Monday 29 June 2020

Inspirations - Vengeance on Varos

Vengeance on Varos was the first story to be written by experienced screenwriter Philip Martin, who was best known for the offbeat crime drama Gangsters at the time, which starred Lytton actor Maurice Colbourne. Martin himself featured in the series, as a WC Fields look-a-like assassin.
Initially John Nathan-Turner was reluctant to use him, insisting on him submitting a story treatment - something which would normally be expected from a less experienced writer. JNT was also worried that he might be too "political" for the series. As it was, his story proved to be very political.
Vengeance on Varos would be accused of the very thing which it was attempting to parody.
The early 1980's saw a boom in home entertainment as the price of video recorders became more affordable to a greater number of households. People could record TV programmes when they were out, or when two programmes clashed in the schedules, but they could also rent or buy films and TV series to view over a single night or over a weekend. The cost of tapes remained high, so it was obviously much cheaper to rent a title, and video rental businesses sprang up everywhere. The big concerns like Blockbuster would arrive soon, but initially even your corner shop could stock a limited number of videos. You joined a club, which permitted you to rent out a maximum number of tapes per night. There were fines if you were late returning a film, and viewers were expected to follow the etiquette of rewinding the tape before returning it. Big new releases were hard to get hold of unless the shop got in multiple copies. You'd often have to reserve a copy.
Lower budget film companies often even made movies which were intended purely for video release, with no chance of a cinema outing. Amongst the most popular genres were Horror and Science Fiction.

A loophole in the law, however, meant that many of these films bypassed the censors - the British Board of Film Classification, as it was in the UK. The BBFC could police what went into the cinema, but they had no control over the movies which people were able to watch in their own homes. Tabloid stories began to circulate of minors watching films with a high sex, violence and gore content. Our old friend Mary Whitehouse got involved, with her organisation - the National Viewers and Listeners Association - campaigning to have home video restricted and subject to the same processes as cinema releases. The NVLA campaign was picked up by The Sun newspaper, and some Conservative MPs.
These fine upstanding moral guardians between them got the law changed so that home video was classified as with cinema releases, and a number of titles were outright banned. Their efforts were helped by a couple of high profile incidents where access to violent videos was claimed to be a contributing factor - the Hungerford Massacre, and the murder of James Bulger. In the latter case, the child killers were supposed to have been influenced by one of the Child's Play movies.
The banned titles came to be known as "Video Nasties". There were 72 of them originally. 39 of them were allowed to be released after extensive cuts, sometimes decades later. 10 remained banned outright. Others were added to, or subtracted from, the list as prosecutions were attempted and failed, or were withdrawn. Alongside the main lost of 72 films there was a supplementary list comprising another 82 movies.

Looking at the list, you can see certain themes which provoked the response. Many deal with cannibalism, zombies or serial killers. Quite a few are what are known as "Naziploitation" films, with concentration camp settings. Sometimes it wasn't the main theme which got the film into trouble, but the inclusion of some other problematic issue such as scenes of animal cruelty. One other thing noticeable about the lists is the number of Italian productions. The vast majority of "Video Nasties" hailed from Italy, whose film industry was on the decline at the time - causing studios to increasingly rely on cheap exploitation pictures.
Vengeance on Varos shows us a society where "Video Nasties" are the only form of mass entertainment, used by the government as a form of social control. All the victims in these productions are real people, not actors, and they are being punished for breaking the law - their suffering broadcast as a deterrent to the rest of the community. Alluding to the on-going public debate about such material, at one point the Governor talks about possibly selling copies of these productions to other worlds, purely as a form of entertainment, whilst Sil gets quite excited at the prospect of viewing some of them.

The story features characters being tortured and executed, and even finds room for a couple of cannibals. "Naziploitation" gets a nod in the totalitarian government, with Nazi-like uniforms, and a chief torturer who indulges in human experiments. Quillam's half mask is reminiscent of the stage version of the Phantom of the Opera, though Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical wouldn't debut until October 1986.
In talking about screen violence, the story inevitably has to portray some of it - and this is where it got into trouble. The BBC used the violence in Vengeance on Varos to criticise the general level of violence in the series as a whole, and some fans agreed with them. One scene in particular needs to be looked at, as it is the one most commonly used to attack this story. It's the acid bath sequence. The accusation against the programme is that the Doctor pushes two minor functionaries into an acid bath, then makes a joke about it. Look at the scene carefully and you'll see that the functionaries think the Doctor is dead, and so are shocked when he suddenly gets up, and this is what causes the first of them to fall in. He isn't pushed in by the Doctor. The second one does get into a fight with the Doctor, who looks like he will have to push him in to stop himself from being thrown in, but the first guy ends up reaching up and pulling his colleague in after him. Again - the Doctor isn't responsible. What does jar with the character of the Doctor is his "Mind if I don't join you?" quip, as he surveys the scene afterwards. This is clearly meant to mimic the sort of black humour from the Bond movies, where 007 would make some ironic comment reflecting the nature of a villain's demise. These began in Dr. No when a hearse full of assassins plunged off a cliff, when Bond remarks: "I think they were on their way to a funeral". The closest parallel to what the Doctor says here is probably Bond's "Bon Appetit", after Blofeld's henchman is killed by piranhas in You Only Live Twice.
Bond is a professional killer, however, whilst the Doctor is supposed to respect all forms of life, and this is why his quip is misjudged. It depends what your view is of the Nuremberg Defence - "I was only following orders" - how much the functionaries deserved their fate.

Some other inspirations. Sil's design came from the fact that aquatic animals make up a huge proportion of life on Earth, yet they rarely featured in the programme. It had been planned that Sil would be entirely submerged in his tank, but this proved impractical for a studio-bound story, so he ended up sitting on top of it instead. His marsh-minnows were peaches dyed green, and they gave the actor, Nabil Shaban, the runs. Shaban based aspects of his performance on a pet snake owned by a friend.
There is a Philip K Dick novel, Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964 - based on a 1954 short story named Shell Game), which tells of a society arising from an abandoned hospital colony, where the different continents are characterised by various mental illnesses - e.g. the Deps who suffer from Depression, or the Ob-Coms who suffer from OCD. Varos was once a penal colony for the criminally insane, with the officials presumably the descendants of the guards with the general populace descending from the inmates. Mention should also be made of Peter Weiss' play Marat / Sade (first performed in 1964) in which the inmates of an asylum stage a play - under the direction of the Marquis de Sade - about the assassination of French Revolutionary Marat, who was stabbed to death in his bath.
A more topical inspiration is the fact that Varos depends on mining for its main source of income. Ruthless conglomerates are determined to exploit the planet's resources with the poor miners themselves seeing none of the benefits. 1984 had see the start of a year long strike by Britain's miners over pay and conditions.
Next time: there's trouble at t'mill for the Doctor and Peri as they come up against not one but two rogue Time Lords...

