Saturday, 30 May 2020
It's been a very rare occurrence in the series so far when we can say that the inspiration for a Doctor Who story is another Doctor Who story. It has only happened when we have had a sequel (such as the two stories set on Peladon, or involving the Mara) or where we have recurring characters / monsters.
One quick summary of Planet of Fire might go along the lines of: the TARDIS is redirected by someone other than the Doctor to an alien planet; there is a local superstitious sect which worships a sacred flame which has regenerative qualities; there's a rogue Time Lord present: the rogue Time Lord is physically in reduced circumstances; the leader of the sect sacrifices themselves at the end; the planet's name is a four letter word ending in "arn".
Yes, Planet of Fire does seem to borrow quite a few elements previously seen in The Brain of Morbius.
The Time Lords redirected the TARDIS then, whilst Kamelion, under the influence of the Master, does it here; we have the Sisterhood of Karn and the Cult of Logar; the sacred flame gives long life and has restorative qualities, whilst the flame here restores health in its blue phase; the Master has been shrunk due to an experiment with his Tissue Compression Eliminator, whilst Morbius existed only as a brain in a tank; Maren and Timanov elect to sacrifice themselves at the conclusion of each story - she to the flame and he to remain behind on the planet as it faces destruction, rather than accept that his life has been wasted worshipping ancient alien visitors; the planet Karn / the planet Sarn.
Too many overlaps to be a coincidence I would have thought. We do know that John Nathan-Turner did often offer tapes / scripts of old stories to writers, so presumably Peter Grimwade, the writer of this story, got to see The Brain of Morbius again, or got to read the script, as it wasn't one of the stories he had worked on as Production Assistant.
Last time, we told of how there had been a falling out between JNT and Grimwade over the cancellation of the Dalek story that was to have ended the previous season. Grimwade never directed on the show again (and may not have wanted to anyway) but he already had this script in the pipeline, and he would go on to offer a further one during Colin Baker's tenure as the Doctor which wasn't commissioned. Having Grimwade write the story which would exit the character of Turlough from the programme made sense, as it had been he who had written his introductory story - Mawdryn Undead - and he had contributed to some of the character's development, using some of his own public school experiences.
Grimwade was given some other elements which he was asked to include. As well as the departure of Mark Strickson, he had to introduce the new female companion, to include the Master - who was to be written out as well, as JNT was now in dispute with Anthony Ainley, and whose "one story per season" contract was coming to an end. The troublesome Kamelion robot was also to be gotten rid of.
On top of all these departures and arrivals this story was also to be the one that would be filmed overseas. It had been thought that Greece, or at least one of the Greek Islands such as Crete, might have been the possible filming location, and Grimwade was a keen Hellenophile. His initial scripts reflected this.
His main aim in his scripts was an attack on fundamentalist religion. He disliked how many religions took events as "signs from god", and used them to attack people and to justify their bigotries. This was the time of AIDS, remember, and religious groups of all sorts were queuing up to attack gay people by claiming the illness as a visitation from god.
All of Grimwade's Greek research was in vain, however, as director and close friend of JNT Fiona Cumming had recently been on holiday to Lanzarote. Her holiday snaps were to inspire the location eventually chosen for the story. Not only would the volcanic island, one of the Canary Islands, appear as itself, it would then feature as the alien world of Sarn. "Sarn" by the way is Grimwade looking once again to the Welsh language (as with the name Mawdryn). It means a pavement, causeway or stepping stone.
Delays in selecting the location, plus further issues around casting, meant that Grimwade elected not to develop his scripts any further, and he handed them over to Eric Saward to complete.
It has been suggested that had 'The Return' / 'Warhead' been made, it would have included the writing out of Kamelion - meaning that the character would have gone in the very next story after it had been introduced. This was because it had been obvious that the machine couldn't be operated as efficiently as had been promised (problems exacerbated by the death of its programmer in a boating accident). As it was, Kamelion had merely been forgotten about for several stories - not even referred to. A brief scene between Kamelion and Tegan had been recorded for The Awakening, but was cut before broadcast. With the return of the Master in this story, it seemed the opportune moment to exit the robot which he had helped introduce to the programme. With the Master incapacitated due to being shrunk, he would exert his influence over Kamelion once more so that it could come and rescue him.
Its shape-changing abilities allowed Anthony Ainley, and Dallas Adams (in the dual role of Peri's step-father Howard, and the possessed Kamelion looking like Howard) to interact with the rest of the cast in studio and on location, despite the Master being confined to his tiny control room.
We mentioned last time the Fifth Doctor's willingness to handle a weapon, and at the conclusion of this story he uses the Master's TCE to destroy Kamelion - though it is at the robot's own instigation.
If this story seems to borrow inspiration from The Brain of Morbius, then it therefore has to acknowledge some of that story's inspirations. Chief of these is the restorative flame, which comes from H Rider Haggard's She: A History of Adventure. This was first published in book form in 1887, having been serialised in The Graphic magazine some months before.
It tells of an expedition to the lost city of Kor, somewhere in central Africa. This is ruled over by a sorceress named Ayesha (She Who Must Be Obeyed). Ayesha has found the secret of eternal life, by having bathed in the flames of a strange volcanic flame. However, bathing in the flame a second time undoes the process, and Ayesha ages rapidly to death. The story has been filmed 11 times - the earliest from Georges Melies in 1899. The best known versions are the 1935 adaptation starring Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce, which moved the action to the Arctic, and Hammer's 1965 version, which starred Peter Cushing, Christoper Lee, Bernard Cribbens and Ursula Andress. The latter spawned a sequel - The Vengeance of She - as it had ended with the hero joining Ayesha in the flame - he now becoming immortal whilst she withered and died.
The Master's plan is to have Kamelion deposit him in the flame of Numismaton gas when it burns blue, so that his shrinking will be reversed. It had been intended for a time that this would have seen the death of the character, as the flame reverts to its normal destructive state with him in its midst. The Master is heard to demand that the Doctor help him, ending with: "Won't you show mercy to your own -". The production team did toy with the idea that that sentence was to have ended with the word "brother", but they ultimately decided against this.
The name of the gas - Numismaton - seems to have been picked from the word for coin or bank note collecting - numismatics.
Cumming and JNT made a couple of controversial casting decisions for this story. For High Priest Timanov they offered the role to Peter Wyngarde, best known as the playboy detective Jason King from Department-S and his own spin-off show (supposedly the principal inspiration for Mike Myers' Austin Powers). Wyngarde's reputation, and thus his career, had suffered after a couple of arrests in the mid 1970's for "cottaging". Dallas Adams, meanwhile, had recently been in the news for winning a record winning sum in a gay palimony case.
Even the casting of new companion Peri was controversial. The character was an American, but the actress selected was Nicola Bryant, who was English. She had an American boyfriend and had used an American accent to land the part. It is claimed that JNT decided to have an American companion due to the series' rising popularity in the United States. He spent many weeks there attending conventions - sometime to the detriment of the series itself. Eric Saward, and many fans, were unhappy about this - pointing out that the reason that American fans liked the series so much was because of its eccentric Britishness. They could watch American characters any time, and didn't need to see them on Doctor Who. Once cast, Bryant had to keep up with the pretence of being American to fans and the press for some time. Peri's full name is Perpugilliam Brown. JNT claimed to have found Perpugilliam in a book of girls' names, and thought it sounded the sort of thing a New England parent might call their child.
Turlough's backstory and origins are given a very rushed and cursory glance. He is really Junior Ensign Commander Vislor Turlough (VTEC9/12/44). His father was a political dissident from the planet Trion, who was exiled to Sarn along with his younger son Malkon, whilst Turlough was sent to his exile on Earth. The political situation on Trion has now changed, and Turlough is welcome to return, along with Malkon, whom Timanov had thought was the "chosen one" of his god Logar. His religion is really based on visits in the past by Trion agents, who used this planet as a sort of penal colony. Turlough's serial number derives from the birth date of Eric Saward - 9th December 1944.
