just the one story - The Keeper of Traken. The decision to keep her on was only taken late in the day. As such, the character did not belong to the BBC, but to her creator - Johnny Byrne. Companions were usually created by the Producer and Script Editor and the BBC did not have to pay for their on-going use, whereas Nyssa earned Byrne £50 every time she appeared.
JNT had originally planned to exit Nyssa early on, but Peter Davison fought for her retention and so it was Adric who got the chop.
Originally, the story which was to have introduced the new companion was to have been the one generally known as "The Song of the Space Whale", to be written by Pat Mills and John Wagner. Mills had written for the Doctor Who Weekly comic strip as well as being well known for his work on 2000 AD. Various attempts were made to get this story produced over subsequent years, with Mills persevering after Wagner dropped out, but it never made it to the screen. It did eventually get a release on audio from Big Finish as "The Song of the Megaptera" as part of their "lost stories" strand, with the Sixth Doctor and Peri.
The story involved a community of people living inside a vast space creature, and the new companion would be one of their number.
When this story collapsed, JNT then informed Saward that the new male companion should be a public school-boy, and that he should be tying to kill the Doctor. He had decided to bring back the Guardians from Season 16 - the Key to Time season. The Black Guardian would recruit the school-boy - to be named Turlough - in his efforts to destroy the Doctor in revenge for him failing to gain the Key. There had been two trilogies over the previous seasons - the E-Space one in Season 18, and the Doctor / Master Regenerations one which bridged Seasons 18 and 19 - and these had proved popular.

As this was the 20th Anniversary year, JNT thought it might be a nice idea to bring back an element from the very beginnings of the series. With a school setting, the obvious candidate was Coal Hill School's science teacher Ian Chesterton - to be played once again by William Russell. Unfortunately he was otherwise engaged and unable to participate. The second choice was Harry Sullivan, as played by Ian Marter. It was felt that, of all the previous companions, his character could believably have gone into teaching. Unfortunately he too was unavailable.
The third choice was Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and Nicholas Courtney could make himself available. The notion that the Brigadier might become a relatively junior staff member - teaching Mathematics of all things - of a public school on retirement from UNIT was unlikely to say the least, but this is what JNT decided. Courtney only found out that he had been third choice for this story many years later, much to his dismay.
The actor chosen to play Turlough was Mark Strickson. He had been offered a long-running role in the medical soap Angels, but really wanted the job on Doctor Who which he'd heard about instead. As such, he went to see JNT in person prior to the usual casting process commencing, and managed to talk his way into the role. JNT insisted that he dye his blond hair red, so that he did not look too similar to Peter Davison in long shots - despite Davison always wearing his beige costume, and Turlough always wearing his black school uniform. JNT had initially wanted him to shave his hair off, and Strickson said that would be fine - so long as he got paid for loss of earnings whilst he waited for it to grow back on leaving the series. The money-conscious Producer then went for the hair dye option.

The writer commissioned for this story was Peter Grimwade, whose first scripts for the show had been the overly ambitious and poorly realised Time-Flight. This time he was promised a better budget. Already a director on the show before becoming a writer, he always wanted to direct his own work but was never permitted to do so. It was from Grimwade that the public school setting had come, as he had attended one and hated it (so a lot of Turlough's complaints about school life derive from the author himself).
Grimwade also came up with the idea of a story split across two time zones. Selecting a recent one which the TARDIS crew trapped in 1983 would identify, the earlier time period was specified as 1977, with the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations being a prominent event. This, as you are no doubt aware, led to all manner of continuity problems as many believed that the UNIT stories took place in an unspecified "near future", probably the 1980's. In Pyramids of Mars, Sarah had stated that she came from 1980. How then could the Brigadier be retired by 1977? The new series has categorically placed the UNIT stories around the dates of transmission, though I'm sure Chris Chibnall will have a plan to screw that up as well.
One of Grimwade's loves was opera, and he uses as inspiration Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander - The Flying Dutchman, premiered in Dresden in 1843. It is based on the legend of a cursed ship which is never allowed to come into port, and spends eternity sailing the high seas. The story is supposed to have been born in the 17th Century, originating from sailors of the Dutch East India Company. Ever since, sailors have claimed to have seen the vessel around the Cape of Good Hope, glowing with a ghostly light. Over time, the story evolved to have the ship able to come into port once every 7 years, when the captain could attempt to lift the curse if he could find a woman to fall in love with him. Everyone is more familiar with aspects of this legend thanks to its incorporation into the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