Sunday 28 June 2020

DWM Season Poll

This week saw the publication of the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, and one of the features is the regular Series Poll. One thing I've never done on this blog is any kind of ranking - something which you find a lot of on You Tube. Vloggers have an obsession with ranking - from stories, to Doctors, to companions. Though I don't do it myself, I do like to see what other fans think. Sometimes I'll agree, and sometimes I'll totally disagree. You can probably work out what my rankings for Series 12 would be from my reviews, written within 24 hours of broadcast and usually after a second viewing.
Each week I have been reviewing a Doctor Who story, or a spin-off one, working my way from An Unearthly Child onward. This blog started in the gap between Series 6 and 7, and my first contemporary review was of Asylum of the Daleks - so I'm basically catching up with myself. From Asylum onward, you'll be able to get my view of it now, today, but you'll also be able go back and see what I thought of it at the time. Some opinions on some stories might change. I may have gone off a story I initially liked, or others might have grown on me over time. What I've decided to do is not to reread the old reviews, to stop me influencing myself.
After looking at the DWM poll, I went on-line and looked at other season polls, from a range of blogs & vlogs, and I've found that there is a lot of similarity. First the DWM positions:
1. Fugitive of the Judoon
2. Spyfall
3. Ascension of the Cybermen / The Timeless Children
4. The Haunting of the Villa Diodati
5. Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror
6. Can You Hear Me?
7. Praxeus
8. Orphan 55
Looking at the other polls, Fugitive has fairly consistently tended to be top story for the season. Personally I thought it rather weak, if it wasn't for the Dr Ruth reveal, and the cameo from Captain Jack. Take them out and there's little of substance.
Every poll - and I mean every single one of them - had Orphan 55 as the least liked story. Considering they had a whole extra year to prepare this series, it's amazing that this one was allowed to go ahead. Too many characters, all under developed, irrational plotting, and some dreadful performances (and one in particular).
Orphan 55 also included some unsubtle preaching, as with the story which comes in at second to bottom in every poll I looked at - Praxeus. Clearly fans are okay with messages in the programme, but are turned off by blatant lecturing.
Can You Hear Me?'s position in 6th place has also been fairly consistent, as has the Tesla story in 5th. It's stories 2 - 4 where we get some variation.
Spyfall features in 4th place in a number of polls. I suspect that people generally liked the first half, but were in two minds about the second episode.
Readers of DWM put Villa in 4th position, but this episode fares much better in other people's polls, where it has been as high as 2nd place.
No poll I've seen has put the two part finale in top place, but then no-one has put it in the bottom half of the poll either. It floats between 2nd, 3rd or 4th place. I suspect that if the individual episodes were ranked, like Spyfall, one half would do much better than the other. The Timeless Children is a very divisive episode, and this is probably why this story overall has an inconsistent score.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Torchwood: Miracle Day

In which, one day, no-one dies. CIA agent Rex Matheson discovers this when he is involved in what should have been a fatal road traffic accident - a scaffolding pole going through his heart. When he and his colleague Esther Drummond look into this, they find the word "Torchwood" amongst the associated files. This secretive UK organisation no longer exists, however. The world's authorities are concerned about the phenomenon, as without people dying the population will exceed essential resources in a matter of months. Rex traces the whereabouts of one of the members of Torchwood - Gwen Cooper. She and Rhys live with their baby, Anwen, at a remote cottage in Wales. When Rex arrives there, Captain Jack Harkness turns up as well, as the cottage comes under attack from unknown assailants in a helicopter. Gwen shoots the aircraft down with a bazooka. Jack and Gwen are extradited to the USA by the CIA, but on the plane Jack is poisoned by one of Rex's colleagues, and he discovers that whilst everyone else can no longer die, his immortality has gone and he can be killed. Gwen saves him and the rogue CIA agent is struck by a car at the airport - but of course cannot be killed.

Once in America, Rex and Esther join forces with Jack and Gwen to investigate a global conspiracy involving an organisation known as the Three Families, who appear to be behind the phenomenon. At the time the phenomenon began, a child murderer named Oswald Danes was about to be executed by lethal injection. He becomes an unlikely media star, groomed by a PR executive named Jilly Kitzinger. She is employed through a pharmaceutical company named PhiCorp, which is run by the Three Families. Jack discovers that they have been stockpiling huge quantities of medicines in advance of the "Miracle Day", as thought they knew it was going to happen. With no-one dying, yet still falling sick, they will make a fortune. Governments across the world initiate a categorisation process, which identifies those people who are so seriously ill that they form a surplus population. An associate of Rex and the Torchwood team, Dr Juarez, discovers that camps are being set up in remote areas to incinerate the most sick. When she challenges the camp's controller, he has her locked in one of the incinerators after shooting her and she is killed. Back in Wales, Gwen's terminally ill father Geraint, who has suffered a series of heart attacks,  has to be hidden from the authorities. Her mother, Mary, is helped by Rhys and Gwen's old colleague Andy Davidson, who is now a police sergeant.

It transpires that Jack is unwittingly responsible for Miracle Day happening. In the 1920's when Jack had been in New York City he had fallen in love with a young Italian immigrant named Angelo Colesanto. During this time it was discovered by Angelo's friends and neighbours that Jack was immortal, and they stole samples of his blood. This was the origins of the Three Families. Gwen is deported back to the UK, where she endeavours to help her father. Public opinion turns against Oswald Danes and he finds himself vilified once more. He flees to Wales to find Gwen. As more CIA staff turn out to be secretly working for the Families, Jack discovers that Angelo is still alive. He dies of old age, and they discover that he had used a null field generator to allow this to happen - giving Jack and Rex a clue as to stopping the Miracle. When Geraint Cooper is taken to an incineration plant, Andy and Owen help to free him, and Gwen destroys the complex. Jack learns of a natural phenomenon known as the Blessing, which runs through the centre of the Earth from South America to the Far East. The Three Families have fed his blood into this and this has caused the Miracle, as it generates a life prolonging force-field. Destroying both ends of the Blessing simultaneously should bring the phenomenon to an end. In Shanghai, Jack allows himself to be shot - deducing that if immortal blood can sustain the Blessing, then mortal blood will cancel it out - and he is the only mortal left on Earth. This works, and Danes sacrifices himself to blow up the Families base - sealing the opening at the same time Rex seals the one in Buenos Aires. The Miracle ends, and Geraint dies. There is one last attempt by the Families to kill the Torchwood team and Esther is killed, but Rex discovers that he remains immortal like Jack, having had a transfusion of his blood...

Miracle Day is the overall title for Torchwood's fourth and, to date, final season. It was a co-production with the Starz company, after a deal with the Fox Network fell through, and each episode premiered on Starz some 5 days before the UK broadcast (though some of us managed to watch it on-line on the day). Some sex scenes were cut from the UK transmission. There were 10 episodes:

1. The New World (8th July 2011), written by Russell T Davies
2. Rendition (15th July 2011), written by Doris Egan
3. Dead of Night (22nd July 2011), written by Jane Espenson
4. Escape to L.A. (29th July 2011), written by Jim Gray and John Shiban
5. The Categories of Life (5th August 2011), written by Jane Espenson
6. The Middle Men (12th August 2011), written by John Shiban
7. Immortal Sins (19th August 2011), written by Jane Espenson
8. End of the Road (26th August 2011), written by Jane Espenson and Ryan Scott
9. The Gathering (2nd September 2011), written by John Fay
10. The Blood Line (9th September 2011), written by Russell T Davies and Jane Espenson

After leaving Doctor Who, Jane Gardner had moved to the USA to develop projects which could be co-productions between BBC America and US companies. RTD joined her, and the first project they had in mind was a continuation of Torchwood, which had last been seen in the UK as a single storyline shown over five consecutive nights as Children of Earth. This had proved extremely popular, and RTD had decided that the show would never revert back to a monster-of-the-week format, as it had been for its first two series. A US co-production would also inevitably mean a move away from the usual Welsh locations. RTD came up with the overall concept of the series, and wrote or co-wrote the opening and closing chapters, but other writers were brought on board to develop their own episodes within the overarching story. In its early stages, it had been thought that this series might act as a complete reboot for Torchwood, but RTD instead decided to build on what had already gone before.

Children of Earth had ended with Jack leaving Earth following the sacrifice of his grandson and the death of Ianto Jones, with Gwen expecting a baby with Rhys. We had last seen Jack in an alien bar, with the Doctor setting him on a date with Midshipman Frame, in The End of Time Part 2. RTD reasoned that only another global threat would bring him back to Earth, and bring Gwen out of retirement.
As well as the return of the regulars John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Kai Owen, other links to previous series included the return of Andy Davidson (Tom Price) and Gwen's parents Geraint and Mary (William Thomas and Sharon Morgan), who had first appeared in Something Borrowed in Series 2.
The three main US actors to join the cast are Mekhi Phifer, as Rex Matheson, Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes, and Alexa Havins as Esther Drummond. They feature throughout the series. Phifer had been a regular on the medical drama ER, whilst Havins had featured in the soap All My Children. Pullman's biggest role to date had been as the US President in the sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day.
Set up as another regular, but shockingly killed off at the halfway stage of the series is Arlene Tur, who plays Dr Juarez.
Two of the guest stars are well known to Star Trek fans. Playing CIA chief Shapiro is John De Lancie, best known for portraying "Q" across the franchise, and Nana Visitor (Major Kira in ST: DS9) plays Angelo Colasanto's granddaughter.
Jilly Kitzinger is played by Lauren Ambrose, well known to fans of the HBO series Six Feet Under.