Turlough's stripping down to his swimming trunks might well have been inspired by Sarah Sutton getting to strip down her costume in her last story (Terminus).
Next time: you wait for a story to be inspired by another story for ages, and then two come along at once. It's the much better remake of The Power of Kroll as Peter Davison bows out...
Wednesday, 27 May 2020
In which the Doctor takes Amy and Rory to the planet Apalapucia, one of the most popular holiday destinations in the universe. On stepping out of the TARDIS, however, they are presented with a corridor of stark white walls. There is a door with two buttons - one with a green anchor symbol, and the other with a red waterfall one. As Amy pops back into the ship to get her mobile so she can take some photographs, the Doctor and Rory go through the door using the green anchor button. Amy follows a few moments later, but by pushing the red waterfall button. She is surprised to find the room beyond empty, whilst the Doctor and Rory wonder why she hasn't followed them. In the room where they find themselves they see a large object like a magnifying glass, and when looking into it they see Amy. She tells them she has been waiting in the room for hours, whilst for them it has only been a few minutes. The Doctor realises that there are two time-streams in operation in this complex, and Amy is in a separate one from him and Rory. A faceless white robot appears, which has human-like hands, and from it they learn that there is an infection on Apalapucia of the deadly virus Chen-7 - known as the "one day plague", as victims die within 24 hours of contracting it. The Doctor is horrified to hear of this as it only affects people with binary cardiac systems. he must isolate himself in the TARDIS immediately whilst he works out how to retrieve Amy. She is trapped within the infected people's time stream, where victims of the plague can lead a longer life in their faster time-stream. The magnifying glasses allow the friends and families of victims to communicate with the infected. The Doctor warns that the robots - Handbots - will attempt to cure Amy even though she doesn't have the infection, and their medicines will be fatal. She must not let them touch her.
Amy must pass into the medical complex proper and find somewhere to hide. She finds that there is a computer interface she can access, which allows her entry into a number of different entertainment zones. The Handbots are everywhere, however. In the TARDIS, the Doctor has brought the magnifying glass and has linked it to the TARDIS scanner, and to a pair of spectacles which Rory can wear. As he only has one heart, Rory must go alone into the complex to find a rescue his wife. The Doctor must quarantine himself in the ship and can only offer guidance using the spectacles. Rory enters the complex using the red waterfall button and sets out to find Amy. She, meanwhile, has found out that if two Handbots touch each other they will disable each other temporarily. She also discovers that the massive time engines which power the faster time-stream generate a field which shields her from their sensors. She leaves a lipstick message that she is hiding out near the engines in a service area. Rory sees this now faded message using the magnifier. he is attacked by a group of Handbots, but is rescued by a woman wearing makeshift armour. This proves to be Amy, who is now decades older. She takes Rory to her base, where he discovers that she has a Handbot companion which she has named after him. She has drawn a face on it, but also removed its hands.
She is extremely bitter at having been abandoned by the Doctor, blaming him personally for her situation. Rory has to agree, angry that the Doctor failed to make any checks before bringing them to this planet. Amy communicates with the Doctor through the glasses and magnifier and lets him know in no uncertain terms how she feels about him. She refuses to assist them in getting the original Amy back, as to do so would mean that her existence would be cancelled out - even if it has been an unhappy one. The Doctor succeeds in locating the younger Amy and creates a link so that the two versions can communicate directly with each other. The younger Amy is able to win round her older version by using her feelings for Rory - that they will have missed out on a life together if she isn't rescued. The Doctor then announces that he has found a way to rescue both versions of Amy, but only by crossing his own time-stream in the TARDIS and creating a temporal paradox. he claims the TARDIS will be able to sustain this.
Rory is guided to an instrument panel where he is able to bring about a convergence of the two time-streams - allowing the younger Amy to cross over into that of the older version. Heading back to the TARDIS which has also crossed over, they come under attack from a number of Handbots. The younger Amy is touched by one and is tranquillised. Rory picks her up and carries her into the TARDIS whilst the older Amy fights the robots off. Rory is about to go back outside to help her when the Doctor locks him in. He had lied about the chance to save both. The TARDIS would never have been unable to sustain the paradox. He has decided which of the Amys is to live, which infuriates Rory. The older Amy realises what the Doctor has done, and finally accepts that she must cease to exist in order that her younger self exists and has a life with her husband. She asks the computer interface to show her the Earth one last time, then allows the Handbots to touch her as the TARDIS dematerialises...
The Girl Who Waited was written by Tom MacRae, and was first broadcast on 10th September 2011. It was this season's "Doctor-lite" story, which is why, after a few opening and closing scenes Matt Smith does all his work alone on the TARDIS set for the bulk of the episode.
This was only MacRae's second story, his last being the two part reintroduction of the Cybermen way back in Series 2. He had one story commissioned but ultimately unproduced for the fourth series - known as 'Century House' - which would have seen the Tenth Doctor and Donna encounter the crew of a Most Haunted type TV show encountering real paranormal events. It was quite a funny episode, and Russell T Davies decided to drop it as he had already commissioned The Unicorn and the Wasp, which also had a lot of humour and which would have immediately preceded it in transmission order. It was replaced by Midnight. 'Century House' was reconsidered for this sixth Series, but Steven Moffat already had Mark Gatiss' Night Terrors, which also featured haunted house trappings.
MacRae also contributed the plot for the interactive 'Crash of the Elysium' role playing adventure earlier in 2011. To date he still hasn't written his third story, but has been enjoying great success anyway with the stage musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie, which he wrote.
With Matt Smith taking a back seat, the two companion actors are given a real chance to shine - Karen Gillan especially, in her dual role. Of particular note is her performance as the embittered older version of the character. There had been some thoughts about casting an older actress to play this part, but Gillan insisted she be given the chance to do it, with some subtle make-up from Neil Gorton's team. She is older, but not elderly. Arthur Darvill gets some nice comedic moments, but really gets to show what he can do in his frustrated rage against the Doctor for his deceit, and for getting them into this situation in the first place. Smith, once again, gets to show that this most childlike of Doctors can have a darker side. This story does raise questions about how much the Doctor's desire for surprise and invention can put himself and his companions in jeopardy. The Doctor could have done background checks on this planet at this time, and so learned about the infection, but he doesn't like to do this - preferring just to leap in, sight unseen, and see what happens. Fine if he wants to do this himself, but he has a duty of care to the people who travel with him. This has been raised before, and by Rory again, when he accused the Doctor of making his companions want to be like him (in The Vampires of Venice), and it will become a theme for the next couple of stories as the Doctor faces up to this accusation and decides to make some changes in how he travels.
Apart from a holographic receptionist, and the Handbot performers, we don't see anyone else on screen in this story. There is one special guest artist however, for voicing the computer interface is Oscar nominated actress Imelda Staunton, best known for her role as the villainous Dolores Umbridge, of the Ministry of Magic, in the Harry Potter movie franchise.
Overall, a highlight of this season, and one of the best stories of the Matt Smith run overall. No overbearing story arc to worry about, and no huge guest cast cluttering things up. Just the three regulars giving great performances - even Smith, who only did a couple of days' work on it. The way it's put together, you barely notice that this is a "Doctor-lite" episode.
Things you might like to know:
- It's a good job that 'Century House' wasn't developed further, as it may have been accused of being somewhat unoriginal. The long-running TV show Supernatural covered similar ground - the regulars meeting a ghost-hunting TV show crew in a real haunted house. The episode was called "Hell House" and it aired in the very first season back in 2005.