Mawdryn and his crew of Kastron scientists (their race never referred to on screen) were cast out of their society because they experimented on themselves using stolen Time Lord technology, which made them immortal. They are able to make planet-fall every 5 years, when one of their number can leave to seek a solution to their condition. They all now just want to die.
Mawdryn, by the way, was said to be a Welsh word for "Undead", making the title "Undead Undead", but this is not the case. Grimwade used an amalgam of two Welsh words - Marw (dead) and Dyn (man).
Grimwade had worked on the BBC's adaptation of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). This features an ex-spy who is now living and working in a less than senior role at a boys' public school. His pride and joy is his car, and there is a pupil nicknamed 'Jumbo'. The Brigadier is an ex-secretive military operative, who is now living and working in a less than senior role at a boys' public school. His pride and joy is his car, and there is a pupil nicknamed 'Hippo'.
Coincidence? I think not.
Next time: more Wagnerian operatic influences, plus a whole lot of Norse mythology. First the TARDIS, and then Nyssa, break up with the Doctor...

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Unseen Stories (6)

The Fifth Doctor
As we've already seen, once John Nathan-Turner took over as producer, there was a conscious effort to cut back on the humour in the programme. One of these humorous elements had been the propensity of the Doctor to name-drop, usually in a funny way (the Doctor writing Hamlet due to Shakespeare hurting his wrist writing sonnets, dropping apples on Isaac Newton's head etc.).
As such, from The Leisure Hive onward we get fewer references to unseen stories.
As the new Doctor undergoes his regeneration crisis in Castrovalva, he mentally regresses back through earlier incarnations, and at one point recalls an incident involving the Ice Warriors, during which the Brigadier was present. Now, this might all be part of his mental trauma, jumbling up different events, but it might equally well be a genuine memory of an unseen adventure involving the Ice Warriors and UNIT.
In Four to Doomsday he states that he knew Sir Francis Drake (c.1540 - 1596), hero of the Spanish Armada rout. He also claims to have taken five wickets for New South Wales, but doesn't specify the date. The club was founded in  1856, but the match he played in must have been sometime after 1933, when the "chinaman" style of spin bowling is said to have been born. The term is no longer used, being now deemed racially offensive - Wisden, the cricketing bible, dropping it as of 2018. As a time traveller, the Doctor ought to have known that.
Of course, the First Doctor didn't even recognise cricket, but he knows all about it from his Fourth incarnation onward. Presumably all that time spent in exile on Earth during his Third incarnation is when he picked up a taste for the game.
The Doctor seems to know a lot of detail about the Terileptils, recognising the injuries of their leader as having come from the tinclavic mines on Raaga (not the sort of thing a text book would have told him).
Arc of Infinity seems to suggest that there has been an unseen return to Gallifrey at some point, as he seems very familiar with the current make-up of the High Council. He asks Damon how Leela is, though Damon was absent from The Invasion of Time. Some history with the new Castellan is also implied.
The King's Demons gives us the first mention in the series of the Eye of Orion, which the Doctor seems to have visited on more than one occasion. Unlike most other holiday destinations mentioned in the past, we'll actually get to see it in the very next story - The Five Doctors. This story throws up more potential "Season 6b" implications, with the Second Doctor recalling that the Time Lords wiped the memories of Jamie and Zoe. He couldn't possibly know this before going to the Brigadier's UNIT reunion party, and he's travelling alone. (He's actually wrong about them remembering him, as the Time Lords allowed them each to retain their memory of their first encounter with him. It's the fact that Jamie knows who the Brigadier is that's significant). The Second Doctor also mentions an encounter with the Terrible Zodin, when the Brigadier definitely wasn't present.
The Third Doctor appears to recognise a Raston Warrior Robot, suggesting a previous encounter.
Then there's that trip the Fourth Doctor and Romana took to Cambridge...
It is suggested even more clearly that the Doctor and the Castellan have history. Chancellor Flavia then states that she has the honour of offering the Presidency of the High Council to the Doctor "yet again" - even though we've never seen her do this before.
Warriors of the Deep throws up all sorts of continuity problems regarding the Silurians and the Sea Devils. In some ways it is trying to say there were just the two Third Doctor encounters, yet the detail says there has to have been an unseen adventure involving the specific members of the Silurian Triad. He recognises a Silurian battle cruiser, and the Myrka, though neither ever featured before.
There is an unseen trip to 1643 to drop off the temporally displaced Will Chandler after the events of The Awakening.
The Doctor seems to have learned about developments in the Dalek-Movellan war, knowing all about the Movellan gas. Note how the Doctor knows exactly where and when to go to visit this conflict, in its active stages, in The Pilot.
Finally, for the Fifth Doctor, we have him visiting Androzani Minor, which he says he has been to before. He seems to have known Professor Jackij, at a time before he discovered the cure for spectrox toxaemia, as he hasn't heard of spectrox before.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

