Friday 30 October 2020

Story 233 - The Bells of Saint John

In which the Doctor continues to isolate himself from the world, but this time at a remote monastery in 13th Century Cumbria. Here he has been dwelling on the mystery of Clara - the woman whom he has met and seen die twice, at different points in history. One day, the monks come to see him and notify him that the "Bells of St John" are ringing. This is the TARDIS' door mounted telephone - the monks having seen the St John Ambulance badge on the door beside it. The Doctor is surprised, as no-one should have that number. He answers and finds himself talking to a young woman in 2013, who was given this number by a woman in a computer shop. She wants to know how to get on to the Wi-Fi.
Intrigued, the Doctor pilots the TARDIS to her location - a suburban house in North London. He discovers that the young woman is none other than Clara Oswald, who is a live-in au pair for a couple of children - Angie and Artie. She shows no signs of recognising him. She has found a way onto the Wi-Fi via a strange symbol on her computer. The children are at a school, so she is surprised to see a girl appear in the house. What is more bizarre is that she is identical to the girl on the cover of the book which she has borrowed from Angie. The girl's head revolves, revealing that she is robotic in nature.

Across London, in a large office, Miss Kizlet and her team have been harvesting people via the internet. All across the globe, people have vanished after logging onto the Wi-Fi using the symbol Clara used - their minds downloaded to the cloud. The Doctor manages to access the house and stops Clara suffering the same fate, breaking the connection before she can be downloaded.
The Doctor camps outside the house as he investigates the robot, which he identifies as a mobile server.
At her office, Miss Kizlet endeavours to trace the Doctor, using other mobile servers (which the Doctor calls Spoonheads due to the shape of their heads). He and Clara see large areas of the city plunged into darkness, then notice an airliner heading straight for them on a collision course. 
The Doctor takes Clara into the TARDIS and they travel to the aircraft, where all the passengers and crew are comatose. Miss Kizlet has an app on her tablet which can affect how people think and behave. The Doctor manages to steer the airliner off its collision course, and Miss Kizlet wakes everyone up again - needing to find an alternative plan to foil the Doctor and to trap Clara. The client she works for is particularly keen to have her in the cloud they have created.

When the TARDIS materialises, Clara is surprised to find that it is no longer night but broad daylight, and they are on the South Bank by the Thames. The Doctor emerges from the ship on a motorbike, and he and Clara head for the City to trace their attackers base of operations.
At a rooftop restaurant, Clara is attacked by a Spoonhead which has been made to resemble the Doctor, after discovering that Miss Kizlet is based at the Shard, the city's latest landmark, at London Bridge.
Clara is downloaded. The Doctor takes to his motorbike and goes to the Shard - driving the machine up its glass walls to Miss Kizlet's office.
Miss Kizlet thinks she can overpower him, but is shocked to discover that he has reprogrammed the Spoonhead copy of himself and sent it to the Shard. He is still back at the restaurant. He has Miss Kizlet uploaded to the cloud. She is forced to order her staff to free all the minds from the cloud. 
She contacts her client to explain that they have failed, but he has already been sated. He is the Great Intelligence, still using the likeness of Dr Simeon. He elects to abandon the project, and has her reset everyone who has been affected by her app, as UNIT troops storm the offices. They find Miss Kizlet alone in her office, with the mind of a child - the age she was when first taken over by the Intelligence.
None of her staff know how they got there either, her deputy - Mahler - claiming the last thing he remembers was coming to fix something.
Back at her house, the Doctor offers Clara the chance to travel with him, but she defers the decision to another day. The Doctor decides to persevere, so that he can find out who this impossible girl really is...

The Bells of Saint John was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 30th March, 2013.
It marked the beginning of the second half of Series 7, and is the first story to feature the version of Clara who will actually be the Doctor's new companion, other than the brief scene at the end of the 2012 Christmas Special. Like the Victorian version we saw in that, Clara looks after children.
This story also follows The Snowmen in that it once again has the Great Intelligence as the main villain, though we only find this out at the conclusion of the story. It is once more portrayed by Richard E Grant.
The Intelligence has another new mobile weapon, following the Yeti and the Snowmen. These are the Spoonheads - disguised robotic computer servers with concave craniums, hence the name.
Back in the early 1970's Robert Holmes had sought to make everyday objects frightening for the younger viewers - to the point that producer Barry Letts got into trouble with police and politicians over it. Moffat has taken on the mantle of the new Robert Holmes - also seeking to make the everyday scary, when he is not plundering traditional childhood fears for his stories.
In this instance he has used Wi-Fi as the weapon which is being used against the human race. When Victor Pemberton adapted his radio series The Slide to become Fury From The Deep, he changed the intelligent mud into North Sea gas - on the basis that here was a medium for the monsters to use which was increasingly present in everybody's home. When this story was written, people were increasingly turning away from the ethernet broadband connection to Wi-Fi, and were uploading their photos, music and videos to cloud hosting services.
It has been pointed out that there are certain similarities between this story and The Idiot's Lantern, in that a disembodied entity wants to consume people who have been uploaded to some recently introduced popular technology, new to people's homes.

The episode had a fairly slight prequel. The Doctor is looking for Clara and ends up at a children's playground. Sitting on a swing he gets chatting to a girl - unaware that this is the young Clara.
Other than Richard E Grant's brief reappearance, the only guest artist worth mentioning is Celia Imrie, who portrays Miss Kizlet. Owing to the story having to properly introduce Clara, it is practically a three-hander. One of Imrie's first big TV roles was in the Doctor Who-ish The Nightmare Man, written by Robert Holmes and directed by Douglas Camfield. It could almost be a Doctor-free UNIT story. Since then she has gone on to many film and TV roles - from Scottish sitcom Still Game to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. She is particularly well known for her regular appearances opposite the late Victoria Wood. Kizlet's assistant, Mahler, is played by Robert Whitelock.
This episode also introduces the two children Clara looks after - Artie and Angie. He is played by Kassius Carey Johnson, and she by Eve De Leon Allen. They'll return later in the series.