Initial reaction to the series was mixed, with many fearing the "Amerification" of Torchwood - that it would lose its unique Welsh identity and look like just another generic US sci-fi drama (with a reliance on guns and car chases. The first couple of episodes helped to assuage these fears, as we were reintroduced to familiar characters and much of the first episode was set in Wales. Things went downhill rather rapidly after this, however, as the action shifted Stateside. Fans and critics were not happy that there appeared to be no alien involvement, and many complained that it had divorced itself too far from Doctor Who, in which Amy and Rory were seen to be living happily in England whilst the events of Miracle Day were supposed to be taking place. Whilst always being a separate programme, Torchwood continuity had thus far managed to remain closely connected to the parent programme. Other complaints concerned the number of supplementary characters being introduced, many of whom remained undeveloped - arriving merely to be bumped off. The motivation of the main villains remained obscure for too long, and other characters the audience found it hard to engage with. It was generally felt that the 'writers' room' style of production did not do the series any favours.
By its conclusion, many felt that Children of Earth had been much the more satisfying season, with many pointing out that it had ended with a decent conclusion where the series could have been brought to a close, but with the door open for a return later. Miracle Day, on the other hand, ended with too many threads still hanging - with Rex now immortal like Jack, and the Families still active and working on another scheme. If the plan had been for a second co-production series, this was not to be. Torchwood exists only as a Big Finish audio range these days, although Captain Jack has finally been brought back into Doctor Who with a cameo in Fugitive of the Judoon - and supposedly featuring again in Revolution of the Daleks.

Overall, a brave experiment that just didn't quite work out in the end. Miracle Day is too far removed from the previous three series - meaning that they might as well have come up with an entirely original production. If the series ever returns, hopefully it will be back to basics.
Things you might like to know:
  • "Torchwood: New World" was the original overall title for the series before it became Miracle Day.
  • Initially Rex was to have been played by a Caucasian actor, and Esther by a BAME one, but they decided to swap the ethnicity of the characters.
  • Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones) and James Marsters (Captain John Hart) both expressed a wish to be included in this series.
  • The brain parasites which had featured in Series 2's Fragments reappear in the episode set in the 1920's. These were the creatures responsible for the death of Owen Harper's wife. It is stated that they are part of the 'Trickster's Brigade' - referencing both The Sarah Jane Adventures and the Doctor Who story Turn Left. The parasite, called by Jack a Brainspawn, was to have been used to prevent the USA from remaining in World War II.
  • Other continuities include the use of Retcon, and the appearance of the special contact lenses which allow messages to be sent to the wearer (first seen in Reset).
  • A photograph of Jack which the CIA have is a publicity still from The Empty Child.
  • A lack of continuity with Doctor Who exists with the whole notion of the Blessing running through the entire planet. We had previously seen that Torchwood had burrowed down to the centre of the planet in The Runaway Bride, and never encountered such a thing, and the Silurians have underground shelters all over the Earth,
  • Jack uses Owen's name as an alias at one point, and later he uses the Doctor's usual alias of John Smith.
  • The CIA code for the suppression of information about Torchwood is the '456 Regulation' - a reference to the alien species of Children of Earth.
  • Gwen Cooper is said to have joined Torchwood in October 2006, which is when the first episode of Series 1 aired. However, all the first and second series stories are supposed to be set one year ahead of broadcast, thanks to the events of Aliens of London.
  • Whilst masquerading as a chauffeur, Rhys takes the name Mr Sloane. This is a reference to Joe Orton's stage play Entertaining Mr Sloane, in which the title character is taken on by one of his sibling lovers as a chauffeur.
  • There is a reference to something called the "Vivaldi Inheritance". This comes from RTD's 2004 series Mine All Mine, in which a man named Max Vivaldi (played by Griff Rhys-Jones) discovers that he is the rightful owner of the city of Swansea. Gareth David-Lloyd had appeared in this, as a character named Yanto Jones.
  • There's a cameo from RTD as a radio announcer's voice in the penultimate episode.
  • Australian fans were in for a disappointment when a caption at the end of The Blood Line announced that Jack would be back in January 2012. This turned out not to be the start of Series 5, but a reference to a themed month of Torchwood related programmes.

Monday 22 June 2020

What's Wrong With... The Celestial Toymaker

What's wrong with The Celestial Toymaker? That's a question whose answer has changed over time. These days, most fans will answer that just about everything is wrong with this story, but that wasn't always the case. This was once held up as a lost masterpiece.
In the days before home video, Doctor Who Weekly / Monthly / Magazine and the internet, unless you could remember seeing a story on broadcast, there wasn't a lot of information available about old stories for newer fans. If a member of one of the fan clubs you might get the occasional periodical which had a feature on an archive adventure. Some people might have the soundtrack taped from the TV, whilst others might have banded together to buy a dodgy nth generation bootleg of an old story.
Magazines such as World of Horror sometimes featured articles on the series, generally more pictorial than informational. You might also have bought a copy of the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special, or the 1st or 2nd editions of Target Book's The Making of Doctor Who. These gave very brief synopses of each story, which merely served to whet the appetite, especially for the Hartnell and Troughton stories. Knowledgeable fans - founding members of the clubs - gave their opinions about stories, which somehow became the standard opinion - received wisdom. If Jeremy Bentham, for example, said a story was great, then it was. If he said it wasn't terribly good, then it wasn't.
Doctor Who Weekly arrived in 1979, and Bentham was involved with that - so his opinions were carried forward to a much greater readership. We also had a number of hardback books from writer Peter Haining, and Bentham contributed to these as well.
Things changed with the advent of home video, and we finally got to see these stories, or at least the orphan episodes for the lost ones. After Doctor Who went off the air on 1989, producer John Nathan-Turner stayed on as a consultant for the book and video ranges, and he masterminded some compilation tapes of these orphan episodes - The Hartnell Years, The Troughton Years, Daleks - The Early Years and Cybermen - The Early Years.
These proved to be a double edged sword, as they made some very good stories look rather weak (the only surviving episode being a rather dull, atypical one), whilst other stories long held to be great were shown to be not that great after all.
The Hartnell Years included the final episode of The Celestial Toymaker, and fans were disappointed. They had heard so many great things about this atypical Doctor Who story, with its fantasy themes overriding the usual sci-fi trappings. Once we got to see the episode we found that it did not look all that impressive, with much of the action simply revolving around a glorified game of Snakes & Ladders. Things got worse once we heard the soundtrack for the missing three episodes, and found that the whole story was like this. The third episode in particular seems to consist of characters smashing crockery for half its running time.
Things aren't helped by the fact that Hartnell was on holiday for most of the story, explained away on screen by the Toymaker making him invisible then mute. He is sidelined away from his companions, playing the terminally dull Trilogic game. This is so dull, in fact, that the Toymaker has to keep hurrying it along, making the Doctor's moves for him.
It has been said that an effort was being made to write Hartnell out of the show at this time. When made visible again, the Toymaker would have permanently altered his appearance. Producer John Wiles was desperate to replace his star, but he had already handed over to Innes Lloyd by this time, and he elected to wait and make the change properly. It's unlikely that Hartnell was retained by accident, when someone in admin issued him a new contract without checking first.
The Celestial Toymaker had a very troubled production in other ways. It was first commissioned by Donald Tosh from writer Brian Hayles - but there is next to nothing of Hayles left as transmitted.
before leaving the programme, Donald Tosh rewrote the story as an absurdist piece based on the play George and Margaret. This play is similar to Waiting for Godot, in that the title characters don't ever turn up. It's about people planning a dinner party and they are expected, but fail to appear by the play's conclusion. Tosh's Doctor Who script would have featured George and Margaret. The play was written by Gerald Savory, who now held a senior position at the BBC. He was initially okay with Tosh using his play as the basis for his story, but then went off the idea. Tosh then moved on, and so it fell to his replacement, Gerry Davis, to come up with what made it to the screen - a story based around deadly versions of children's games.
When the programme tackled the Eternals in Enlightenment, some thought was given to their motivation. Because they live forever, they have long since become bored and need diversions. The Toymaker is also an eternal being, but there is no attempt to give him any motivation for what he does - playing endless games. He says he wants the Doctor to remain with him forever, yet at the same time  tries to kill him by hurrying along the Trilogic Game. He wants the TARDIS crew to stay and play, but is bored with his toyroom and wants to do something else. Why doesn't he just do something else then? He can create and destroy at will, yet seems to be a prisoner of his own world.
The Trilogic Game is presented as though it is extremely difficult to win, but people made their own version and found it remarkably easy, just a bit time-consuming. (It is basically just the Tower of Hanoi game. There are on-line versions you can play).
The tone of the story is also awry. The Toymaker is presented as an evil being, who turns his victims into toys, yet Steven and Dodo enter into his games in lighthearted fashion. Their opponents are mostly played for laughs as well. Dodo, as we see in the existing episode, has had some sort of brain bypass operation performed and acts incredibly stupidly - being continually taken in by the people out to kill them.
The Toymaker isn't much smarter, and you'd think he really does want to lose, as the Doctor attempts to get the game to reach the final move from within the safety of the TARDIS. The Toymaker must surely realise what he's trying to do, but doesn't intervene - allowing the Doctor to try again this time mimicking his voice.
Cyril, the rotund school boy, looks remarkably like Billy Bunter. Rather than attempt to have him looking only slightly similar, the script has him say his friends call him "Billy", despite being called Cyril. Did the BBC go out of their way to deliberately attract copyright problems? (Actually, actor Peter Stephens ad-libbed this line. He seems to be making up a few of his lines - and the rules of the hopscotch game - in the final episode).
Each game ends with a fake TARDIS, and Steven and Dodo get frustrated when they find that it is not the real ship - despite knowing that the Toymaker has a whole production line of fake TARDISes.
The Celestial Toymaker has also come in for some accusations of racism, due to the Toymaker appropriating Chinese costume and other symbolism - and "celestial" referring to oriental. Michael  Gough doesn't actually perform the part as a Chinese person, there is no 'yellow face'. He's more likely borrowing his look from the stage magicians of Victorian and Edwardian music hall, who appropriated Chinese culture. What is unforgivably racist is the use of the n-word in the second episode. You won't find it on the audio soundtrack, as they got narrator Peter Purves to talk over it (it's in the 'eeny-meeny' rhyme spoken by the King of Hearts).