What's Wrong With... The Chase

It's a story written by Terry Nation, directed by Richard Martin, and starring William Hartnell as the Doctor - so the potential for things not going to plan is vast.
The Chase opens with a recap from the end of the previous story, so we once again get to see those oddly positioned pieces of Dalek equipment, which don't appear to have been designed with Daleks in mind at all.
We then have a lengthy scene in the TARDIS with the Space-Time Visualiser. A couple of oddities here, starting with how did the Doctor get a machine that big through the TARDIS doors? Why does it have the names of planets of our Solar System around its circumference, when in theory it can pick up images of any past time or place in the universe? If it originates in the Solar System, how did it end up on Xeros in the first place?
The cartridges which the Doctor inserts seem to know to go straight to the exact point in space / time selected by the companions. Ian never specifies Gettysburg, but it knows that's what he wants to see from only a rough geographical choice. Then we have Vicki professing to be the big Beatles fan, having visited their memorial shrine in Liverpool - yet she doesn't appear to be familiar with their music. (Which reminds me of something I neglected to mention when looking at The Space Museum. She knows all about the Daleks from books, but none of these tomes seemed to have a picture of them, as she said she didn't know what they looked like. Later in this story she'll mention having read about their destruction of 'Old' New York - again in a book with no pictures, apparently).
Ian then appears to know a Beatles song recorded more than a year after he and Barbara left contemporary England.
On to the planet Aridius, and Vicki's hairstyle changes between scenes shot in the studio and those done on film at Camber Sands, when she's played by an extra. It's in bunches in studio, and loose when on location. The sound effects don't match the action when the trap door opens and then closes in the dunes, and the Mire Beast tentacle is very slow to move in to shot. It is also very obvious that the trap door is made of rather flimsy wood, with the dune being a sand-covered tarpaulin. We'll see this again when the Doctor and company lure the Dalek into their trap later in the second episode.
Maureen O'Brien appears corpses when describing her childhood fears about the ring in the ground and the castle, clearly throwing William Russell.
As with last story, people cast shadows on supposedly distant backgrounds.
One of the Daleks patrolling the dunes is clearly being "walked" by its operator (something which we'll see again when we get to Destiny of the Daleks).
The explosion in the tunnel was also filmed outside the studio, so Vicki's hair is wrong again.
The sound effects are awry once more when the Mire Beast breaks through the wall, coming in far too early.
The shots of the TARDIS and the "DARDIS" in the Vortex are clearly photographic cut-outs, and you can even see the piece of dowling holding them at times.
The name-plate of the "Mary Celeste" is seen too early, giving the game away. We later get the very slow pan round the ship before alighting on it, plus Ian then telling Barbara about it in the TARDIS. It only needed one or the other reveal for the audience - not both. The Dalek which falls overboard splits in two, and we get a good view of its empty innards.
In the "DARDIS", we can see that two of the Daleks are Peter Cushing movie ones with the big fender removed. Some inlay work of a countdown clock is superimposed over a Dalek, when it is supposed to be on a monitor in the background.
Lots of problems in the Haunted House. The actor playing Count Dracula is a terrible mime. Nearly every sound effect is miscued - from bats to creaky floorboards. One of the bats clearly gets its strings entangled on the staircase.
There's a Dalek very obviously lurking under the stairs, long before they're supposed to have arrived.
We also have to ask why these automatons are still active when the fun fair is closed down, and why would the Frankenstein Monster one be so aggressive to visitors. And why does it change its clothes?
Barbara struggles with the revolving alcove.
To this day I still haven't worked out what the ghostly grey lady is supposed to be saying.
We then have the Daleks' android copy of the Doctor, which looks absolutely nothing like him. He's another terrible mime as well.
On to Mechanus, and the studio lighting is so bright that we don't see the difference when the path of lights are switched on. The Fungoids are supposed to be afraid of light, yet the rod-like weapon which Barbara finds has only a tiny pea-bulb, which is again hardly noticeable on screen.
There's another static movie Dalek in the jungle, but worst of all is a clear shot of Camera 5 in the background (see image above).
In the morning, everyone is amazed to see the Mechonoid city towering above them - but why didn't they spot it when the lights were turned on the night before?
Use of the word Mechonoid (and spelling thereof) is inconsistent. The Daleks seem to be using an older version of the script where they were called Mechons - changed as it sounded like the villain from Dan Dare.
We all know that one of the reasons that the Mechonoids failed to take off was that they were far to big for the studio spaces, and there has always been a rumour that Raymond Cusick deliberately made them far too big to spite Terry Nation, who was making a fortune from the Daleks - money he wasn't seeing any of.
Where on earth (or Mechanus) did Steven Taylor get all that wood and rope from? He can't have asked for it, as the whole point of the Mechonoids is that no-one can communicate with them.
The length of cable patently does not match the height of the building. Peter Purves is about to say 15 feet but quickly amends it to 1500 feet. When Vicki is supposed to be hanging from it, it appears very loose, almost as though there were no weight on it all... Ian almost pulls Barbara's trousers off in this scene.
The Doctor's much anticipated anti-Dalek weapon only kills one Dalek, yet somehow manages to set the entire city on fire.
Whilst some people might go back into a blazing inferno to save a real panda, would a hardened space pilot really risk life and limb to go back for a toy one?
The final scenes of the Doctor parting company with Ian and Barbara include one Hartnell's most famous fluffs, when he tells the school teachers they will end up "a couple of cinders floating around in Spain... Space...".
It's such a pity that we never got to see their explanation to the Coal Hill Head Master of where they had been for the last two years...