Overall, it is a fairly good start to the second half of the season, reminiscent of Russell T Davies' present day companion introduction stories. Whilst they tended to be stand alone tales, this one is part of a much bigger story arc - what with this being the first story of the 50th Anniversary year and all. (We will have a longer wait to find out who the woman in the shop was, who gave Clara the Doctor's number). There is some nice topical humour in the mix (such as the London riots being caused by Kizlet's app, and people mistaking the real Police Box at Earls Court for the TARDIS).
Things you might like to know:
  • The TARDIS has a garage somewhere in its depths. We'd previously seen the Tenth Doctor ride a Lambretta out of the ship (in The Idiot's Lantern) although he left that behind in the London of 1953. The bike the Doctor has here is fitted with anti-grav, and he tells Kizlet that he participated in the Anti-Grav Olympics of 2074.
  • The bow-tie which the Doctor puts on after changing out of his monk's habit is one that was worn by Patrick Troughton.
  • The Doctor wears a new costume - with a longer purple jacket. We see him discard his old costume in favour of this one - the last time we'll see it until he rejuvenates prior to regenerating.
  • The Wi-Fi password for the Maitland family is RYCBAR123 - Run You Clever Boy And Remember. This was the phrase spoken by both the previous versions of Clara the Doctor had encountered, and was what made him realise that they might be the same person (as he never actually saw the Clara from the Dalek Asylum). The 123 refers to this being the third iteration of Clara.
  • Fans thought that Clara omitting her height between ages 16 - 23, recorded in her mother's book, was going to be significant. It wasn't.
  • The pressed leaf held between the pages of the book, which we'll see more of next time, was originally going to be a sheet of passport photographs. It's a travel book, and Clara was about to go on a round the world trip when Mrs Maitland died. She cancelled her trip to help look after the children.
  • The book whose cover seems to come to life is Summer Falls, by Amelia Williams (AKA Amy Pond).
  • For the remainder of Series 7 the opening logo remains constant, and is no longer personalised for each story.
  • The Doctor mentions a dislike for monks. This might be a reference to his recent encounters with the Headless Monks, or going further back to his Time Lord foe the Meddling Monk.
  • The opening scene of the story is of a man named Nabile, who has been trapped in the cloud. This was a reshoot using another actor to the one who originally shot the scene. That was Fady Elsayed, who will feature soon as a regular on the Doctor Who spin-off Class.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

The Monster Vault

Lately, Doctor Who non-fiction books (at least the BBC's own ones) have tended to be aimed at the more junior end of the age spectrum. They also, at times, seem to forget that the series began earlier than 2005.
Now comes The Monster Vault, edited by Paul Lang, which has a much wider appeal. 
The book is essentially an A to Z of monsters, going from him:

To them:

- all of which have appeared throughout the entire history of the programme, from the first Dalek story to the most recent Cyberman one.
Every entry has a full page colour image accompanying it, which I had thought were going to be original art works but prove to be photographic in origin, although enhanced in terms of colour and background. (If they are paintings, they're remarkably good ones). For most entries, this image is accompanied by a single page of text, with some photographs from the relevant story / stories.
Many of the entries, however, are for monsters which have appeared in multiple stories, so their page count increases accordingly.
The emphasis is, as the title says, on monsters although this seems to include robots and androids as well. Humanoid aliens and individual humanoid villains are (mostly) absent, so we get an entry on the Quarks, but none for the Dominators, for instance. Where there is a link between monsters, robots or aliens, this is reflected in the text. What constitutes a monster is a bit arbitrary.
Some monsters aren't quite important enough to get an entry by themselves and so are grouped together in a sort of box-out, such as with various creatures from Skaro other than the Daleks (Magnedons, Handmines, Varga Plants etc.).
Oddly, one of these groupings is for Androzani creatures, and includes the Wooden King and Queen from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Whilst the Foresters came from Androzani Major, there was no mention on screen that the tree entities came from there as well.
There are some interesting extrapolations as well - other facts that were never mentioned on screen. Best example is that the Raston Warrior Robot derives its name from 'Rassilon's Automaton', and these killing machines were built specifically for the Death Zone on Gallifrey.
One minor gripe is that a little too much emphasis is placed on the most recent incarnations of the more famous monsters. The Cybermasters and Ashad get more prominence than the average Cybermen, and the DIY reconnaissance Dalek from Resolution gets more prominence than the ordinary ones which feature series in, series out. I suppose they want to push these newer models due to the current production team, but it is a little insulting to see the original Ray Cusick Dalek relegated to one tiny black and white photo, when the dustbin version gets the full page colour image. Likewise with the Cybermen - those of the classic era get barely get a mention and the greatest Cyberman design (the early Troughton one) gets only a small single image also.
The last section of the book is a selection of images, with captions only, relating to the design and making of the monster costumes / props, and the classic era is well represented.
We've come a long way since the Target Doctor Who Monster Book, which is this volume's ancient ancestor. Certainly worth buying for newcomers, as an introduction to the Doctor's monster foes since 1963, but equally worth a purchase as a nicely illustrated coffee table type book for those of us who are already fans and like to focus on just the TV series itself.

Thursday 22 October 2020

I is for... Inquisitor


The Inquisitor was a senior Time Lord judge who was tasked with overseeing a judicial inquiry into the recent conduct of the Doctor. He was removed from time and brought to the tribunal, which was to take place on a giant space station, by the combined mental powers of the Time Lord jury. The Doctor elected to conduct his own defence, whilst the High Council employed the Valeyard as prosecutor. The Inquisitor found the two men constantly sparring with one another and disrupting court proceedings, and often had to step in and remind them of the seriousness of the affair - especially once the inquiry turned into a full blown trial.
Even after the shock reveal that the Valeyard was a future incarnation of the Doctor, employed by a corrupt High Council to stop the Doctor meddling in their crimes, the Inquisitor maintained that the trial should proceed. It transpired that she and the jury members were also marked for assassination by the High Council. After the Valeyard had apparently been destroyed, and the High Council deposed, the Inquisitor suggested that the Doctor resume his old role as Lord President, but he recommended she take on the role herself. Tricked into thinking his companion Peri had been killed, the Inquisitor was able to inform the Doctor that she had survived, and was now living with King Yrcanos.