- Moffat seems to have taken on board criticisms that Doctor Who monsters always seemed to be male. There were indeed very few female villains in the classic run of the series (the all female Drahvins, or individuals like Cesair of Diplos). Very few times when there was more than one of a species did we see a female one (such as Odda the Zygon or Enlightenment the Urbankan). Moffat came up with the all female Weeping Angels, and had the Venetian Vampires and the majority of the Silurians as females on his watch. The same actresses who played both the Silurians and the Angels are employed here to be the Handbots.
- As originally envisaged, the Handbots were to have been robed figures, with human-like heads as well as hands.
- The working titles for this story were 'Visiting Hour' or 'The Visitor's Hour'. 'Green Anchor' was promoted by fans, but MacRae denied this was ever considered as a title. Quite right, as it might have sounded like it was set in a pub.
- The title they did pick refers back to the Doctor's description of Amy / Amelia Pond in their first story, and it will pop up again shortly as part of the slogan for the perfume which model Amy is advertising.
- This story has the third shortest credited cast list of any Doctor Who story, with just 5 names. It is beaten by Heaven Sent (3) and The Edge of Destruction (4). Some individual episodes of the classic series also had very small casts, often just the regulars, in their first episodes (e.g. The Daleks and The Ark in Space).
- For the second time this series, the Doctor faces an illness which would prevent him from regenerating (Chen-7 here, and the toxin from a Judas Tree in Let's Kill Hitler). In both cases he fails to mention that he can't regenerate anyway as he is in his final incarnation (as he believes it to be at the time).
- Looking for his spectacles, the Doctor accidentally activates a reel-to-reel tape player device on the TARDIS console which makes a strange noise. This is actually the original theme tune arrangement, played backwards.
Monday, 25 May 2020
The Massacre is the title we generally give to this four part story, but therein lies a problem. The Doctor and Steven actually leave Paris before the Massacre begins. Everything we see on screen (or just hear nowadays) involves the lead up to the event. The actual slaughter of the French Protestant Huguenots by the Catholics of Paris is depicted only towards the end of Part Four, in the form of a soundtrack of fighting noises and some woodcuts or paintings of the event.
If you own the BBC Radio Collection soundtrack CD, you'll notice that it says The Massacre on the front and back covers, and on the spine, but the discs themselves have the title "The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve". This was the full title given to this production by the BBC at the time. It at least refers to the build-up to the Massacre (with the word "Eve"), but the Massacre itself has always been known as The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre - i.e. the slaughter took place on the Day itself, not the day before. The signal to begin the attack was the tolling of the bell of the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, which still stands between the Louvre and Notre Dame. The tocsin (warning bell) sounded just before dawn on the 24th August, which was St Bartholomew's Day.
We are not helped in our analysis of the story itself by the fact that this is one of the most lost of Doctor Who stories. There are no surviving episodes, or even clips, and no telesnaps are known to exist. Not only that but hardly any on set photographs were taken during production, and those that were tend to be from just three or four scenes, and aren't indicative of the story as a whole.
There were problems with the story's genesis, as it was heavily rewritten by the Story Editor, Donald Tosh, and though credited to John Lucarotti, very little of his work actually made it to screen.
Apparently Lucarotti contacted the production office one day and claimed that the series owed him a story (or he owed it one, in a way). Tosh checked the files and discovered that Lucarotti had indeed been contracted to provide three stories for the series, but had only ever delivered two - Marco Polo and The Aztecs. Lucarotti was now offering a story about Erik the Red discovering North America. Tosh rejected this idea on two grounds - that they had just featured Vikings in The Time Meddler, and the story was set mostly on a ship, which would have been both impractical and visually and narratively limiting.
It was Tosh who then asked Lucarotti to come up with a story based around the Paris Massacre of 1572. Unhappy with having a historical event he knew nothing about foisted upon him, the story Lucarotti eventually submitted wasn't liked by Tosh, but Lucarotti refused to carry out significant re-writes. Tosh took these on himself, and took an on screen co-writer credit for the final episode.
What of the story itself?
The Doctor rightly guesses the approximate date for the TARDIS's arrival, knowing that the apothecary Charles Preslin is active in the city at this time - and yet forgets about the most significant event in the history of Paris in this era.
(Preslin, by the way, is fictitious. They could have gone for a real Parisian scientist of the time, and a quick Google search gives us someone who was actually killed in the Massacre - mathematician and philosopher Petrus Ramus, a convert to Protestanstism who perished on the third day of the Massacre).
The Doctor then happily agrees to let Steven remain in this dangerous historical period on his own. Even if he has forgotten all about the tensions of the Wars of Religion, he ought to know that this was a period when cities were generally disease and crime-ridden places.
Preslin knows enough about the Abbot of Amboise to know that he is personally in danger from him, but doesn't know what he looks like - otherwise why happily chat to a man who looks exactly like him? The Abbot is another fictitious character.
Steven knows how long they have been in Paris, yet still thinks that the Abbot (who is recognised as such by many people) might actually be the Doctor in disguise. When is the Doctor supposed to have got this plan together, and taken in all these servants and soldiers?
Just why does the Doctor insist that Anne Chaplette be left behind, when he's taken a number of people out of time to join him in the TARDIS? If he's so worried about upsetting history, why did he speak to Preslin about the microscope, which won't be invented until c.1609? Anne is sent to lock herself away for a few days with her relatives, but if their neighbours knew them to be Huguenots (which they would have done, as they won't have been seen in church) then this really isn't sending her anywhere safe at all.
The TARDIS then materialises on Wimbledon Common, in 1966, where Steven - who has run out of the ship in disgust at the Doctor's abandonment of Anne - witnesses a car accident. Instead of wanting to get help for an injured child, Steven runs back to the TARDIS and urges the Doctor to take off, in case the authorities turn up. The most remarkable coincidence then happens, as a possible descendant of Anne - one Dodo Chaplet - turns up mistaking the TARDIS for a real Police Box. For Dodo to be a direct descendant, the usual (for the time) naming protocols of taking the father's name on getting married and having children, seems to have been broken - implying illegitimacy or divorce at the very least. Taboo subjects for family viewing in 1966. Dodo also seems to rapidly forget all about the injured child, though she at least asks where the telephone is - despite just having walked into a massive futuristic control room which somehow fits inside a Police Box. Despite not knowing who these weird people are, she's very eager to run away and join them, purely on the strength of her not getting on with her aunt.
The other big problem - they got rid of Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Anne Chaplette as potential companions and gave us Dodo instead.
Sunday, 24 May 2020
Resurrection of the Daleks started life as "The Return" or "Warhead", which was planned as the final story of Season 20. The Cybermen had been successfully relaunched in Season 19, and now it was the Daleks' turn. The writer was Eric Saward, taking a break from Script Editor duties, and he wanted to do for the Daleks what he had earlier done for the Cybermen. A director was hired - Peter Grimwade. You can see that the intention was to replicate the success of Earthshock. Terry Nation now lived and worked in Los Angeles, and had to remind John Nathan Turner that he had to give consent for any Dalek story to be produced, and that he had already stipulated that Davros should feature in all new Dalek stories. Saward was okay with this, as the Daleks were notoriously difficult to write for, and Davros was a much more interesting character to give voice to, and interact with. Grimwade started putting his team together, and was pleased to hear that Michael Wisher would be available to play the Dalek creator once more.
Season 20 then hit problems. Industrial action plus studio overruns conspired to push back production on many of the stories. JNT was faced with a dilemma. He could either abandon one of the stories already partly made, or he could forego the season finale and use the time and studio space to finish what he already had. The decision to opt with the second choice proved to be an easy one, as three of the stories in the middle of the season formed a narrative arc (Turlough and the Black Guardian) and so couldn't be changed anyway.