Friday 19 June 2020

Inspirations - Attack of the Cybermen

Attack of the Cybermen is credited to one Paula Moore - but the true author is Eric Saward, though for years this was debated. Super-fan Ian Levine - the programme's unofficial continuity adviser - for a long time claimed to have had a substantive hand in the writing, and the story is indeed absolutely laden down with continuity. More than it can actually sustain, to be honest. Levine has claimed that Saward put dialogue to his storyline.
To complicate matters, there is no Paula Moore. It is a nom de plume for Paula Woolsey, who was Saward's partner at the time. It is believed that she had her name attached to the project just to get round the Writers' Guild guidelines, as Saward wasn't supposed to write for his own series unless permission was given under exceptional circumstances. One version of events goes that she came up with the basic plot, and Saward developed it, but Levine claims she had no input whatsoever.
Saward finally set the record straight in a recent DWM interview. He wrote the story. Later, Ian Levine came round to hear about the plans for Season 22, and was told about the opening episodes. He made a couple of suggestions, to add in some fan-pleasing continuity points, but that was as far as his involvement went. Paula's pseudonym, Moore, came from a character called David Moore, from Saward's first ever radio play.

Saward's reason for writing the story was because it was a Cyberman story. He had a strong liking for the creatures, and had been responsible for their triumphal return in Earthshock, after a 7 year absence. He had also insisted on their inclusion as the main returning alien threat in The Five Doctors.
There are a number of elements from earlier Cyberman stories included in this new story.
The Tenth Planet had seen the Cybermen's original home planet of Mondas destroyed, after absorbing too much energy from its sister world, the Earth. These events were dated to December 1986. In Attack of the Cybermen, the Cybermen have obtained a time-travel craft, and intend to use it to go back and prevent Mondas' destruction.
Tomb of the Cybermen had seen the Cybermen relocated to a new homeworld - Telos - where they had entombed themselves in cryogenic suspension after a series of defeats. They intend to ensnare others whom they can convert into new Cybermen and restore their numbers. Their leader is introduced - the Cyber-Controller - who has a larger than usual cranium. He was played by Michael Kilgariff. The main action in Attack of the Cybermen, at least in its second act, is based on Telos, and the tombs feature once again. The Cyber-Controller is reintroduced, and he is played once more by Kilgariff. Of all the Cyberman stories referenced in this new story, it is Tomb which is plundered the most.
The Invasion had seen the Cybermen hiding in the sewers beneath London, as well as having a base of operations on the dark side of the Moon. Attack of the Cybermen also has the Cybermen having a base in the London sewers, and there is mention of another on the dark side of the Moon.
Tomb of the Cybermen, The Wheel in SpaceThe Invasion, Revenge of the Cybermen and Earthshock all featured the Cybermen having a human ally, and in Attack of the Cybermen we have the returning character of Lytton appearing to fulfil that role.
There is, therefore, some element from every Cyberman story present in this one.

It's not just Cyberman stories which are referenced, however. Probably meant to help establish that this is the new Doctor - whether you like it or not - we have the TARDIS first materialising in London at 76 Totters Lane. This junkyard was, of course, the place where we first saw the TARDIS, and met the Doctor, in the very first episode of An Unearthly Child. The Doctor has been trying to fix the Chameleon Circuit - something he was last seen trying to do in Logopolis. Prior to every season, JNT used to bait the press with some idea that he never really intended to introduce - purely to provoke a reaction and some newspaper column inches of publicity. There had been the hint of a female Doctor when Tom Baker resigned, for instance, and he had axed K9 knowing full well that a spin-off series was being planned for it. This year, he had hinted that he was going to get rid of the Police Box form of the TARDIS - claiming that children these days didn't know what a Police Box was. The TARDIS does indeed change form in the first episode of Attack of the Cybermen, but a permanent change was never on the cards.
The Doctor at one point mentions the 'Terrible Zodin' to Peri - a character whom the Second Doctor had talked about with the Brigadier in The Five Doctors.
As with many stories since Colony In Space, the Doctor finds that he is being manipulated by the Time Lords - being used as their unwitting agent to stop the Cyberman scheme to alter history.
Then we have the aforementioned Lytton, who returns from Saward's last story - Resurrection of the Daleks. He was last seen wandering away from the carnage of the final battle with the Daleks, accompanied by a couple of his men, disguised as police officers. Lytton has now set himself up as a gangster, planning a bank robbery, in sequences which are clearly inspired by the grittier TV crime thrillers of the time. Actor Maurice Colbourne had first come to prominence in the crime drama Gangsters.
Another returnee from Resurrection of the Daleks is actor Terry Molloy, who had played Davros. This time we get to see what he really looks like as he takes on the role of undercover cop Russell. We should just mention that, as well as the same writer, Attack of the Cybermen shares the same director as the Dalek story - Matthew Robinson.

This is the first story to be produced under the new 45 minute episode format. Resurrection of the Daleks had been broadcast in this way as a late change, due to coverage of the Winter Olympics, but Season 22 was intentionally designed to have these longer episode lengths, which Saward greatly favoured. He disliked having to artificially manufacture a cliffhanger every 22 minutes. Fan opinion was mixed on this. They still got the same amount of Doctor Who, but the season was over and gone much faster - so there would therefore be longer to wait for the next one. (Little did they know that the wait would be an even longer one, come the end of this season).
Away from Doctor Who itself, there was one other major inspiration for this story.
1986 was to see the return of Halley's Comet, which had last been seen in the skies in 1910. The Cybermen intend to divert the comet to strike the Earth, so that it won't be in any condition to cause the destruction of Mondas when it arrives at the end of the year.
Comets were always traditionally seen as harbingers of doom. It passed over England just before the Norman invasion of 1066, and is even featured on the Bayeux Tapestry. It reappeared just before the Great Plague of 1665. In 1910 it was blamed for the death of King Edward VII. Saward had alluded to it before, in his first Doctor Who story The Visitation, which is set against the backdrop of he Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.
As broadcast, the comet plot is dropped rather suddenly, as the Cybermen decide to use their time travel craft to change history instead. The original storyline made more of it, with the Cryons actually living inside the comet, rather than being the hitherto unheard of original inhabitants of Telos.
Next time: a commentary on so-called "video nasties" itself becomes accused of being one, as the Doctor encounters torture, mutilation and cannibalism as entertainment. This most voluble of Doctors dries, whilst Peri gets the bird...