Played by: Lynda Bellingham. Appearances: Trial of a Time Lord (1986).
  • Unnamed on screen, the Inquisitor has been given a name in spin-off media - Darkel. She has appeared in numerous books and audio adventures.
  • Despite a lengthy career on film, stage and TV in the UK, Bellingham was best known for her role as the mum in a long running series of commercials for Oxo stock cubes (she made 42 of them between 1983 and 1999). Towards the end of her life (she died in 2014), she was also well known as a presenter on the day time chat show Loose Women.
  • Prior to this story she had been considered for another Time Lord role - that of Thalia in Arc of Infinity.

I is for... Ingram, Ruth


Dr Ruth Ingram was the more senior of the two assistants to Professor Thascalos at the Newton Institute near Cambridge. She worked with Stuart Hyde on the professor's TOMTIT machine - Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time. Strongly feminist in her views, she was often incensed by her employer's somewhat patronising comments. She coerced Stuart into conducting an experiment with TOMTIT without the professor's permission - reasoning that they had done as much work on it as he had. Thascalos was, however, really the Master - working on a scheme to take control over a powerful Chronovore named Kronos, who was imprisoned in ancient Atlantis. After the Master had frozen the Brigadier and his men in time, Ruth joined forces with Stuart and Sergeant Benton to try to undo the effects of the machine, but their attempts only caused Benton to revert to babyhood. On is return from Atlantis, the Doctor was assisted by Ruth in putting time back on track.

Played by: Wanda Moore. Appearances: The Time Monster (1972).

I is for... Ilin


Ilin was the wealthy backer of the infamous Rally of the Twelve Galaxies. This race was extremely hazardous, and by the time it had reached the planet Desolation, the final stage, there were only two competitors left - Angstrom and Epzo. They had just rescued the Doctor and her companions after they had become suspended in space whilst attempting to reach the Doctor's missing TARDIS.
Ilin was found in a luxurious tent on the planet, but he and his surroundings proved to be just a hologram. He gave them their final set of instructions to reach the end-point - the "Ghost Monument". This turned out to be the TARDIS, which was materialising and dematerialising randomly at a site elsewhere on the planet.
As founder of the race, Ilin was not interested in the fate of the Doctor and her friends. Once the goal was achieved, Ilin appeared by hologram once more. Angstrom and Epzo had been encouraged by the Doctor to work together rather than compete, and at first Ilin refused to allow joint winners of the rally. He eventually relented, but failed to transport the Doctor and her companions when he took Angstrom and Epzo off the planet. Fortunately, the Doctor was able to retrieve her TARDIS.

Played by: Art Malik. Appearances: The Ghost Monument (2018).
  • Born Athar ul-Haque Malik in Pakistan, he first came to fame in the 1984 Granada TV adaptation of The Jewel in the Crown. Big screen appearances include playing the villain opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, and as Kamran Shah, the Oxford-educated Mujahideen ally of Timothy Dalton's James Bond in The Living Daylights.

I is for... Ikona


A member of the Lakertyan race, Ikona was a rebel amongst his people as he refused to submit to the Rani when she conquered their world, aided by her Tetrap allies. Ikona was in love with Sarn, daughter of the Lakertyan leader Beyus, who worked for the Rani at her laboratory headquarters. He witnessed Sarn's death when she ran away from the laboratory and fell into one of the Rani's lethal traps. Ikona found the Doctor's companion Mel and decided to take her hostage, believing her to be another ally of the Rani. Mel was able to convince him that she was not an enemy when she saved him from one of the traps, and he later returned the favour when she was caught in one of them. Ikona then joined forces with the Doctor against the Rani and the Tetraps. After they had been defeated, the Doctor gave him an antidote to the poisonous insects which the Rani had left behind. He was now the leader, following Beyus' death. He poured it away - determined that the Lakertyans had to solve their own problems from now on.

Played by: Mark Greenstreet. Appearances: Time and the Rani (1987).
  • Greenstreet first came to fame in the 1985 BBC crime drama Brat Farrar. In 1986 he auditioned for the role of James Bond after Roger Moore had stepped down, losing out to Timothy Dalton.
  • He is the great-nephew of Hollywood star Sidney Greenstreet (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon).

I is for... Idris


Idris was a young woman who lived on the planetoid known as House, which existed in a bubble universe. House was really a hostile gaseous entity which fed on TARDISes, which it lured to its world. In order to consume the TARDIS energy House had to first remove its matrix - the sentient part of it which could attune itself telepathically with its operator. This was downloaded into an organic being, who would soon burn up and die. When House captured the Doctor's TARDIS, House transferred its matrix into Idris. Her own personality blotted out, she effectively became the TARDIS, and for the first time the Doctor was able to communicate with his ship as though it were another person. She revealed that rather than he stealing her, she had stolen him - wanting to explore the universe as much as he did. When he complained about the ship never going where it was supposed to go, she explained that it went where he needed to go. She was unhappy that he always ignored the "Pull to Open" sign on the doors, always pushing them open instead. Idris helped the Doctor put together a makeshift TARDIS from the remains left on the planetoid after House departed in the Doctor's ship with Amy and Rory trapped on board. Idris was able to make a telepathic link with Rory to guide them to one of the old console rooms, as she had saved them all. Soon after the makeshift TARDIS materialised within the Doctor's ship, Idris began to die. However, the matrix was now back in its home and was able to re-establish itself there, destroying House. Just before she died, Idris was able to give the Doctor a clue which would lead to River Song's true identity.