Grimwade was informed that the story he had been planning would now be held back, probably to Season 21. The director decided to take his team out for a meal, to thank them for everything they had done up to this point. He did not invite JNT, expecting to take him out separately. However, JNT went into a rage when he learned that Grimwade had taken his team, which included Saward, out for a meal without inviting him. This poisoned the relationship between the two men, and Grimwade would never direct another Doctor Who story, though he would contribute one further script as a writer.
Knowing that there would be a Dalek story coming up next season, JNT was initially resistant to them appearing in the anniversary story - The Five Doctors - but Terrance Dicks insisted that you couldn't have an anniversary and not include them in some way - hence the lone Dalek cameo.
The new version of Resurrection of the Daleks, as it was renamed, was now to be directed by Matthew Robinson, and one of his first tasks was to find a new Davros. Wisher was now committed to work in Australia and was therefore no longer available. Robinson opted for an actor with a lot of radio experience, as he would be wearing a restrictive mask. This was Terry Molloy.
The change of story title can be put down to the titles of the previous two Davros / Dalek stories - Genesis and Destiny, lending them a sort of Biblical feel.
This story is also a direct sequel to Destiny of the Daleks. That story featured a war between the Daleks and the robotic Movellans, and had ended with Davros being taken back to Earth to stand trial, frozen in a cryogenic chamber. Resurrection is set some 90 years later, with Davros now imprisoned on a space-station, refrozen, and the war with the Movellans has taken a turn for the worse as far as the Daleks are concerned. They've created a virus which attacks Dalek systems. Like Destiny, the Daleks are motivated to come and rescue their creator in the hope that he can sort out their problems.
The seeds of future conflict are sown, as Davros doesn't trust the Daleks, and they don't trust him.
Saward himself has since stated that he threw far too much plot into this story. Not content with the Daleks wanting to resurrect their creator to help them find a cure for the Movellan virus, the Dalek Supreme has a secondary scheme - to deliberately ensnare the Doctor and his companions so that they can be duplicated. These replicants will then be sent to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords. Once the Doctor is captured, we get this season's fan-pleasing flashback sequence.
In Season 18, the Doctor had seen images of his companions, plus some recent foes, and in Season 19 the Cybermen had reviewed some of their past encounters with the Doctor. Season 20 had then featured a sequence where the Brigadier had his memories of the Doctor restored. In this story, the Doctor's memories are being recorded to feed into his replicant, so we see all of his companions and all of his previous incarnations. Well, nearly all, for Leela is missing. A simple production error, or part of the plot? Is the Doctor deliberately omitting her so that she won't be recognised by the replicant Doctor when he goes to Gallifrey, and she might notice that something's wrong with him? That's the fan theory to explain Leela's omission. Replicants are new for the Daleks though they have been seen to employ others in the past. We have seen Robomen, a killer robot Doctor, human traitors and Ogrons all "working" for the Daleks. Yet another part of the Dalek Supreme's scheme is to have replicants of key world leaders, to undermine governments and so make it easier for them to take over the Earth. The Doctor points out that the replicants are unstable and will be easily spotted - which is probably Saward's dig at the calibre of world leaders we had in 1984.
On top of the Dalek schemes we have a lot of subsidiary characters and sub-plots to cram in.
There's Commander Lytton, a sadistic mercenary, who leads the human Dalek troopers. It's never made clear if they are all replicants like Stien. Lytton likes to dress as a police officer when he's in contemporary London, for that's where the Daleks have hidden samples of the Movellan gas. These are kept in a warehouse in Shad Thames, though the script originally called for Wapping, which in the opposite side of the Thames. Quite why the Daleks should consider the heart of a major city to be a good place to hide these, we don't know - for they are found fairly quickly and a bomb disposal team from the army is called in.
The days when police officers were always presented in a positive light in British films and on TV were long gone. You'll recall Barry Letts getting into trouble for having an Auton disguise itself as a policeman - because it might stop children approaching the police for help. Since the 1970's, however, TV crime drama had begun showing the police in a more negative light - with even the good guys resorting to rule breaking to defeat the villains (in series like The Sweeney and Target). Showing a uniformed policeman gunning down innocent bystanders was no longer shocking.
Neither was it shocking to see this iteration of the Doctor point a gun at someone's head. Since he arrived, we've seen the Fifth Doctor wield a weapon on a few occasions. Of all the photographs taken on set for Earthshock, they selected one of the Doctor brandishing a gun for the cover of its novelisation. The Doctor only refrains from killing Davros because he gets distracted by a commotion outside the laboratory. No Doctor prior to this could be imagined carrying out an execution-style killing (and this incarnation is often accused of being a bit "wet").
One other thing which this story had to do was to write out the character of Tegan. Janet Fielding had been planing to make this her last season, and when she learned that Davison was bowing out as well she requested that Tegan leave before the end of the season (otherwise her departure would be overshadowed by that of the star). As it was Mark Strickson had also decided to leave, unhappy that his character was somewhat redundant after some initial promise. The departures of the three regulars would therefore be spread over three consecutive stories.
last, but by no means least, two of the characters in this story have the same names as characters from earlier Dalek stories - suggesting that Saward had done his homework looking back at old episodes.
We have Styles, who's a medic here, named after the diplomat from Day of the Daleks, and Galloway, a Dalek slave worker, named after the devious Marine Space Corps officer in Death to the Daleks. And Les Grantham's character, Kiston, sounds like a conflation of Kirksen and Karlton from The Daleks' Master Plan.
Next time: the Master finally gets cut down to size. There are arrivals and departures, and everyone gets hot under the collar, first on a volcanic island, then on a volcanic planet...
Wednesday, 20 May 2020
In which the Doctor receives a message on his psychic paper whilst the TARDIS is in deep space. It reads: "Please save me from the monsters". The Doctor is surprised at the strength of emotion which could have sent this message such a vast distance, and he also surmises that the sender is a child.
The TARDIS materialises in a housing estate, outside a large block of flats. The Doctor, Amy and Rory split up and go door to door, trying to identify the child. In one of the flats lives a small boy named George, who has a great many fears and phobias. His parents, Alex and Claire are constantly worried about him. He thinks that one of his elderly neighbours, Mrs Rossiter, is a witch, that the sound of the lifts is that of a monster, and he won't go to sleep at night until his parents have turned his bedroom light on and off again five times. Even then he is convinced that every shadow conceals a threat. The Doctor spots him looking out of his window and realises he has found who he is looking for. Alex is home alone with George, and he assumes the Doctor has been sent by Social Services. The Doctor invites himself in and starts asking questions about George. He overhears a visit from Alex and Claire's thuggish landlord - Mr Purcell - who has come to speak about rent money that is owed. After returning to his own flat in the same block, Purcell finds himself being sucked down into his carpet and disappears.
Mrs Rossiter, meanwhile, has been putting out her rubbish, and she gets sucked into the refuse pile. George had earlier overheard Amy and Rory talking about monsters, and when they go to use a lift they find themselves plunged into darkness. They suddenly find themselves inside a large stately home. All is not as it seems, however, as all the food and pots and pans are made of wood, and Amy finds a huge glass eye in a kitchen drawer. None of the doors have locks, so they are trapped inside. They hear child-like voices, and come upon a large wooden peg doll, life-size.
Later they find that there are several of these dolls, and they have come to life. They meet Mr Purcell in the house, and are horrified when they see the dolls seize him and turn him into one of their kind.
The same fate then befalls Amy.
Back in the flat, the Doctor has informed Alex that monsters are real. He has learned that George has been encouraged to imagine his fears transported to an old doll's house in his wardrobe - and he realises that this is what George is literally doing.