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Story 225 - The Wedding of River Song

In which the whole of history becomes frozen at 5:02:57 pm on 22nd April, 2011. Dinosaurs co-exist with the Wars of the Roses, Charles Dickens is promoting his latest Christmas Special on daytime TV, and Winston Churchill is the Holy Roman Emperor. Like some, Churchill is aware that there is something wrong with Time. He orders that a prisoner be brought to him from the Tower of London - a ragged soothsayer who has been warning of this. He is the Doctor. He tells Churchill that the freezing of time was all due to a woman...
After his visit to Craig Owens in Colchester the Doctor had set out to try and find out as much as he could about the Order known as The Silence, before having to face his fate at Lake Silencio. Information from a Dalek database leads him to the space docks of the planet Calisto B, where he meets a former member of the Silence - Gideon Vandaleur. Like Madame Kovarian, he wears a black eye-patch. After a short discussion, the Doctor reveals that he knows Gideon to be a fake. The real Vandaleur is dead. He is really a Teselecta, once again commanded by Captain Carter, who the Doctor had spoken with in Berlin.
The Doctor is pointed towards a man named Gantok. Before leaving, the Doctor tells Carter that there is a favour he may be able to do for him. The Doctor then meets Gantok over a game of live chess - played with electrified pieces. The Doctor allows him to win - saving his life as he was on the point of defeat - if he can take the Doctor to the Silence. Gantok takes him to the subterranean Seventh Transept, where the Headless Monks have kept their severed craniums for centuries.

This is really a trap, but Gantok falls into a pt of skulls which eat him alive. Venturing further in, the Doctor finds the casket containing the head of Dorium Maldovar. Very much alive, he agrees to help the Doctor, and is taken aboard the TARDIS. Dorium tells the Doctor about a legend about the fall of the Eleventh, on the fields of Trenzalore, where no man may speak falsely, when a question will be asked which must never be answered - a question hidden in plain sight. The Doctor does not know what this signifies. Lake Silencio was chosen for the Doctor's demise as it could be made into a fixed point in time, which could never be altered or undone. Dorium remarks about the Doctor's current solitary existence, him having pushed Amy and Rory and other friends away. The Doctor decides to call up his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - only to learn that he has recently passed away. The news causes the Doctor to finally accept his fate.
When the Doctor finally catches up with Amy, Rory and River Song - 200 years after he last saw them - events at the lakeside do not go as they should, however. The earlier River emerges from the waters hidden in her spacesuit, but she refuses to kill him. The Doctor insists she go ahead as otherwise all of time and space will be fractured. She disregards him - and history becomes stuck at that exact moment in time.

Back at Churchill's Buckingham Senate House, the Doctor has been telling the Emperor of these events. They suddenly find themselves brandishing weapons, with no memory of why they have them. The Doctor then notices that they have tally marks written on them - the method previously employed to warn of having had contact with the Silents. They are attacked by a group of the creatures, but are saved by the arrival of Amy Pond - dressed in military style and wearing an eye-patch. She sedates the Doctor and he wakes later to find himself on a train travelling to Area 52, which is built within an Egyptian pyramid. Amy has retained memories of her travels with the Doctor, but is unaware that her lieutenant - Rory Williams - is really her husband. The Doctor is given an eye-patch, which Amy explains are really eye-drives - small memory devices which allow the wearer to remember seeing the Silents. At Area 52 the Doctor is reunited with River Song, who has Madame Kovarian prisoner. The base also contains a number of captive Silents, held in tanks of fluid to suppress their deadly electrical powers. River has been working on a plan to get time moving again, and scientists notice that time moves forward by a second when she and the Doctor touch. The Doctor blames her for causing all of this by not killing him. Kovarian seems undaunted by her predicament. She reveals that she has set a trap. The eye-drives have been hacked and they start to attack their wearers with electrical shocks which grow more powerful by the minute. The Silents are not as powerless as they believe, and they begin to break out of their tanks and attack the base personnel.

River takes the Doctor up to the summit of the pyramid whilst Rory holds the Silents back. Kovarian finds her own eye-drive is now attacking her. Amy helps Rory destroy the Silents, then she abandons Kovarian to die from her sabotaged eye-drive. She and Rory then join the Doctor and River at the pyramid apex where a transmitter has been set up. This is designed to call out to the universe for people who know the Doctor to offer help. However, the Doctor knows of only one thing which will put history back on course. He then asks River to marry him - witnessed by her parents. He whispers something to her, which shocks her, then they kiss - and time begins to move again.
At Lake Silencio, River shoots the Doctor, and his corpse is later burned.
Some time later, at the home of Amy and Rory, River comes to visit. She has just come from the wreck of the Byzantium on Alfava Metraxis. She tells Amy that the Doctor is not really dead. When he whispered to her it was to tell her to look into his eye - where she saw a miniaturised Doctor inside a Teselecta made to look like him. It was this which was shot and burned. As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, the Doctor was killed and the fixed point in time maintained. River must complete her prison sentence to keep the illusion. He has taken himself off, to keep a low profile for a while.
The Doctor, meanwhile, takes Dorium's head back to the Seventh Transept. As he leaves, Dorium asks a question of the Doctor's true identity - "Doctor Who?"...

The Wedding of River Song was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 1st October, 2011. It marks the end of Series 6. It is the first time since the series returned that the finale has not been the concluding half of a two-parter.
As a series finale you might be forgiven for thinking that there will be some revelations, and some resolutions. The only thing resolved is the cheat of the Doctor's escape from his apparent death, as seen in the series opener. It wasn't the Doctor who was killed, but his Teselecta double. Whilst you can understand bystanders believing him to be dead, it is hard to comprehend how 'Time' can be fooled by this. How can a simple substitution get round this "fixed point in time", when River's refusal to play ball can freeze the whole of history. Moffat assured us that the Doctor really was killed in the opening story. No cheating. Like his predecessor, the showrunner lies, if it serves the story-telling or conceals spoilers.
There aren't really any revelations in this story either, unfortunately. We already knew that the Silence was an Order whose purpose was to stop a question being answered, and they are prepared to kill the Doctor (by assassination or by blowing up the TARDIS) to make sure that he, specifically, doesn't answer the question. Who they are and exactly why they are doing this is left unexplained. We know as much as we did at the halfway stage of the series. What the question is, however, we kind of guess from the closing seconds of the episode ("Doctor who?!.."), but of course everyone assumed that there had to be more to it than that. Instead of tying up story arcs, we get them added to, as Dorium tells the Doctor of the prophesy involving the Fall of the Eleventh, the field of Trenzalore, and people being unable to tell an untruth. In hindsight, Moffat will pull all of this together - but just not now. To the unresolved mysteries of Series 5 are added the unresolved mysteries of Series 6.

Not only does the story satisfy as a series finale, it doesn't really work as an episode either. As mentioned previously, this is the first time that we have only had a single episode finale, and I said when looking at Closing Time that fans were worried that this would mean that the closing episode would have an awful lot to fit in. By not offering any expected resolution, you might have expected that the story would have worked as a self-contained adventure in its own right - but this is not the case. To be honest, it is a bit of a dog's dinner. Moffat seems to have had a lot of ideas that weren't quite big enough, or good enough, to warrant development as stories in their own right - so he just chucked them into this. We start with the whole mix-up of history, which is quite entertaining and allows for the return of some old guests stars, but then we switch to more of the Doctor on his farewell journey. Back to mixed up history, and then this segment simply vanishes, as the Doctor goes off to the pyramid to have an entirely different adventure with Madame Kovarian and the Silents. The titular wedding seems to come out of nowhere, and is only really there to justify a story title Moffat thought sounded good, and play to fan speculation about the relationship between River and the Doctor. Did he really have to marry her to show that he was the Teselecta all along, when we know that just touching each other can start history moving again?
Building on something which RTD had started, Moffat has more and more been making the Doctor into some sort of universal celebrity, and that reaches its nadir here in the scene where River explains that the whole universe is offering to help him. It might have been intended as an uplifting moment, but I find it sentimentally overblown and embarrassingly naff.