Played by: Suranne Jones. Appearances: The Doctor's Wife (2011).
  • Jones had earlier appeared as the living Mona Lisa portrait in the Sarah Jane Adventures story Mona Lisa's Revenge. She first came to prominence as a regular on Coronation Street.
  • The "Pull to Open" on the TARDIS door actually refers to the telephone cabinet, not the main doors.

Monday 19 October 2020

Inspirations - Delta and the Bannermen


It's the old, old story.
Boy meets girl. Girl turns out to be alien fleeing from other aliens. Boy turns himself into human-alien hybrid so they can be together. Both fly off together into the twin sunsets, to live happily ever after. We've heard it all so many times...
Romance of one kind or another has been part of Doctor's Who's DNA ever since Ganatus fell head over heels for Barbara Wright. She was mostly lusted after (Vasor, Nero etc), but this was proper love with Ganatus, though sadly - for him - unrequited. There can't be many fans who don't believe that she eventually married Ian Chesterton. Or that Ben Jackson went on to marry Polly. (Personally, I think the reason Dodo left the Doctor so abruptly was because she had the hots for that tough guy from the Inferno Club...).
There have been lots of romantic subplots in the programme (Jo Grant was another one who had Thals falling for her, as well as Peladonian monarchs), but a romance has never really been a central part of the plot before.
Delta and the Bannermen puts the love affair between the title character and holiday camp odd jobs boy Billy at its heart. Despite already having a girlfriend - Ray - he falls madly in love with the aloof Delta on first sight, and isn't at all fazed to discover that she has an egg which hatches into a green lizard baby. In fact, he wants her so much he's prepared to turn himself into a green lizard / human hybrid so that they can be together. Don't feel too sorry for Ray - I think she fancied Billy's motorbike more than him, and she gets to keep that when he flies off to the stars.
This story is a love story, albeit one with a bizarre guest cast, as well as the obligatory villains to provide a perilous situation every twenty two and half minutes.

As well as a love story, it is also a bit of a musical. There is a lot of music in this story, tying it to its 1950's Rock 'n' Roll setting. The first time music in the series was more than just incidental would probably be The Gunfighters. Then, the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" featured as incidental music, commentary on the plot, and as heard and played / sung by characters within the story itself.
Likewise The Macra Terror, where the annoying jingles of the colony aren't just for the benefit of the TV audience, but are experienced by the characters themselves.
There are few other stories where the music is feature of the story itself (as in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with its music hall numbers, or The Masque of Mandragora and its dance music). On a couple of occasions we have had chart hits playing (which have usually had to be edited out for the subsequent VHS or DVD releases due to copyright issues). As well as appearing on the Space-Time Visualiser in The Chase, the Beatles could also be heard playing in the coffee bar in The Evil of the Daleks, and the factory workers in Spearhead from Space are listening to Fleetwood Mac.
Delta and the Bannermen features some Rock 'n' Roll loving aliens who are on a trip to Disneyland, but get side-tracked to a Welsh holiday camp after colliding with a satellite above the Earth. Luckily they are still in the right time zone, and the aforementioned Billy is lead singer with the camp's resident band. (The guitarist is Keff McCulloch - arranger of the McCoy theme music, and incidental music composer for several McCoy stories. He's following in the footsteps of the late great Dudley Simpson, who cameo'd as the music hall conductor in Talons).
As well as McCulloch's incidental music, the era is also brought to life by a rendition of Devil's Galop on the soundtrack - the theme music to BBC Radio's Dick Barton - Special Agent (1946 - 1951). Within the story itself, we also hear radios playing music from the times - such as the theme to Worker's Playtime. That ran from 1941, launched to increase productivity in factories and so help the war effort, to 1964.

The villains of the piece are the Bannermen, led by a man named Gavrok. These were inspired by the samurai films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, some of which were in turn inspired by the works of Shakespeare - Ran (1985) is King Lear, Throne of Blood (1957) is Macbeth. He then went on to inspire some famous movies of the Western genre - with Yojimbo (1950) being remade as A Fistful of Dollars, and Seven Samurai (1954) becoming The Magnificent Seven (and later still the Star Wars cash-in Battle Beyond The Stars).
In Kurosawa's samurai movies, various factions are represented by their having colourful flags and pendants which they wear on their backs.
The main inspiration for this story, however, is probably its writer's childhood experiences of stays at holiday camps.
A uniquely British experience, the holiday camp was born back in 1936 when a man named Billy Butlin bought a site at Skegness, on the east coast of England, and built cheap accommodation - to provide affordable holidays for families. The plan was to have all the amenities on one site, so families lived, ate and were entertained without having to set foot outside the complex - usually at a single, all-inclusive price. There was no problem if you had small children - you could still spend the night in the Hawaiian Ballroom, as staff were employed to patrol the site and listen out for crying babies. Entertainments ranged from beauty contests to knobbly-knees competitions. We were easier to please back then, obviously.

After the war, Butlins expanded to other locations thanks to some abandoned army camps. Butlin also ran some proper hotels, both in the UK and in Spain, and even ran the revolving restaurant at the top of the Post Office Tower (sharing the space with WOTAN?). These holiday camps were hit hard by the relative cheapness of the package holiday - with a little more sun in Spain than could be guaranteed at Skegness. There was also competition from one main rival (or imitator) - Pontins. During the 1970's and 1980's, the holiday camps kept themselves going by hosting weekend music events, providing much needed exposure to otherwise forgotten singers and bands. A whole nostalgia-music scene grew out of this. The camp used for filming this story was real one, though one that was closed for refurbishment. You'll notice that the grass between the chalets is very long. The cast and crew stayed on site, and reported that the place was overrun with rats. After it was demolished, the location featured again in Doctor Who, for filming on The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances in 2005.
You can't watch this story, if you are British, without being reminded of the Jimmy Perry / David Croft sitcom Hi-de-Hi!. This was also set in a holiday camp of the 1950's - this time a fictitious one called Maplins. Butlins had Redcoats, Pontins had Bluecoats, and Maplins, like here, had Yellowcoats. These were the young camp staff who provided all the entertainments, and quite a few UK singers and comedians started their careers as Redcoats (e.g. Des O'Connor, Michael Barrymore, Jimmy Tarbuck). A certain Bradley Walsh was a Bluecoat, as was Lee Mack, who guested in Kerblam!.
 Hi-de-Hi! ran from 1980 to 1988, so was contemporary with the broadcast of this story. One of its stars was Ruth Madoc, who had been married to Doctor Who guest artist Philip Madoc. Her character used to play jingles and sing to the campers, just as one of the "Shangri-La" camp staff does here.