George is an alien with incredible psychic powers. When he thinks that the Doctor has come to take him away, and that his father no longer wants him, he sends both into the doll's house. The Doctor is reunited with Rory as they come under attack by the peg dolls. Panicking now that he has been left alone in his bedroom, George transports himself into the house. The Doctor has worked out that George is a Tenza child. This alien race leave their children for other species to raise as their own, like cuckoos. The Doctor had suspected as much when he noticed something wrong with Alex and Claire's photo-album - she was clearly not pregnant in the days immediately prior to his supposed birth. The Tenza children create a perception filter which changes the memories of the host family. The child's greatest fear is of rejection by the new family - which is how George has come to be behaving as he has. The peg dolls are about to attack George when Alex realises that he still loves him as his son. Happy at last, everyone is transported by George out of the dolls house. Amy, Purcell and Mrs Rossiter are freed unharmed. On returning home from her night shift the next morning, Claire finds a much happier family than the one she left. The Doctor promises Alex he should have no further problems with his son - though he might pop back around puberty time...
Night Terrors was written by Mark Gatiss, and was first broadcast on 3rd September 2011. Up to this point Gatiss had written for the series on three occasions (The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern and Victory of the Daleks) and had acted in three stories (as Professor Lazarus in The Lazarus Experiment, and twice as the uncredited voice of the space-going Spitfire call-sign "Danny Boy").
From this point on, however, Gatiss would form a regular writing partnership with Steven Moffat which would see five further commissions for Doctor Who, as well as other work such as Sherlock and their recent Dracula. He would also make several more appearances in the programme, though not always credited.
Night Terrors had originally been intended as the fourth story of Series 6, falling in the first half of the season. However, the opening instalments were deemed to be too uniformly dark compared to the end run, and so this episode was pushed back. Had it remained in the first half we would also have had two stories where the Doctor receives a message in the TARDIS whilst in flight, to get him into the action. Or maybe not, as the two stories featuring the arrival of messages in the TARDIS ended up trading places, but it wasn't a straight swap, as we also have to take into account Tom McRae's unused script, and the one that replaced it.
Gatiss looked to childhood fears as the inspiration for his story. This was becoming a theme in the series since it was revived in 2005, with a lot more stories featuring children and the things that frightened children - The Empty Child, Fear Her, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and so on. Children had featured rarely in the original run of the series, mainly due to the way it was made (evening studio sessions). The more flexible way in which the series was made now allowed for children to be used on set more, though there were still a lot of restrictions.
However, way back in the planning notes for the very first ever episodes of Doctor Who, the BBC researchers had pointed out that children did not relate to characters who were younger than themselves - and this still holds true today. Most child viewers aren't keen on children characters in films and TV shows - preferring the adult characters as role models. Only the very young relate to smaller children on screen. Adults tend not to like kids in film and TV shows as well - finding them annoying - and they certainly don't like them being introduced to popular franchises where kids never boldly went before - Wesley Crusher, I'm looking at you. This might explain why stories which feature children prominently, apart from the very odd exception, don't fare well in the polls. This story came it at No.189 out of 241 in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll.
Apart from George, and the young actor's performance, fans disliked this story as it was another one of those ones where the "villains" are defeated by Love. Too saccharine. If you think this one's sickly sweet, just wait until we get to the penultimate story.
Another problem is that we get very good monsters - the creepy wooden peg dolls - but they aren't used very well. They are fine glimpsed or heard in the shadows of the darkened house, and the way they turn people into dolls like themselves is very effective, but in the end they aren't used enough. There was a similar problem with the Smilers in The Beast Below - a great design rather wasted.
The relatively small cast is headed by Daniel Mays, who plays Alex. His wife, Claire, is Emma Cunniffe, but she hardly features at all apart from the opening and closing scenes. Mays was best known for a regular role in Ashes to Ashes at the time, but he has since gone on to many other projects - including Good Omens (another dad who doesn't know the true origins of his son) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Playing George we have Jamie Oram, who has continued to act in children's TV shows. Mr Purcell is Andrew Tiernan, who I first saw in Derek Jarman's Edward II. He was the doomed astronaut Victor Carroon in the live TV remake of Quatermass (featuring Gatiss and David Tennant). Mrs Rossiter is played by Leila Hoffman.
Overall, a weak episode, for the reasons cited above. Promised a lot but failed to deliver.
Things you might like to know:
- As it was originally intended to be shown earlier, Karen Gillan is playing the Ganger version of Amy Pond in this. There's a clue that the Doctor already suspects she is a duplicate as he refers to them all being back together again - "in the flesh" - at the conclusion. One of Madame Kovarian's brief appearances was also included in the episode but had to be removed.
- Working titles included "House Call" and "What Are Little Boys Made Of?".
- This is the first story since the similarly themed Fear Her in which no-one is seen to be killed on screen. Three people are turned into peg dolls, but they're all restored at the conclusion.
- The Doctor mentions some of his favourite fairy tales. These are parodies of Earthly ones - such as 'The Three Little Sontarans' and 'The Dalek Emperor's New Clothes'. Another one he mentions is 'Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday'. This is a reference to the Dalek stage play written by Terrance Dicks around the time he was leaving Doctor Who to go freelance. It featured a new Doctor played by Trevor Martin, and some of its story elements turned up in The Brain of Morbius.
- BBC Audio's series "Hornet's Nest" - the production entitled 'The Dead Shoes' - starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, with Richard Franklin as Mike Yates (stepping in after Nicholas Courtney became too ill to reprise the Brigadier), had earlier featured the Doctor being shrunk in size and chased around a doll's house by peg dolls.
- The original episode would have ended with the Doctor still looking at Amy's pregnancy scan, presumably, but the new version now has him looking at the information about his own death which he got from the Teselecta. We also get a new nursery rhyme introduced, which will feature in later episodes, about the Doctor's imminent demise.
Monday, 18 May 2020
The tyrannical ruler of the planet Terra Alpha, which was home to an earth colony in the 24th Century. The planet had been inhabited by diminutive rodent-like humanoids called Alpidae prior to the arrival of the humans, but they had been forced to live underground. One of the planet's chief exports was a form of sugar. Helen A decreed that her colony would be the happiest in the galaxy, and that meant that all sadness and melancholy was banned. She set up all-female squads called the Happiness Patrols to enforce her totalitarian laws. Anyone found being sad was deemed a "Killjoy" and they were disposed of. Some were sent to the Forum to attend Happiness Patrol auditions. Those who failed were killed by her chief executioner, the sadistic robot Kandy Man. Some were killed at special holding areas, where there were lethal joke machines. Others were simply gunned down by the patrols. Helen A had spies everywhere. Even melancholy music and colours which suggested sadness - like blue - were banned. Helen A had as her consort a man named Joseph C, but his interest lay more with Gilbert M, the creator of the Kandy Man. Helen A instead lavished all her attention on a Stigorax named Fifi - a savage canine creature. The Doctor arrived on the planet one night after hearing of the rumours of mass disappearances in the colony, and he determined to bring about the end of Helen A's reign. After the Doctor had fomented a revolution against her, Helen A decided to flee the planet to start again somewhere else. However, as she was trying to leave she came across her dying pet and broke down in tears - learning too late that sadness and happiness couldn't exist without each other.
Played by: Sheila Hancock. Appearances: The Happiness Patrol (1988).
- Of course, Helen A was a thinly disguised version of then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with Joseph C her husband Denis.
- Hancock is the widow of Inspector Morse actor John Thaw. In her autobiography she glosses over her appearance in Doctor Who.