Technically, none of the regulars really plays themselves in this. The Doctor is a Teselecta for much of the running time, whilst River, Amy and Rory are all alternate versions.
The story sees a lot of returning characters - some going back to the first series. There is a cameo from Simon Callow reprising Charles Dickens (The Unquiet Dead), speaking on the BBC's Breakfast Time with real presenters about his new "Christmas Special". Then we have Ian McNeice returning to play Winston Churchill. He has a Silurian physician, and it's Dr Malokeh from The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood - played once again by Richard Hope (who once auditioned to be the Doctor). Richard Dillane is then seen once more as Captain Carter, commander of the Teselecta. Under heavy prosthetics, as Gantok, is Mark Gatiss in an uncredited cameo. Simon Fisher-Becker returns as Dorium Maldovar, in reduced circumstances and despite having been killed in A Good Man Goes To War. He spends the entire episode as a head in a box, and is another element simply forgotten about when the episode switches to the Area 52 section. In a flashback to the events at Lake Silencio, we also catch another glimpse of William Morgan Sheppard as the older Canton Delaware III. The only other role of note is Niall Greig Fulton, recently seen (or rather heard) as Satan in Good Omens, as Gideon Vandaleur. The main guest artist, however, is the principal villain - the return of Frances Barber as Madame Kovarian. Moffat at least gives us the satisfaction of killing her off, and at the hands of Amy Pond as well - at least in the sense that she deliberately refuses to save her when she has the opportunity.

One actor who is missing, despite his character having a significant role to play, is Nicholas Courtney. He had dies at the beginning of the year, and the programme paid tribute by having the Doctor learn of his old friend's death - in bed, as an old man, as he had known would happen way back in Battlefield. RTD always regretted never finding a cameo for him in Doctor Who, but had used him on The Sarah Jane Adventures, and it had been hoped that he might have featured in that series again with Death of the Doctor, but he was already far too ill.
Sadly, this touching scene will be thoroughly trashed later when Moffat decides to bring him back as a reanimated corpse who's been turned into a Cyberman. It's a science fiction series about a time traveller, Steven. There are far less stupid and insulting ways to save a character falling out of a crashing aeroplane.

Overall - well I think you should be able to guess what I think of this one. A disjointed mess, that fails to satisfy on almost every level. I'm not the only one to think so. This was the lowest rated series finale in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll by a long way - coming in at 129th place. All the others lie within the top 55 places.
Things you might like to know:
  • This episode had a prequel, which consisted of shots of the stuck clock, and the soldiers in Area 52 with the Silents stirring in their tanks.
  • Mark Gatiss used the name Rondo Haxton for his credit - an homage to Universal horror actor Rondo Hatton, who is best remembered for his role as the "Hoxton Creeper" in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death (1944).
  • The newspaper proclaiming that the Wars of the Roses have gone into their second year is the "Londinium Cotide". Cotidie is Latin for "Daily".
  • Amongst the images of London stuck in time we have cars flying around suspended from balloons. Everything else we see comes from history, but we've never had flying balloon cars. They can't be from the future, as the whole point is that time is stuck at 5:02:57 on 22nd April, 2011 - the future can't happen. Also, if everything is happening at once then London should both exist and not exist at the same time.
  • The sequence of the pterosaurs in the park may be a reference to the novelisation of Invasion of the Dinosaurs - which featured children going missing in parks due to dinosaurs.
  • Just when we think that we've finally had a season in which the Daleks fail to appear, we get a cameo from a wrecked New Paradigm Dalek Supreme (repainted a greyish colour).
  • Another possible tribute to Nicholas Courtney is that everyone in this story wears an eye-patch? This refers to Courtney's favourite convention anecdote, from the set of 1970's Inferno.
  • As well as the BBC's Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams playing themselves, we also see US TV anchor Meredith Vieira as another newscaster. She was in the UK to make a segment about the show for the Today programme, and was offered the chance of a cameo. Her piece featured Cybermen - leading many to believe that they would feature in this episode.
  • As well as being the only series finale since 2005 to consist of only a single episode, it is also the only one not to feature the TARDIS interior for its closing scene.
  • Sadly, there is no such magazine as Knitting for Girls, just in case you might want to seek it out. I did - purely for the Spot the Ball competition of course.

Monday 15 June 2020

H is for... Hilred

A commander of the Chancellery Guard in the Capitol on Gallifrey who was tasked by Castellan Spandrell with apprehending the occupant of an obsolete Type-40 TT capsule which had landed illegally on the day of the Presidential Resignation ceremony. Despite advance warning of its materialisation, the occupant was able to give Hilred and his men the slip. This was, of course, the Doctor, who had come to his home planet after receiving a telepathic summons - and a vision of the President's assassination. The Doctor failed to prevent the shooting, and was arrested by Hilred. The commander later interrogated the Doctor, who was first able to convince Spandrell that he had been set up, then to remain at liberty after invoking his right to be considered for election as new President. The real assassin was unmasked as Chancellor Goth, working at the behest of the Master. He died after a mental duel with the Doctor in the Matrix, and it appeared that the Master then took his own life. Dissatisfied with Hilred's efforts up to now, Spandrell sent him to destroy the bodies of Goth and the Master to conceal the true nature of their deaths - something he felt was well within the commander's capabilities as they were already dead. Ironically, Hilred failed even at this, as the Master had feigned his demise. He killed Hilred with his Tissue Compression Eliminator weapon.

Played by: Derek Seaton. Appearances: The Deadly Assassin (1976).
  • Sadly, Seaton died only three years after this performance, at the age of 35 following a brain haemorrhage. He had previously featured in ITV soap Coronation Street, and was married to comic actress Paula Wilcox (Man About The House and Upstart Crow).

H is for... Highwayman

Whilst on loan to a gallery in London the famous painting of the Mona Lisa came to life, as it had been painted using sentient alien minerals from a meteorite. She had the power to bring other paintings to life - or to trap real people within painted images. One of the paintings she brought to life was that of a Highwayman, from William Bonneville's 1802 canvas known as The Dark Rider, whom she used to hunt down Luke Smith, Clyde Langer and Rani Chandra, after they became trapped in the gallery. His flintlock pistols were real, but as he had been painted with a face mask, and had no mouth, he was unable to speak. When Mona Lisa was sent back into her painting, all the trapped people - including Sarah Jane Smith - were freed, and the Highwayman was returned to his painting.

Played by: Paul Kasey. Appearances: SJA 3.5 Mona Lisa's Revenge (2009).

H is for... Hieronymous

Hieronymous was the court astrologer of San Martino, under the personal patronage of Count Federico, brother of the Duke. Federico coveted the Dukedom for himself and so had Hieronymous predict his brother's death - then ensure that it happened through the agency of poison. The heir to the Dukedom was now Federico's young nephew Giuliano, and so the Count ordered his astrologer to prepare a new horoscope predicting his demise before he could assume power. Hieronymous believed completely in the powers of the stars and was resentful at having to lie about them for the Count. As a child he had experienced visions, promising him future greatness. He had actually been contacted by an alien intelligence - the Mandragora Helix - which planned to use him in its conquest of the Earth. All the time Hieronymous was working for the Count, he was secretly leading a pagan group known as the Cult of Demnos, which dated back to Roman times. The Helix intended to use him and the Cult to achieve its ends. Hieronymous would wear regal purple robes for the Cult's ceremonies - which included human sacrifice - his face hidden behind an ancient gold mask. Helix energy descended on their underground temple after being accidentally brought to Earth by the TARDIS. The temple was restored to its former glory, and Hieronymous was gifted with special powers. He then began to plot against the Count. The Helix gave Hieronymous more of its power, and he became a being of pure Mandragora energy. When the Count visited the temple, Hieronymous killed him. The Doctor knew that the Helix energy was spread thin amongst the High Priest and his followers, and so goaded Hieronymous into expending energy in trying to kill him. He managed to completely drain and destroy him, before disguising himself in his robes in order to lure the rest of the Cult to their doom. The Helix was cast back into deep space.