As for that bizarre guest cast? Well, as the Toll-Keeper we have Ken Dodd, that well known comic, singer and tax avoider. Fans were furious at his casting, thinking it the ultimate in JNT's stunt-casting of light entertainment figures (to boost publicity, whether they were right for the show or not). We do get to see him gunned own in cold blood, however. He is joined by Stubby Kaye as CIA agent Weismuller. Kaye was a famous Broadway and Vaudeville musical star. Brian Hibbard, of the acapella singing group The Flying Pickets, is the bounty hunter Keillor. Then we have Hugh Lloyd, another comic actor, as the enigmatic Garonwy, who some fans think is another Time Lord in self-imposed exile on Earth. As Burton, head of the camp, we have yet another comic actor - Richard Davies, who was best known for the sitcom Please Sir!. Don Henderson, as Gavrok, at least has a history of playing villainous types.
The last thing we should say about this story takes us back to Ray (Sara Griffiths). Bonnie Langford had made it clear that she was only going to do one year on the show, so a new companion was needed. It was decided to test out two characters, in this story and the next. Ray was one, Ace the other...
Next time: Aliens meets Star Wars meets The Wizard of Oz meets Space Truckers, on the Planet of the Film Theorists...

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Story 232 - The Snowmen

In which a lonely, antisocial boy named Walter Simeon discovers that the snowman he has made can communicate with him. 50 years later Simeon is head of the Great Intelligence Institute. He employs a group of men to gather snow which has recently fallen. When they demand their payment from him, a number of snowmen spring up and devour them. Simeon deposits the snow in a huge glass globe in his Institute. He has aroused the suspicion of the Paternoster Gang - Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax - and they have begun following him as he prowls the alleyways of London.
The Doctor, meanwhile, remains in self-imposed isolation in the city. He has become intrigued by the recent strange fall of snow, and one evening he encounters a barmaid in the lane outside the Rose & Crown pub. She remarks that the snowmen in the lane were not there a few moments ago. The Doctor ponders if the snow can remember, recreating snowmen that were in the alley the previous winter.
The Doctor hurries away but Clara, intrigued by his ideas, decides to follow him, jumping onto his carriage, which is being driven by Strax. The Doctor attempts to use a Memory Worm on Clara, a parasite which causes people to lose their memories, but it affects Strax instead. They encounter more snowmen, which come to life. Urging her to imagine them melting, they collapse. The Doctor manages to give Clara the slip, but she secretly follows him.

Simeon, meanwhile, visits the home of widower Captain Latimer, and insists that the contents of his frozen pond should be handed over to him.
Clara follows the Doctor to a city square, where she sees him pull a ladder down from amongst the trees. He ascends and she goes after him. The ladder leads up to a spiral staircase, which goes up above the city to a cloud. Sitting on this cloud is the TARDIS. Clara leaves before the Doctor notices her.
The next day, Clara leaves the pub for a few weeks. She heads off in a coach and changes into smart clothing on the way, before arriving at the Latimer household. She has been leading a double life, working in the pub and acting as the Latimer children's governess. Captain Latimer has a secret crush on her. The children - Digby and Franny - tell her of their old governess who they were scared of. She fell in their pond the previous winter and drowned, and they fear she will come back to haunt them.
Clara examines the pond and notices something growing within the ice.
She goes to the square in search of the Doctor, and is met by Jenny, who takes her to Vastra. The Silurian detective gives Clara a challenge - say one word which will give her a reason for contacting the Doctor. Clara gives the word "Pond"...
Intrigued by the coincidence of this, the Doctor goes to the Institute posing as Sherlock Holmes, to confront Simeon. He discovers the huge snow globe and detects an alien presence within. He also notes Simeon's interest in the news of the governess' death.

Going to the Latimer home, he is just in time to see Clara and the children being attacked by an ice avatar of the dead woman. The Paternoster Gang arrive. The Doctor and Clara escape up to the roof and the Ice Governess follows. The TARDIS cloud has been moved here, and the Doctor and Clara ascend to it. The Governess follows and seizes Clara. Both fall to the ground. The Governess is smashed to fragments, and Clara is critically injured. Strax uses alien medical tech to try to save her life, but holds out little hope. Simeon sends an army of snowmen to besiege the house.
The Doctor and Vastra use the TARDIS to travel to the Institute and confront Simeon. Here the Doctor discovers that it is the Great Intelligence which has created a form for itself in the globe.  It needs a body to establish itself physically on Earth, and this is why it was growing the Ice Governess. The Doctor claims to have brought the fragments in a biscuit tin - a souvenir of the London Underground of the late 1960's. It really contains a Memory Worm which bites Simeon. This backfires, though, as it allows the Great Intelligence to fully take over his mind and body, rather than co-habit with his own suppressed personality.
Clara is somehow psychically linked to the snow, and grief at her death causes it to melt - expelling the Intelligence into space. Simeon dies.
At her funeral, the Doctor sees her full name - Clara Oswin Oswald - and realises that her voice had been familiar to him. Is she the same young woman whom he encountered on the Dalek asylum planet? He is determined to find out...