A senior Time Lord who was a member of the High Council. He was an old friend of the Doctor's, and was the only member of the Council to oppose its decision to execute him following an attempt by an anti-matter entity to bond with the Doctor and so cross over into this universe. Hedin's motives were not as friendly towards the Doctor as they seemed. He was actually in league with the entity, and wanted his old friend alive and well so that the crossover would be a success - for the entity was really Omega. Hedin had established contact with him in his exile in the anti-matter universe due to a weak point between the two known as the Arc of Infinity. Hedin helped prepare a base on Earth for Omega, in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, and was prepared to resort to murder when it looked as if his plans might be uncovered. He later attempted to divert suspicion onto the President of the High Council, Borusa. When the Castellan attempted to arrest Borusa and shoot the Doctor, Hedin threw himself in front of the blast - sacrificing himself as he knew the Doctor was needed alive for Omega to make his successful transition into this universe.
Played by: Michael Gough. Appearances: Arc of Infinity (1983).
- Gough had appeared in the programme once before, when he played The Celestial Toymaker. At the time he was married to companion actress Anneke Wills. He had enjoyed his time on the show and so encouraged her to go up for the part of Polly - though he did warn her about William Hartnell's temperament. He was due to return to the Toymaker role in 1986 in the story "The Nightmare Fair", but this was axed when the programme was put on an 18 month hiatus.
- Gough's lengthy movie career saw a late revival when he became part of director Tim Burton's 'repertory company', which included his old friend from Hammer days, Christopher Lee. Gough was the only consistent actor across the original run of Batman movies, playing butler Alfred.
Heather was a student at St Luke's University in Bristol at the same time that Bill Potts was working in the canteen and attending lectures by the Doctor. She and Bill became attracted to each other. Heather had a distinctive star-shaped discolouration in one of her eyes. Heather was a bit of a loner who didn't make friends easily, often dreaming of going off by herself and leaving everything behind. Bill told her that she would be happy to go with her if she ever left. One day she showed Bill a puddle of water in a part of the university where building works were being carried out. There was something about this puddle, and its reflection, which fascinated her. The pool proved to be sentient, left behind when an alien spacecraft had landed on the site. Heather was pulled into it, and became one with it. She would become its new pilot, but a co-pilot had already unwittingly offered their services - Bill. Heather then pursued Bill to make her join with them. The Doctor took Bill away in the TARDIS but Heather followed everywhere they went, even into the middle of a Dalek - Movellan battle, where Heather took on the form of a Dalek. The Doctor was able to convince Bill to retract her offer, and Heather left without her.
However, Heather never forgot about her. After Bill had been converted into a Cyberman, and had become fatally injured trying to save the Doctor, Heather returned for her. Bill relinquished her dying body and joined with Heather once they had gotten the Doctor safely back into the TARDIS, then they left together to explore the universe.
Played by: Stephanie Hyam. Appearances: The Pilot (2017), The Doctor Falls (2017).
In 1963, the Headmaster of Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, London, was a Mr H Parson. He had been captured by Daleks from the Imperial faction and made their mental slave through an electronic implant hidden behind his left ear. The Daleks used him to help install a teleport system in the school's basement, and to act as their spy in the local area. When the Doctor and Ace visited he locked the Doctor in the basement after disabling Ace. Both managed to escape after she recovered and overpowered him. Later, he was sent to follow Sgt Mike Smith, who was working for agents of the rival rebel Dalek faction. When it looked like Smith was going to force him to divulge information, the Daleks used the implant to kill Parson.
Played by: Michael Sheard. Appearances: Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).
- This was Sheard's sixth and final appearance in Doctor Who. He appeared in stories with the First, Third, Fourth (twice), Fifth and Seventh Doctors.
- The Headmaster is never named on screen, but we know his name from the school's notice board which features in the story, and it is confirmed in the Class episode For Tonight We Might Die, when another notice board mentions him. According to a published short story, the H stands for Harvey.
A religious order - the Order of the Headless - the Monks believed that the mind was the seat of evil (or potential evil), and so they opted to dispense with their heads and listen to their hearts instead. Their heads were kept in boxes in special vaults, though older ones were simply left on shelves or in pits. The heads retained some life, whilst the Monks themselves did not register as being alive. Despite them not having any brain, ears, nose or mouth, they could sense their surroundings without any problem, and could even chant. One such chant was their "death chant", used when they went into battle. Their favoured weapons were laser-enhanced swords, and their favoured means of dispatch was to behead their victims.
The Monks joined forces with the Kovarian branch of the Church, when it abducted Amy Pond in order to obtain her baby. The different faiths represented on the Demons Run asteroid were expected to exchange knowledge, and this meant for some becoming Headless Monks themselves.
It was generally a capital offence to see beneath the hood of one of the Monks, but those on Demons Run obtained special dispensation from the Papal Mainframe to do this. The Doctor disguised himself as a Monk to infiltrate the asteroid, and then sowed dissent amongst the rival faiths - setting them fighting amongst themselves. When the base personnel were forced to flee, the Monks were able to remain behind due to them not appearing on lifeform scanners. They were eventually killed by the Doctor's associates.
Previously, the Doctor and Amy had visited a museum belonging to the Order - the Delirium Archive, and later, the Doctor visited one of their crypts - the Seventh Transept - in search of the still-living head of Dorium Maldovar, who knew some of the Order's secrets after doing business with them on many occasions. The Doctor was accompanied by a member of the Kovarian branch - Gantok. He was killed when he fell into a pit of ravenous skulls.
Appearances: A Good Man Goes To War (2011), The Wedding of River Song (2011).
Saturday, 16 May 2020
Frontios was written by the series' ex-script editor Christopher Hamilton Bidmead. On joining the programme he had fought for more "hard science" in the show, so his stories tend to be based on scientific principles gleaned from his love of computing or the pages of New Scientist magazine. Something else which interested him was the TARDIS, which he felt ought to feature more. Instead of simply the machine which gets the Doctor and his companions from one adventure to the next, there was a huge amount of potential to be gotten out of the ship itself. Once thought of as having an infinite capacity, it was Bidmead himself who actually limited its dimensions by having specific percentages of it jettisoned - first Romana's bedroom to break free of the Master's time bubble (Logopolis), then a whole 25% to escape Event One (Castrovalva). You can't have 25% of Infinity, so the TARDIS has to have its limits.
The role which the TARDIS plays in Frontios is three-fold. First of all we see it go beyond "temporal parameters". It turns out that Time Lords are not supposed to venture too far into the future. Clearly this is a rule or law and not some physical barrier - otherwise the TARDIS would have been unable to travel that far ahead in the first place. What might be the reasons for such a law? Using the hindsight of more recent stories, these days we could surmise that perhaps the Time Lords might have had a Matrix premonition that they and Gallifrey might end up in a bubble universe at the end of time for their own protection, and so didn't want anyone drawing attention to this time. However, something which Bidmead himself might have thought at the time was that even the Time Lords couldn't see that far into the future (which might include their own ultimate fate) and so wanted to avoid it.
The second function of the TARDIS in this story is to be destroyed - thus giving us some idea of the severity of the situation the Doctor has found himself in and the threat level of his latest adversary, as well as providing the age old excuse of trapping the Doctor and companions somewhere until the threat has been resolved.
To be honest, Frontios is actually a fairly run-of-the-mill story, and one suspects that the "We're going too far into the future!" and "Oh no! The TARDIS has been destroyed!" bits were added just to make it look more important than it is.
The third function of the TARDIS is to provide the resolution. The Doctor only defeats the Tractators by tricking the Gravis into reassembling the ship with him inside it - cutting him off from his minions.
The design of the Tractators derives from woodlice. Apparently Bidmead's flat had suffered an infestation of these insects. He took the name from "traction". It was originally intended that they would be able to wrap themselves around their victims and roll up into a ball, and dancers were hired to play the creatures, but the heavy costumes proved to be far too rigid.
One inspiration often mentioned for this story is Star Trek's 'The Devil In The Dark'. This depicted an alien creature which dwelt underground and spent it's time burrowing through rock, leaving perfectly spherical mineral nodules behind. The Tractators endlessly burrow, even when not under the control of their Gravis, and we see large spherical objects in their caverns as well.