Played by: Norman Jones. Appearances: The Masque of Mandragora (1976).
  • This was the third and final appearance by Jones in the programme. He first appeared as the warrior monk Khrisong in The Abominable Snowmen, then returned in 1970 as Major Baker in The Silurians.
  • The character was named after the painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450 - 1516), the Dutch painter famous for his surreal and nightmarish visions.

H is for... Hibbert

George Hibbert was the Managing Director of a small plastics company - Auto Plastics - located in Essex. He fell under the mental dominance of a man named Channing, who was really an Auton duplicate. Channing caused him to get rid of his staff and to turn the factory over to producing an Auton army. Some were crude versions, designed to guard the location and to go out and find and collect Nestene spheres which landed in two waves in the area, whilst most of production went into creating hundreds of Autons disguised as shop window mannequins. The spheres contained a fraction of Nestene intelligence, and these were used to create a physical form for the creatures which could survive on Earth. Hibbert had sacked one of his salesmen - Ransome - whilst he was abroad on a business trip. On returning to England he confronted Hibbert, but Channing maintained his influence over him. Suspicious, Ransome later broke in and discovered the Autons and was forced to flee. He alerted UNIT to what was going on at the factory before Channing hunted him down with an Auton and had him killed. Later, when Channing and Hibbert went to Madame Tussauds to collect a number of Auton duplicates hidden amongst the displays, the Doctor and Liz Shaw were discovered by Hibbert - but he declined to warn Channing of their presence. His own mind was reasserting itself and he eventually rebelled against Channing and tried to destroy the growing Nestene creature. Channing had an Auton guard kill him.

Played by: John Woodnutt. Appearances: Spearhead From Space (1970).
  • This was the first of four appearances by Woodnutt in Doctor Who. He returned later in the Pertwee era as the Draconian Emperor in Frontier in Space. His next role is probably his best known - that of the Zygon warlord Broton. Woodnutt played the Zygon version and the version disguised as the Duke of Forgill, plus the real Duke in the fourth episode. His final appearance was as Seron, in The Keeper of Traken.

Sunday 14 June 2020

Inspirations - The Twin Dilemma

The Twin Dilemma is the only Doctor Who story from the veteran TV writer Anthony Steven. He fell ill after the initial drafts were submitted and so much of what we see on screen actually comes from Eric Saward. Saward thought that Colin Baker was wrong for the role of the Doctor, and was unhappy at the way his casting had taken place. This is one of the reasons he decided to have the new Doctor "wrong" for a time - reflecting his view of Baker.
Baker had guest starred in Season 20's Arc of Infinity, and had thought that this would preclude him from ever getting to play the Doctor himself. A short time later Baker attended the wedding of one of the production team, and JNT noticed the way that he kept the crowd entertained with jokes and stories. Knowing that Peter Davison was about to leave, JNT decided that Baker would be ideal to replace him. He had experience of replacing Tom Baker, and knew that the new Doctor had to be quite unlike his predecessor. 
JNT and Saward presumed that all Doctors suffered from a post-regeneration trauma, but Saward formed his own theory as to why this new Doctor was so unstable. He was on the point of a nervous breakdown in his last incarnation - brought on by him trying too hard to be human. This is why the new Doctor mentions having changed for the better "and not a moment too soon".
Saward would later claim that entertaining wedding guests was not enough to justify giving Baker such a high profile TV role, without any competitive auditions.
Realising that Davison had proved to be very popular during his relatively short run as the Doctor, and knowing that the new Doctor was going to rather unlikeable to begin with, JNT decided to have Baker's first story as the final one of Season 21.The hope was that the character would be established as the show went into its long break, and the audience wouldn't be left wondering for months what the new Doctor would be like. In hindsight this proved to be a huge mistake, as the audience went into the break with generally negative opinions of the new Doctor.

Steven's script called for the twins to be boys, and this caused some problems. There were more female twins available in the acting profession at the time, and if no real twins were available it was easier to find two similar looking girls who could be made up to look like twins. 
Finding two male twins, or similar looking boys, was a problem for the director. In the end they opted for the Conrad twins - sons of Les Conrad who had been an extra on the programme since the early 1970's, and who had just featured in The Caves of Androzani. The problem was that neither had much acting experience, and one had a slight lisp. Veteran actor Maurice Denham, who had been cast as Azmael, noticed that they seemed out of their depth and so took it upon himself to help them as much as possible.
The idea that Azmael should be yet another "rogue" Time Lord came from fan-adviser Ian Levine. He suggested the name Aslan.

We can't discuss Colin Baker's first story without mentioning the costume. As Baker would say, as he was on the inside, at least he never had to look at it. The new Doctor is rather pompous and self-opinionated, vain and arrogant - all traits which were absent from his predecessor. JNT decided that his costume should be loud and vulgar, and a little schizophrenic, as befitting this new incarnation. The costume designer was asked to come up with something "tasteless", and was continually sent back to the drawing board until JNT would accept it. It sticks to the vaguely Edwardian feel of previous costumes in shape and design, but was made up of a patchwork of clashing primary colours and patterns, with multicoloured accoutrements. The trousers were made from a pillow case material, dyed yellow. Baker suggested the cat badges - based on the poems of TS Eliot, which formed the basis of the musical Cats. Baker planned to use a different badge for each story, and some were based on his own pet cats.
Baker isn't the only one landed with a tasteless costume. Police officer Hugo Lang decides that of all the costumes he could choose from in the TARDIS costume store, a brightly coloured tin-foil number is the most appropriate for investigating alien abductions.

The story itself doesn't seem to have many inspirations you can point to - coming across as a very generic science fiction tale. Some have claimed it is actually a parody of a typical Doctor Who story, as remembered by someone who isn't actually a fan. The idea that teenagers might have the power to destroy a planet may have come from the film War Games, which had hit the cinemas the previous year. In this, a teenage gaming nerd accidentally hacks into a Pentagon super-computer and almost starts World War Three, when he thinks he is only playing a computer game. Apparently Stevens had intended the twins to be quite dark characters, and possibly one was good and the other evil. It has been pointed out that the story as broadcast doesn't actually feature any kind of dilemma. This might relate to some aspect of the script which was dropped. 
Making the villains giant slugs - one of which is more superior intellectually than its underlings - comes across as very unoriginal when you consider that this story comes only a couple of months after Frontios, which had featured similar creatures who also wanted to move planets about as part of their plans for conquering other worlds.
Next time: the Cybermen return, in a sequel to almost all of their earlier stories...

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Story 224 - Closing Time

In which the Doctor, nearing the end of his life, decides to go and visit some old friends. The TARDIS arrives in Colchester, Essex, and the Doctor turns up on the doorstep of Craig Owens. He lets himself in and complains he doesn't like the way Craig has decorated the place - but Craig explains that this is a different house. The Doctor detects the presence of another lifeform, even though Craig said he was on his own. This proves to be baby Alfie. Sophie has gone away for the weekend and left Craig babysitting, and he isn't coping very well. The Doctor claims to speak baby and says that Alfie prefers the name "Stormageddon". The Doctor keeps his visit brief and is returning to the TARDIS when he notices the lights in the street dimming. He had earlier read a newspaper report about missing people. He decides to investigate. The next day, Craig is visiting the department store of Sanderson & Grainger in town, where he finds the Doctor working in the toy department. Craig realises that the Earth is in danger, and wants to know what is going on. The Doctor takes him into a lift which is supposed to be out of order. They are transported to a wrecked spaceship, where the Doctor sees a battered Cyberman. He realises that a teleport has been installed in the lift. They jump back to the store and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to disable the teleport. The Doctor had earlier heard from shop assistant Val that a small silver creature had been seen in the store.