Tuesday 3 March 2020

The revelation nobody wanted

In some ways the revelation of the Doctor being the Timeless Child, cast adrift from some alternative dimension and not just another Time Lord from Gallifrey, hasn't actually changed very much. It plugs the continuity point from The Brain of Morbius and goes some ways to explaining why the Doctor has never been quite like any other Time Lord. Up until The War Games we knew nothing about the character save that they came from another planet, although early writers presented the Doctor more as a time traveller than a space adventurer. The emphasis was more on him coming from the future rather than being an alien. He sometimes described himself in human terms, and only appeared to have one heart.
Susan claimed to have named the TARDIS, and several times the Doctor seemed to suggest that he had built the ship himself. Things started to change with the introduction of the Monk in The Time Meddler, when we saw that the TARDIS was not unique. The Doctor mentioned coming from a different time to the Monk ("50 years earlier"), again implying that time was more important to him than space.
More revelations followed, as we saw that the Doctor could renew his body when it grew too frail, and he would then tell Jamie and Victoria that he was around 450 years old in Earth terms.
The War Games finally gave us the Doctor's backstory. He was a Time Lord from another planet, one of a race of people who were almost immortal barring accidents. He had stolen the TARDIS and set out to explore the universe, as the Time Lords preferred to merely observe and never interfere. He saw himself as a crusader as much as an explorer.
In the next story we learn of the two hearts and the other differences in his anatomy that make him only appear human.
Other details about the Time Lords followed, such as their use of the Doctor as an agent for intervention, when they couldn't be seen to interfere. We learned of Omega and how he gave the Time Lords the power needed to kickstart their time travel experiments. The Deadly Assassin then introduced Rassilon, and we saw that the Time Lords weren't such God-like beings after all. Beneath the facade they were just like us. We also learned that Time Lords could only regenerate 12 times, which told us that this was unlikely to be some purely biological process, but rather some product of genetic engineering, which is something that The Timeless Children has now confirmed.
So over the years we have always been drip-fed new information about the Doctor.
The problem is that we have never, ever wanted to know everything. Every time the mystery of the Doctor us revealed, the character has been diminished. Steven Moffat played around with the Doctor's name for more than a season, but he was never intending to ever reveal it. Back in the 80's Marc Platt proposed a story called "Lungbarrow" which would have taken the Doctor back to his ancestral home and revealed all sorts of details about his background as "the Other" who was a contemporary of Omega and Rassilon - an idea hinted at in Season 25. Everyone thought that Platt's idea was a stupid one, as revealing too much about the Doctor was a mistake. There may not be a question mark after Doctor Who but some sense of mystery about who they are and where they come from has always been part of the series' attraction.
No one really wanted to know any more about the Doctor's background. Enough had already been told, generally diminishing the character as I've said. The final two seasons of the Classic Era were specifically trying to put the mystery back into the series, rather than to remove it as too much had been revealed, and everyone agrees this was a good idea.
The Doctor was at his best when he was the mysterious traveller, origins unknown, who didn't even know how to pilot the TARDIS properly. A Doctor who was simply an explorer, but who fought injustice whenever he encountered it simply because it was the right thing to do.
When the series returned in 2005, Russell T Davies had done away with the Time Lords, making the Doctor the explorer once again. Moffat then bogged the character down in interminable story arcs and made the Doctor some kind of intergalactic celebrity, known to everyone, which was a huge mistake. He backtracked by then having the Doctor go round removing himself from every database.
Chibnall has decided to give the Doctor a whole new backstory - one which, like I've said, nobody was really asking for. If he wanted to divorce the Doctor further from the Time Lords and make the character more mysterious again then he's gone about it the wrong way. Far too much was given away about the Timeless Child. A better writer would have dropped hints and left it at that, allowing fans to speculate. The Master simply indulges in one massive info-dump of exposition. Surely there were better ways of revealing some of this through proper storytelling?
Does any of this really matter? Has Chibnall broken the programme?
Not really, as we've just seen how he has simply swapped one backstory for another, albeit in a terribly clumsy manner.
As always, when fans try to plug continuity gaps they just create new ones. The TARDIS Dr Ruth had shouldn't look like a Police Box. If the Timeless Child is such a significant figure for the Time Lords how did they come to lose him when he ran away from Gallifrey? Surely they would have kept him locked away to stop other races discovering his regenerative abilities.
At the end of the day, I don't really care who the Doctor is. I never have.
What's always been more important to me is what the Doctor does.
I had to laugh when I saw the cover of the new DWM due out on Thursday. "Jo Martin is the Doctor" it exclaims. No she isn't. She has done absolutely nothing to deserve that title. Just saying you're the Doctor and having a TARDIS means f*** all. Who the Doctor is, what their backstory is, it's all immaterial. It's what they do that counts. It's really sad that the current showrunner doesn't understand this.