The Snowmen was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 25th December, 2012. It marks the first proper appearance of Jenna Coleman as Clara, though we only see her in the closing moments as she passes the grave of her namesake in the present day.
We are initially led to believe that the new companion is going to be a Victorian, who works both in a pub and as a governess. This derives from initial ideas for the character - she was going to be a Victorian barmaid named Beryl Montague. It was decided not to have a character from history for the same reasons that they decided against Katarina back in 1965 - that the Doctor would have to keep explaining everyday things to her.
The story marks the return of the Great Intelligence, which featured in two classic stories of the Troughton era, but hadn't been seen since (although a lone Yeti did feature in The Five Doctors).
Two innovations are a change to the opening credits, and a new TARDIS interior. The Doctor has now dispensed with his short tweed jacket.
The opening credits depart from the Time Vortex look of previous ones and go for a journey through space instead. We also see the Doctor's features, for the first time since the Sylvester McCoy era.
The new TARDIS interior is a great improvement on the rather jumbled copper coloured one. It has a more symmetrical look, with the console once again in central position, flanked by other technology. The lighting is rather cold, however, with shades of blue and green.
The Doctor's quest to find out who these two, apparently identical, dead women are forms the next story arc.

The main guest artist, playing Walter Simeon, is Richard E Grant. He has form with Doctor Who, having played one of the future Doctors in the Comic Relief adventure The Curse of Fatal Death (written by Moffat), and then he voiced a new Ninth Doctor in the animated story Scream of the Shalka (a project which was abandoned once the BBC announced that the series was returning to TV).
Voicing the Great Intelligence is the even more famous Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit trilogies, Magneto in the X-Men series, and many more). McKellen and his friend Derek Jacobi had once claimed that their main ambition in life was to appear both in Coronation Street and in Doctor Who. McKellen was first to have appeared in both. To hide its involvement, McKellen was only credited as the voice of the Great Intelligence in the closing credits. The Radio Times had him as "Voice of the Snowmen".
The other main guest is Tom Ward (Silent Witness) as Captain Latimer. The Ice Governess is voiced by Juliet Cadzow, best known for CBBC series Balamory.

Overall, one of the better Christmas Specials, with lots of nods to the series' history. The major let-down is the conclusion, where people crying can somehow destroy the Great Intelligence. Maudlin nonsense.
Things you might like to know:
  • As well as links to the two earlier Great Intelligence stories we have a nod to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, as the Doctor mentions last wearing his deerstalker hat and cape in his Fourth incarnation.
  • The title of this story is the link to the first of the Troughton stories - The Abominable Snowmen. The Doctor describes the map of the Underground, circa 1967, as a potential weakness of Metropolitan London - actually giving the Great Intelligence the idea of using the Underground to attack the city in The Web of Fear, which follows this in the Intelligence's chronology. Note the year - 1967 - adding to the ending of the Great UNIT Dating Controversy.
  • Strangely, the Doctor never quite makes the link between the Intelligence here and the two encounters of his Second incarnation. It only rings vague bells in his mind. And yet he picked that particular biscuit tin to carry the Memory Worm.
  • Moffat's other popular series is referenced as the Doctor pretends to be Sherlock Holmes. Simeon claims that Conan Doyle based his detective on Madame Vastra.
  • Starting at 5:15pm, this had the earliest start time of any Doctor Who episode (excluding regional variations) since An Unearthly Child, the very first episode back in November 1963.
  • For the first time ever in the series, we have a continuous shot of someone entering into the TARDIS interior from an exterior location. This had only ever been tried once before - in the 30th anniversary documentary Thirty Years In The TARDIS.
  • It was originally planned not to give this story any opening credits. Once they decided to have some, they then decided to devise new ones for the remainder of Series 7.
  • There's some inconsistency with the spiral staircase leading to the TARDIS, varying from clockwise to anti-clockwise depending on whether it is CGI or the base of the physical set in studio.

Monday 12 October 2020

Not much on the horizon...?


It's a bit frustrating that we have so little to look forward to at the moment - at least for those of us who concentrate on televised Doctor Who. There's the multi-platform "Time Lord Victorious" thing going on now, which requires you to buy books, comics, audios, and games, plus watch on-line animated Dalek mini-episodes, to get the full experience. Some of these publications don't come out until well into 2021. I'm not sure there are all that many people who will be able to afford that complete experience, what with job losses and reduced wages across the board. Personally, I'm avoiding it as I do limit myself to the programme, though I will probably watch the Dalek animations because they are free, or read a comic strip if it's in a publication I buy anyway, i.e. DWM.
What about the forthcoming Christmas / New Year Special, I hear you ask? We've just had two images released for it, and they must be the most boring images ever intended to elicit excitement for something. One shows the Doctor in prison marking the days spent on the wall, suggesting a long boring period of incarceration. The other is an image of the companions sitting round a kitchen table.
Hardly the stuff to get viewers worked up, unless it's a negative response you're striving for.
One good bit of news is that they have actually started filming Series 13. Nothing official, of course, but some people have gone on Twitter to say they've seen it filming. To have begun filming in October does mean that it is possible to have the next series debut in the winter of 2021, rather than the spring of 2022, meaning yet another gap year. The caveat is that the Virus means that film and TV productions are having to go much slower and can be halted by cast or crew testing positive. There is also the unique Welsh dimension, with stringent local regulations about travel between local authorities (and a potential stricter travel ban on the cards). Does making a TV show constitute essential travel?
Talking of the Virus, I'm assuming we have that to blame for the lack of news about DVD / Blu-ray releases. It's ages since the Season 14 box set was released, and Fury From The Deep has been in the shops for a few weeks now. This looks like being the longest we've ever gone without knowing about planned releases of any classic Doctor Who content.
The odd thing is that the DVD / Blu-ray market hasn't been unduly affected by lockdown anywhere else. We've had a lot of big releases over the last few months, with more planned. It just seems to be the BBC who have completely shut up shop. My guess is that there is very little forward planning on the Blu-ray releases - they put them together as they go along, rather than have a range of extras already lined up for the next two or three box sets. Had they been better organised we might have had two further box sets before the end of this year.
A couple of stories have been mentioned when it comes to animating lost adventures, but nothing confirmed. It was a newspaper reporter who mentioned Evil of the Daleks and The Abominable Snowmen, even if that reporter has tended to be fairly accurate in the past.
Even if they're not going to be released until next year, it would be nice if the BBC could let us know what the next releases are going to be - for both animated stories and for season box-sets. It's always nice to have something to look forward to - and that's something we could all really do with right now.