Another influence is our old friend Nigel Kneale again, as Turlough is seen to suffer a nervous breakdown brought on by a race memory of the Tractators. Race memory is a key component of Quatermass and the Pit, and has surfaced in earlier Doctor Who stories such as The Silurians and Image of the Fendahl.
Many have pointed out that this story also plays like a Hartnell one (as with Four to Doomsday). There are hints of The Web Planet (mindless insect creatures under the thrall of a governing intelligence), The Ark (human survivors of a catastrophe in search of a new home) and even The Dalek Invasion of Earth with its Blitz analogies. Like the Hartnell era (and the early Davison period), we have a cliffhanger ending to lead into the next story.
Some of the character names appear to reflect their personalities. The revered commander of the colony was Captain Revere, and his First Officer is the brassbound Brazen, who rigidly follows procedure. Revere's son and prospective heir, who will take over the colony after him, is Plantagenet - named for the royal dynasty which ruled England from 1133 to 1485.
Next time: Davros and the Daleks are back, in a story that should have been part of Season 20...
Thursday, 14 May 2020
In which Amy and Rory haven't seen the Doctor for some months, so they decide to attract his attention by creating a crop mark - the word "Doctor" - by driving their car through a field of wheat. This does the trick, as the Doctor sees an old newspaper story about it. He admits that he has failed to find their daughter. Rory is puzzled by a line through the crop mark which he never made. They hear police sirens and a sports car suddenly races towards them. It is being driven by Amy's best friend Mels, and it has been stolen. It was Mels who first prompted Amy and Rory to go out together, and Amy has been trying in vain to keep her out of trouble since they were children. Mels produces a gun and hijacks the TARDIS, suggesting they go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler.
In Berlin, 1938, a janitor at Hitler's offices observes an officer. Also watching are a group of people in a high tech control room. They can see what the cleaner sees. The janitor follows the officer and confronts him, changing his appearance to look just like him. He is really a Teselecta - a vehicle from the far future containing miniaturised humans which can disguise itself as any person. The crew work for the Justice Department, and their task is to go back into history to punish people who evaded responsibility for their crimes, just before their deaths. They have come to punish Hitler. The officer is miniaturised and transported into the machine where he is killed by robotic Antibodies, as history records that he was also a war criminal. The disguised Teselecta then goes to Hitler's office and starts to attack him when the TARDIS sudden;y crashes through the windows. Mel had fired her gun and damaged the controls. The Teselecta is stopped, and the crew realise they got the date wrong anyway, as it is only 1938.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory discover that they have just saved the life of Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer fires at the Teselecta but misses - hitting Mels instead. Rory punches Hitler, then locks him in a cupboard. Everyone is then shocked to see Mels begin to regenerate. She transforms into River Song - though she does not know this name yet. She has therefore been the one to bring her parents together, and Amy has been unwittingly caring for her daughter all the time. River has been conditioned by the Silence to kill the Doctor, and she makes several attempts to do so - all foiled by him. However, when she kisses him she reveals that she is wearing a deadly toxin in her lipstick - a poison from a Judas Tree for which there is no known cure. River then leaps from the windows and evades execution by German soldiers, as she is still within the first 15 hours of regeneration. The Doctor retreats to the TARDIS as Amy and Rory give chase on a motorcycle. All of this has been witnessed by the crew of the Teselecta, and they also give chase. They had come to punish Hitler, but now have a more notorious target - the woman who killed the Doctor.
River goes to the Hotel Adlon where she causes havoc - ordering everyone to strip off their clothes before chasing them out at gunpoint. The Teselecta transforms itself into the likeness of Amy, as the real Amy and Rory are miniaturised and transported inside. They are given special protective bracelets against the Antibodies.
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor uses the ship's interface to try to find a cure for the poison. The interface takes on the likeness of all his recent companions, before settling on that of the young Amelia Pond. It reiterates the fact that there is no cure and he will be dead in a few minutes. The toxin even prevents regeneration. The Doctor decides that if he is gong to die then he will do so in style, and dons top hat and tails as the TARDIS arrives at the hotel. The Teselecta had begun to punish River, but the Doctor calls a halt to this. Amy lets him know that she is inside the machine. As River is her daughter, she has certain familial rights, and so the commander - Captain Carter - allows the Doctor to ask some questions. He learns a little about the Silence - that it is a religious order which was formed to stop the oldest question in the universe being asked. The Teselecta is unable to reveal what this question is, or why the Silence wants to kill the Doctor. River still doesn't know who this "River" person is, so the Doctor has the Teselecta transform itself into her - and she sees that she is River Song. Amy decides to sabotage the protective bracelets to stop the Teselecta harming River further, disabling them so that the Antibodies will attack even the crew. They are forced to abandon the machine and teleport to an orbiting mothership. Amy and Rory are rescued by the sudden materialisation of the TARDIS - with River at the controls. Having seen a glimpse of her future, River uses all of her remaining regeneration energy to save the Doctor. She is dropped off at a hospital in the 51st Century, where the Doctor gifts her the blue diary she will use in later life. She later enrols at the Luna University on the Moon to begin an archaeological degree, as she believes that will be the best way to meet the Doctor again...
Let's Kill Hitler was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 27th August, 2011 (a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK). It marks the beginning of the second half of Series 6 - split in two to avoid the ratings slump of the summer months - and could be regarded as the second half of the two-parter which began with A Good Man Goes To War. It develops the story of River Song, showing us that she was the child in the spacesuit who regenerated at the conclusion of Day of the Moon, and we are introduced to the character whom she regenerated into - Mels. In this episode, we learn that Amy named her child after her hitherto unmentioned best friend, so paradoxically Mels / Melody named herself. After the opening cornfield scenes, we get some flashback sequences to when Amy, Mels and Rory were growing up, and see how Mels prompted Amy into going out with Rory, so setting up her own existence.
Only a little is revealed about the Silence and its motives, but we do hear the first mention of "the question that must never be answered", which will feature prominently later on. We also learn that the Doctor's death at Lake Silencio is a fixed point in time, which cannot be altered.
The Teselecta is introduced - its name presumably deriving from the word tessellated (as in the tesserae that make up Roman mosaics, as the person it is copying is revealed through a series of little animated blocks as it changes disguise). The concept seems to have been taken from the comic strip 'The Numskulls'. This ran from 1962 in The Dandy and The Beezer comics, before settling in The Beano. All three were publications from DC Thompson. The strip showed the adventures of tiny people who lived inside people's bodies, animating them. The last ever Sarah Jane Adventures story (The Man Who Never Was) used a similar concept, though there the diminutive Skullions operated a hologram. The Teselecta and its Captain will also feature later on.
The story title is a form of "click-bait", as the titular character only appears very briefly at the beginning of the story, and acts merely as a means to get the Doctor and company to Berlin in 1938. The TARDIS could have gotten here by other means, or gone somewhere entirely different where there was a historical villain deserving of punishment - but then we would have been denied the wonderful Rory moment when he punches the Fuhrer in the face.
Apparently, when people are asked where they would go if they had a time machine, after dinosaurs, seeing Elvis / The Beatles and checking out the veracity of Biblical stories, going back in time to kill Hitler figures highly.
The episode had a prequel, which simply showed the TARDIS interior with a phone message from Amy on ansaphone, asking the Doctor if he has any news of Melody. The camera moves to show that the Doctor has been listening to this call, and the look on his face indicates that he does not have any good news to tell her. It is because he doesn't answer her calls that she and Rory find another means of attracting his attention.