Sunday 1 March 2020

The Timeless Children - Review

I didn't expect quite so much to be explained by this episode. Chibnall hinted that it would pose more questions, but that really wasn't the case at all. Spoilers ahead...
The Doctor is the Timeless Child. An early explorer from Gallifrey - Tecteun - found the child, who had fallen through a portal from an alternative universe / dimension. She took the child back to Gallifrey and studied her, and discovered that she could regenerate when fatally injured. Tecteun eventually worked out what caused this regeneration process and used it on herself - becoming the first Gallifreyan to regenerate. More of her people were then given this gift - an elite who called themselves Time Lords. Up to this point, native Gallifreyans were known as Shebogans. The Timeless Child lived through many regenerations, before ultimately becoming the Doctor. An organisation known as "The Division" employed them - presumably some sort of precursor to the Celestial Intervention Agency - who were not averse to using their powers to interfere in the affairs of other species. The Division would regularly wipe the Timeless Child's mind after these clandestine operations - which is why the Doctor doesn't remember this life before the one she can recall. Dr Ruth would have been one of these forgotten incarnations. What wasn't explained was why the Timeless Child had a whole lifetime of memories as an Irishman named Brendan in the first place - especially when that lifetime included being a baby and a small boy. All that stuff from last week seems pointless now.
All of this came to light when the Master took the Doctor into the Matrix. The only material not explained was the bit about The Division, as it had been redacted. The Doctor eventually escaped the Matrix by overloading it with her own memories - cue clips from earlier seasons. It is significant that one of these clips was the "mind wrestling" duel between the Fourth Doctor and Morbius, suggesting that the faces we saw were indeed earlier, pre-Hartnell, incarnations of the Doctor.
All these revelations will get a mixed reception from fans. There are those who are going to accept that this is simply greater insight into the Doctor's background, explaining why she of all the Time Lords has always been so different. Others just won't accept such a seismic change to established canon. I've seen a few people on-line stating that they will walk away from the programme if the suspected events of tonight's episode were going to come to pass. I won't be one of them. It's a massive disruption, but one I'm sure I'll come to terms with. It does not necessarily negate everything that's gone before, as some will argue.
This new information does pose problems with continuity. If the first Gallifreyan to regenerate was a woman, then how come every one of the Time Lords we have previously seen in The War Games, Colony In Space, The Three Doctors and The Deadly Assassin were all male? Early Gallifrey was also shown to be ethnically diverse, and yet those same four stories showed only white men. The Invasion of Time had only one female character, in a minor position, and again all were white. Arc of Infinity and The Five Doctors at least featured one female on the High Council - though everyone was again white. The entire court seen in Trial of a Time Lord was composed of white people, and none of the jury were female. At what point in their history did the Time Lords become a white, male dominated society? The question also has to be asked, if the Timeless Child spent much of their life female and ethnically diverse, why did they end up being a white man for thirteen regenerations?