Thursday 8 October 2020

What's Wrong With... The Power of the Daleks


William Hartnell has now left the TARDIS, so sadly that means we won't be hearing any more of his famous fluffs from this story onwards. Patrick Troughton has arrived, and he doesn't suffer from the same problems Hartnell had. The series is still being made one episode per evening each week, recorded as though it were live. The cast are either taken out of rehearsals to do pre-filming, or have to give up their day off for it. This will pose problems as the Troughton tenure proceeds.
A delay in working out the personality of the new Doctor will also mean that for the rest of this season, there will only be one week between recording and broadcast.
A lot of people give David Whitaker considerable credit for the personality of the Second Doctor, but he hardly had any input. He concentrated only on the Dalek story, writing for a generic Doctor. It was his successor as story editor, Dennis Spooner, who was brought in to personalise Troughton's parts of the script to the actor, after Troughton and Gerry Davis had met to discuss how he would interpret the part. Spooner also carried out rewrites on the main portion of the script.
The first thing we need to talk about is the regeneration. Never referred to by that word until years later, it is here described as a "renewal" - suggesting that the new Doctor is just a younger version of the older one we've been used to. The Doctor claims that it is to do with the TARDIS, as if it triggered and oversaw the process. However, we'll later see that regenerations can take place anywhere, even if there isn't a TARDIS present.
At first glance it looks like the Doctor is wearing the old Doctor's clothing, but this is clearly not the case on closer inspection. The only similarity is a black coat and checked trousers, but there the similarity ends. How can clothes regenerate as well, especially if they are going to end up in a distressed condition?
At the end of The Tenth Planet, it looked like Ben and Polly were in the TARDIS when the Doctor collapsed. Indeed, we saw Polly move the Doctor's scarf away from his face just before it changed.
Why then, do Ben and Polly (especially the former) have such a hard time accepting that this is the still the Doctor? They saw him change. You can understand them asking how he changed, or why he changed, but not questioning who he is.
The Doctor rummages through a chest, which we've never seen before. It has a number of items he has collected on his travels - including a Saracen blade. The Doctor suggests he got it from Saladin (in Whitaker's earlier story The Crusade) - but in that the Doctor never met Saladin.
It is a bit of a stretch that he just happens to pick up a Dalek key, which we've never seen before - just when he's about to encounter the Daleks again and they are using such keys. Quite a coincidence.
Talking of Daleks: according to Ben the Doctor does nothing but talk about Daleks. When was this exactly? There have been no breaks between stories since Ben and Polly came on board the TARDIS, with them going straight to Cornwall, then to the South Pole. The last time the Doctor mentioned Daleks was to Dodo in Fitzroy Square, before he met Ben and Polly.
The Dalek ship is supposed to have been buried in a mercury swamp for 200 years. How can it have spiders' webs inside? And how can the colonists know it's been in the swamp for such a precise length of time? You can't do carbon dating or similar with mercury, and the colony certainly hasn't been in existence that long to know it predates it.
We see the full extent of the spaceship in the confines of Lesterson's lab - yet it can contain a vast production line for new Daleks. Have the Daleks secretly knocked through a wall or two to some abandoned section of the colony? OK, so it may be dimensionally transcendental like their time-space capsules, but you would have thought that someone would have mentioned this if it was.
If Daleks need their casings as life support units, why is one of them running around their ship at night in the nude, as it were?
Either they need static electricity or they don't - the story seems mixed up about this. They go to great lengths to get a static electric circuit set up, despite being able to get by perfectly well without one beforehand - and anyway, they haven't needed static since their very first story.
I'm no physicist, but isn't static electricity generated by two surfaces rubbing against each other? You don't need to lay a power cable ring.
Lesterson seems happy to pump the Daleks full of power, but hasn't thought to open one up and take a look inside?
At one point a Dalek nudges a camera (in one of the very few clips still existing for this story).
A pedantic note to end on, but the Doctor identifies the rebels' secret code - the first letter of each line of writing making up words - as an anagram. It's not - it's an acrostic.

Monday 5 October 2020

Inspirations - Paradise Towers

Paradise Towers is the first story which Andrew Cartmel commissioned and saw through to completion, and therefore provides an idea of what his vision for the programme was to be. He was the first script editor on the series to be inspired as much by comics and graphic novels as by films and books.
The idea of a dystopian tower block where all the children have formed feral gangs, and some of the old people resort to cannibalism could have come straight from the pages of 2000AD.
The author of this story is Stephen Wyatt. He had written a play about the backstage shenanigans of a cat breeders club, called Claws, which had gone down very well. JNT loved it, and so invited Wyatt to offer a storyline idea prior to Cartmel's arrival.
The basic set up for Paradise Towers is that all of society lives in one vast tower block. All the young men went off to fight in a war and none have returned. The female children have formed colour-coded gangs - Red, Blue and Yellow Kangs. What men do still live in the Towers are all caretakers, led by the officious Chief Caretaker, who is hidebound by his rule book. All the other tenants are older people.
The architect of the Towers, Kroagnon, disappeared after being attacked by the residents, as he did not want any people messing up his lovely design. There's more cannibalism going on, as his brain survives in the basement and he's in league with the Chief Caretaker to obtain enough genetic material to make himself a new body. The Towers' robot cleaning machines are killing Kangs and others to feed him.
The usual starting point when it comes to looking for inspirations for this story is writer JG Ballard, and his novel High-Rise.
Architecture had gone through a negative phase in the 1960's and 1970's as the ideals of the tower block had been proven false. New communities - "streets in the skies" - had failed to materialise. Instead, there was only feelings of isolation and of the elderly trapped in their homes. The blocks themselves proved often to be made from substandard materials and were prone to damp. Some famously collapsed. Others were condemned after only a few years. Lifts didn't work and bored youngsters scrawled graffiti on every surface. Come the 1980's Architecture was beginning to fight back, with a move away from the concrete blocks.