The guest cast is small, as this is mainly a story about River Song, the Doctor and her parents. Playing Mels we have Nina Toussaint-White, who had been a regular on EastEnders. Captain Carter is played by Richard Dillane, who had been a regular on Casualty. The Teselecta crew includes Amy Cudden, Davood Ghadami and Elie Kenion (the latter of whom had come to prominence as a regular in the BBC sitcom The Green, Green Grass - a spin-off from Only Fools And Horses).
Hitler is played by Albert Welling. He has played a number of other German roles over the years - including Field Marshal Rommel in a TV movie about D-Day.
On summoning the TARDIS interface, we see static images of Rose, Martha and Donna. The Doctor feels guilty about messing up the lives of all of them, so it settles on young Amelia Pond, played once again by Caitlin Blackwood, in the first of two appearances this series.
Overall, it is actually a very funny story - played mostly for laughs initially. Any concerns about how Hitler and the Nazis would be handled is covered by this humorous take. The actual storyline is rather slight, as the episode exists really to help develop further the character of River Song, and to sow some more story arc seeds.
Things you might like to know:
- In the summer of 2011 I went to the Globe Theatre on London's Bankside to see a performance of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Arthur Darvill was playing Mephistopheles, and in the promotional photographs he was sporting a beard. On the night, however, he appeared clean shaven. Just changed his look, I thought, but the real reason was due to this episode. The cornfield scene was recorded much later than the rest of the episode, simply because they had to wait for the crop to grow high enough for the scene to work.
- The reason Mels fired her gun in the TARDIS is because he thought they were in a state of "temporal grace" and weapons wouldn't work. This concept first arose in the third episode of The Hand of Fear when the Doctor warns Eldrad that her mental powers won't work against him. It is mentioned again in Arc of Infinity when Nyssa mentions that Cyberman guns should not have worked (referring to the events of Earthshock). The Doctor on this occasion doesn't furnish her with a proper response. Here, however, the Doctor admits that it has only ever been a bluff, and there is no "temporal grace".
- The back page of the newspaper from the cornfield sequence has the headline "Back of the Neck". This is a play on the football exclamation of a goal being scored, particularly a penalty kick - "Back of the net!". However, the phrase had been adapted to refer to the back of a Sontaran's neck in The Poison Sky.
- Broadcast during an ad break on BBC America was an additional scene of Amy and Rory on the motorcycle pursuing River. This was an animated scene only, and UK viewers got to see it as part of the accompanying Confidential episode. It was supposed to be included on the Series 6 box set, but never appeared.
- It's stated that the poison of the Judas Tree cannot be cured through regeneration, but as it happens the Doctor doesn't have any regenerations left anyway, as we will learn in The Time of the Doctor. At this point we still thought that this was the Eleventh Doctor - so no War Doctor, or that Ten had used up a full regeneration in The Stolen Earth / Journey's End.
Monday, 11 May 2020
The latest Blu-Ray box set arrived in the middle of last week, understandably delayed slightly due to the on-going disruption of Covid-19. This time it's Season 14, the third and final season for producer Philip Hinchcliffe, who features prominently across the whole set.
It's also the season which sees the departure of Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and the arrival of Louise Jameson as Leela, with a companion-free story in between. This season also sees the only use of the wood-panelled Jules Verne-style TARDIS console room.
The season opens with The Masque of Mandragora, a story which has grown on me over the years. Very high production values in terms of costumes and sets (some of the costumes came from a 1950's Italian produced film version of Romeo & Juliet). Great location work at Portmeirion in Wales (home of The Prisoner), and Norman Jones and Jon Laurimore make for a fine pair of villains as Hieronymous and Count Federico respectively.
Next we have The Hand of Fear, which is one of the weakest of the season. The Earth-set part is good but things fall apart a little when we get to Kastria and Stephen Thorne's rather OTT performance as the Kastrian Eldrad. Fortunately Lis Sladen gives a great farewell performance as Sarah, and the final episode is raised considerably by her departure scenes with Tom Baker.
The Deadly Assassin is regarded as a bit of a classic, with the surreal, nightmarish Matrix scenes hugely popular with fans. The story sparked a lot of controversy at the time - the upper echelons of the DWAS hating how it presented the Time Lords, and Mary Whitehouse singling out the cliffhanger to Episode 3 for complaint. Of course it isn't really a companion-free story at all, as we have excellent surrogates in the form of Castellan Spandrell and Coordinator Engin.
The Face of Evil then introduces Leela. For me it's the weakest story of the season (but still very watchable, with some great Sci-fi concepts - just shows the strength of the stories during this era of the show). I think one of the reasons that I've never really loved this story is a resentment that Sarah has gone.
The Robots of Death is another classic. It could have been one of the weaker stories, a rather formulaic whodunnit, but is raised by the fantastic guest cast and the art deco inspired design work.
Finally we have The Talons of Weng-Chiang - another classic. Obviously controversial now for its use of "yellow face" and general negative and stereotyped portrayal of London's Chinese community, only the violence was criticised at the time - and the dodgy giant rat. I was there in 1976, and can assure you, sadly, that casual racism and sexism were not unusual in TV and film. The Benny Hill Show was one of the biggest programmes on ITV (it didn't get taken off the air until 1989), and you can view repeats of On The Buses on ITV3 to see what sitcoms looked like in the 70's.
John Bennett's Li H'Sen Chang actually comes across as a rather sympathetic character in the end, duped and ultimately betrayed by his "god". He even acknowledges Victorian England's racism towards his people.
The rat actually gets a CGI upgrade for this release, along with Chang's mesmeric gaze and the dragon statue laser fire. The Doctor's homemade gas bomb in the final episode also gets enhanced flame effects.
The CGI effects for this story are just one of many extra features.
On the sofa this time we have two panels - Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Philip Hinchcliffe on one, and Peter Purves and Sophie Aldred on the other. I don't always like the secondary panel of people who weren't involved with the actual episodes being shown, but Purves and Aldred make a fine appreciative team and I'd like to see more of them together in these segments.
Philip Hinchcliffe is also the subject of Matthew Sweet's in-depth interview. These are highlights of the box sets.
Toby Hadoke's contribution is a follow-up documentary about Doctor Who's first ever documentary - the Lively Arts piece called Whose Doctor Who, first broadcast the day after Talons ended and featuring behind the scenes footage from it, as well as various clips from Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and early Tom Baker stories. The focus, however, was on the impact the programme had on viewers, young and old. The original doc is present in a tidied up form (clips from Pertwee stories which were B&W in the original version are now shown in colour, and it's obvious they have replaced other clips with cleaned up versions). Hadoke tracks down the producer Tony Cash, some of his production assistants, DWAS pioneers and - most importantly - some of the children who participated all those years ago. Hinchcliffe also features. Poignant at times - one of the children passed away at a very young age - it's a lovely piece.
Talking of poignant, an extra accompanying The Hand of Fear is a feature-length tribute to Lis Sladen. Actually, poignant is far too weak a word. I'm not ashamed to say that I was in tears watching this. I defy anyone not to tear up when you see the indomitable Tom Baker on the point of tears himself remembering Lis. Buy this set just for this tribute to the greatest ever Doctor Who companion.
Rounding the set off we have the extras imported from the original DVD releases, plus a couple of audio items (an entertaining local radio interview with Tom, the school's radio programme Exploration Earth, and the complete LP adventure The Pescatons). There's also an archive episode of the BBC2 panel game Call My Bluff, featuring Tom as a guest, plus a convention panel for The Robots of Death, featuring Jameson, Russell Hunter, and Davids Bailie and Collings, plus writer Chris Boucher.
Once again, all of this is contained in a beautifully put together box, with wonderful artwork courtesy of Lee Binding. I can't wait to see which season will be next (please let it be a 1960's one). Naturally, opportunities to film new extras are very limited at the moment, which may delay future releases, but they must have a lot of material already in the can.