You can't just shoehorn the BBC's current diversity policies into a programme that's been running nearly 60 years.
Sacha Dhawan, as expected, was brilliant as the Master. I said last week he would give Ashad a run for his money. He gave everyone a run for their money. He had more screen time than the Doctor, thanks to having him run around with the Cybermen in the real world, and still be with the Doctor, psychically, in the Matrix at the same time. One huge disappointment, which I'm sure everyone will pick up on, was the treatment of Ashad. He was set up brilliantly in the last two episodes, just to be summarily killed by the Master half way through the episode. He deserved much better than this.
The Master's plan was to combine the Cybermen and the Time Lords, whose bodies he had kept after destroying the Citadel - so that he could create an army of Cybermen able to regenerate.
We saw some of these Time Lord / Cybermen hybrids, and I must say I thought they looked rather stupid, with frilly lace fan-shaped designs on their helmets.
It was really obvious that one of the others was going to take the Doctor's place when it came to detonating the "Death Particle", and I really, really hoped that it would have been one of the companions. We really need a change in this TARDIS line-up, and one of them sacrificing themselves to save the Doctor would have been great. Yaz was the obvious candidate for this, after the scene where she and Graham spoke about bravery earlier. Instead we got Ko Sharmus doing the self-sacrificial duties - a wasted opportunity. Looks like we're stuck with the same overcrowded TARDIS team for next time.
The series desperately needs some change in the line-up.
The title of the New Year Special was revealed at the end, after we had a cliffhanger conclusion. The companions and the surviving humans have made it back to Earth in a TARDIS, which has disguised itself as a two-up, two down house on an estate (scope for a spin-off sitcom here). Another TARDIS has taken the Doctor back to her own ship, but before she can catch her breath she is arrested by Judoon, and transported to a cell in a prison asteroid. The BBC have stupidly let it be known that Captain Jack will be in the New Year Special, so presumably he is the one who helps the Doctor escape back to Earth, which is where we know that the Daleks will be waiting, having been quite publicly filmed on the Clifton Suspension Bridge at Bristol. The title for this special is Revolution of the Daleks, and a video vlog I've seen recently claims that the story involves yet another Dalek civil war, and Davros might appear. The opportunity is there for the human survivors to feature, if that sitcom hasn't already been commissioned, and there is always the possibility that Graham and Ravio will develop a romance that will take him out of the series before Series 13.
And what of the Master? We cut away from Ko Sharmus activating the Death Particle in the Matrix Room on Gallifrey, so he may well have managed to escape.
He always does.
He will be back.

Finale, then holiday

I'm going to be away for a week from tomorrow, so I'll be posting my musings on The Timeless Children tonight, which might be before some of you have actually had the chance to watch it. My post will inevitably contain spoilers, so if you want to avoid knowing anything about the episode then stay away for 24 hours or so (and keep away from social media in general). I will be back, with business as usual, from 9th March.