The Doctor tries to reassure Craig that there is nothing to worry about, whilst he is worried about a Cyberman spaceship in a hidden orbit above the Earth. The following day, the Doctor allows Craig to accompany him on an investigation of the store. With the baby in tow, he should arouse less suspicion. Val actually comes to think that Craig and the Doctor are a couple. Craig gets into trouble, however, when he elects to ask questions in the women's lingerie department. The Doctor suddenly spots Amy and Rory in the store. He sees Amy sign an autograph for a young girl, and then notices a large advertisement on the wall, for a perfume called "Petrichor - for the girl who's tired of waiting". Amy is the model in the accompanying photograph. They leave without the Doctor letting them know he has seen them. That evening, after closing time, the Doctor and Craig remain in the store. The Doctor manages to locate and capture the small silver creature which had been seen - and his suspicions are proved correct when he sees that it is a Cybermat. This design retains organic components, such as a mouth full of sharp fangs. A security guard is attacked in the basement and the Doctor is knocked out by a Cyberman when he goes to help. On coming to, the Cyberman has vanished and he is found by Craig. The Doctor can't work out how the Cyberman got here if he had disabled the teleport. They take the Cybermat back to Craig's house.

The Doctor is left minding Alfie as Craig goes out to the shops. The Cybermat reactivates as the Doctor accidentally locks himself out of the house in the garden - just as Craig returns. The Cybermat attacks him but the Doctor leaps through the patio windows and saves him. They manage to deactivate it again, and the Doctor determines to reprogram it so that it can be used against the Cybermen. The next day the Doctor goes alone to the store with the Cybermat. Craig decides to follow, having just heard that Sophie will be back later that day. The house is a mess, including the smashed patio doors. They discover that there is a hole in the back of one of the changing room cubicles, and the Doctor realises that the Cybermen haven't been coming from above at all - they have been coming up from beneath the shop. With Val looking after Alfie, Craig joins the Doctor as they descend a tunnel to find a crashed spaceship. It must have been there for centuries - its occupants inanimate until recently reactivated by works on the electrics in the area. Craig is captured by the Cybermen, who have been crudely patched up with spare parts. The reprogrammed Cybermat is destroyed before it can attack its creators. The Cybermen plan to use Craig as their new Cyber-Controller. He is in the process of being converted when he hears his son crying on a CCTV monitor in the spaceship. His love for Alfie allows him to overcome the conversion, and the emotional feedback destroys the Cybermen and their spacecraft.
When Sophie comes home, the Doctor has managed to clean and tidy the house and fix the doors before slipping away back to the TARDIS. He has borrowed some dark blue envelopes, and Craig had lent him a stetson hat. Craig tells Sophie that it has been an uneventful few days and he has coped well with the babysitting.
At Luna University, in the 52nd Century, River Song is captured by Madame Kovarian and a pair of Silents. She is overpowered and forced into a NASA style spacesuit, then left in the waters of Lake Silencio...

Closing Time was written by Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast on 24th September 2011. It is a sequel to the previous series' The Lodger, in that it once again pairs the Doctor with Craig Owens, who has now settled down with Sophie and has a child with her - baby Alfie. As with that earlier story, much of the humour derives from the interaction between the two characters, and the Doctor's attempts to fit in with every day living - this time holding down a job. As with The Lodger, the Doctor proves to be adept at this, in the same way that he was successful and well-liked when he spent an afternoon at Craig's call centre. We also have a repeat of the Doctor being more successful than Craig in the things that matter most to him - in this instance the Doctor has a better relationship with Alfie than his father has. It is very much a retread of The Lodger in many aspects, and the Cyberman plot seems almost tacked on just to have a monster and some jeopardy. As Cybermen stories go, it is one of the worst. The basic premise of them skulking around, damaged, and having to steal people to convert is a good one, but they are underused and the resolution is just embarrassingly bad. They're killed by Love. Even their spaceship gets blown up by Love. There have been a lot of saccharine moments in the show since it came back, but this is pure schmaltz. The Cyberman plot might have worked fine on its own, without Craig and the baby. Craig doesn't appear in a Cyberman story. The Cybermen appear in a Craig story.

At least we get the return of the Cybermats - their first appearance in the show since The Revenge of the Cybermen. The design seems sympathetic to the Troughton era ones, although their animal origins are alluded to by them having proper teeth.
The sentimentality aside, the story does have its funny moments - especially from Matt Smith as this most childlike of Doctors. Demonstrating toys to children in a department store seems to be a natural habitat for him, and some of the interplay with James Corden does work. Perhaps it's just the baby that tips it over the edge.
This is the story which Smith was working on whilst Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan were making The Girl Who Waited, so it's the companion-lite story. They were left to set up home away from the TARDIS at the end of the last episode, but do manage a cameo appearance here as the Doctor sees them on a visit to the store. It's not explained how much time has elapsed since he last saw them, though we can work it out from the opening episode of the series. here we see the Doctor obtain the stetson he was wearing in The Impossible Astronaut, as well as the TARDIS blue envelopes he used to send the invites to meet him in Utah. We know from him comparing diaries with River Song that this is a version of the Doctor who is 200 years older, so he's been doing a lot since he dropped Amy and Rory off. Basically, he has been prolonging the inevitable but now feels it is time to face his destiny at Lake Silencio, where he is doomed to die.

Corden is obviously the main guest star, but also featuring prominently is Lynda Baron playing Val. She had previously appeared as the pirate captain Wrack in Enlightenment, and before that had been heard but not seen in The Gunfighters, as she sang The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon throughout that story. There's a cameo appearance from Radio 1 DJ Greg James, as the man lurking in the background who watches as Craig is questioned by the store staff after loitering in the lingerie department (and you do have to wonder what he was doing there). Daisy Haggard reprises Sophie from The Lodger, but this is little more than a cameo as well, as she leaves to visit a friend at the beginning and only turns up again at the end. The actress was in the middle of a West End theatre run at the time and her availability was limited.
The epilogue at the conclusion sees the return of River Song and Frances Barber's Madame Kovarian, as well as some Silents and Clerics. For some, this epilogue is the best part of this story.

Overall, a disappointing story. It's a sequel to a story that didn't really need a sequel, and a dreadful misuse of the Cybermen. Funny in places. 165th place in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, though you'll find it is often bottom or second from bottom if you look at on-line polls of Cyberman stories.
Fans at the time were concerned to note that this was the penultimate episode of the season, when you would normally expect the first half of the finale. It means that the final episode will have an awful lot to cram in if it's going to resolve the series satisfactorily.
(Spoilers - it doesn't).
Things you might like to know:
  • The perfume which Amy is advertising is called "Petrichor" which is the word for the smell of earth after rain. We learned this in The Doctor's Wife, when Idris gave it as part of the password to Rory to access the saved TARDIS console room. 
  • The advert's tag-line - "For the girl who's tired of waiting" refers back to Amy as The Girl Who Waited (as in the last but one episode and the story of young Amelia Pond).
  • Apparently working titles included 'Three Cybermen and a Baby', 'The Last Adventure', 'Everything Must Go', and 'Carry On Lodging'. These titles came from The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2012, which did have a lot of red herrings and downright fibs scattered amongst its pages.
  • The baby was originally gong to be girl, named Grace.
  • There's a possible Mork and Mindy reference as the Doctor tells Craig he is due to visit the Alignment of Exidor. There was a character named Exidor in the Robin Williams TV series.
  • The department store interiors were recorded at Howell's in Cardiff, which had previously doubled as Henrik's, where Rose Tyler used to work.
  • The store's name might possibly include an Are You Being Served? reference, as one of the main characters in that was a Mr Grainger, head of the Men's Department.
  • The episode had a prequel filmed, which only featured Craig and Sophie. It wasn't released on-line prior to the episode, however, but did appear later as one of the Night and the Doctor extras on the Series 6 box set.
  • This is the only episode of Doctor Who to feature River Song that wasn't written by Steven Moffat. However, we all know that showrunners contribute a lot to every episode, so don't know how much of the epilogue is Roberts' and how much came from Moffat, since it had to set up the finale. One suspects that it is pretty much all Moffat.
  • Cybermen have now featured in half of the penultimate episodes of a series since the programme returned, having previously featured in Army of Ghosts and The Pandorica Opens. They will continue to make a habit of this as they will later feature in Nightmare in Silver, Dark Water, World Enough and Time, and Ascension of the Cybermen - meaning they've appeared in 7 out of 12 penultimate episodes, as of the time of writing.