Ballard's book tells of a luxury apartment block where society breaks down as the building suffers technical faults. The most affluent tenants at the top of the tower want the swimming pool etc. for themselves and try to stop the less affluent from the lower floors from accessing facilities. Even the lifts are claimed by rival floors, as the society collapses into violence. Instead of leaving, the tenants instead become used to life in the block and try to adapt to it. The architect is finally confronted at the top of the building.
The notion of someone being murdered in secret by a group of adults, but whose children then come under attack by him is strongly reminiscent of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies - the first of which debuted in 1984.
The Chief Caretaker is a "Jobsworth" - a phrase coined by the BBC's That's Life team. They would award a "Jobsworth" trophy each week to the most pointless and frustrating bit of bureaucracy reported to them by the viewing public. The name derives from "That's more than my job's worth...".
Playing him is Richard Briars, who was well known at the time for playing the pedantic Martin Bryce in the sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles (1984 - 1989). He portrays the character as a cross between Adolf Hitler and Blakey, the Jobsworth inspector in ITV sitcom On The Buses.

There is one male character in the story who isn't a Caretaker, and that's Pex. He was supposed to be a lumbering Stallone / Schwarzenegger sort of character, who looked tough but was really a coward. Unfortunately this intended juxtaposition between image and reality was ruined through miscasting for the part.
The Kangs speak in slogans they have heard - "build high for happiness" etc, and have names deriving from urban architecture and their surroundings - Bin Liner, Fire Escape and so forth. They are supposed to come across as quite feral, but are too well groomed and well-spoken and so the effect is lost.
The robotic cleaners didn't feature much in Wyatt's initial drafts, but emerged as JNT insisted on a monster of some sort.
Next time: bad aliens, good aliens and rock 'n' roll aliens all converge on a 1950's holiday camp, after first encountering Ken Dodd...

Thursday 1 October 2020

The Snowmen Prequel 3 - The Great Detective

In which Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax seek out the Doctor. Depressed after the departure of Amy and Rory he is living in Victorian London as a recluse, and they are concerned about him. They seek to remotivate him by informing him of a number of potential threats to the planet. Vastra tells him of a shower of strange meteorites, whilst Jenny informs him of an invisible man and a scientist's plans to drill into the core of the Earth. Strax informs him of a threat from creatures who live on the moon, and that he has declared war on the Earth's satellite. The Doctor is unmoved by these tales, determined to be left alone. As they drive away in their carriage, Vastra and Jenny are intrigued to see that it is snowing, despite there being not a single cloud in the sky...

The Great Detective was written by Steven Moffat, and was first shown as part of the annual BBC telethon Children in Need, on 16th November, 2012.
The events seen here lead directly into The Snowmen, though this prequel was shown first in order for it to be included in CiN.
It features only the Paternoster Gang, and Matt Smith as the Doctor, sporting the Victorian costume he will wear in the Christmas Special.
Things you might like to know:
  • The title here refers to the Doctor, but was also the title used to describe Sherlock Holmes.
  • All of the threats mentioned by the Paternoster Gang refer to the works of writers HG Wells or Conan Doyle:
  • The meteorite fall is a reference to Wells' War of the Worlds, first published in 1897.
  • The man who may be invisible refers to Wells' The Invisible Man, also published in 1897.
  • The scientist drilling into the Earth is Professor Challenger, in Doyle's 1928 story When the World Screamed.
  • Strax's "Moonites" are the Selenites, from Wells' First Men in the Moon, first serialised between 1900 and 1901 in The Strand Magazine.

The Snowmen Prequel 2 - Vastra Investigates


In which Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax assist Scotland Yard in apprehending a murderer. They have helped Inspector Gregson solve a particularly baffling case involving identical twins, unknown poisons and an ancient Egyptian curse. He, however, is more interested in the crime-solving trio - their strange appearances and - to him - even stranger relationships...

Vastra Investigates was written by Steven Moffat, and was first released on-line on 17th December 2012. It is actually the second of the two prequels made for The Snowmen to be released, though it is set prior to the first prequel which was shown.
The Paternoster Gang, as they are known, are joined by Paul Hickey as the bemused Gregson, who will make a further appearance in Deep Breath.
Thing, singular, you might like to know:
  • An Inspector Gregson features in the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - first appearing in A Study in Scarlet, then reappearing in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge and The Adventure of the Red Circle.

The Snowmen Prequel 1 - The Battle of Demons Run: Two Days Later


In which we return to the aftermath of the battle on Demons Run, where the Doctor, Amy and Rory discovered River Song's true identity. 
Sontaran Commander Strax had apparently been killed in the fighting. However, two days later he came round, and was informed by Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint that he had merely been injured and had passed out. They tell him that alien technology has been used to repair his wounds, and he has been in an induced unconscious state for two days while the technology did its work. The Doctor and his companions have long gone, and now the station is being fully evacuated. They offer Strax the opportunity to come with them, to the London of 1888. At first he refuses, but they manage to convince him otherwise...

The Battle of Demons Run: Two Days Later was written by Steven Moffat, and was first released on-line on 25th March 2013. It was a sequel to Series 6's A Good Man Goes To War, but was also designed as a prequel to The Snowmen, as it tells of how Strax came to survive his apparent demise, and how he came to be part of Madame Vastra's household in the 2012 Christmas Special.
It was 3 minutes in duration, and featured only Neve McIntosh as Vastra, Catrin Stewart as Jenny, and Dan Starkey as Strax.
Things you might like to know:
  • It is River Song who returns to Demons Run to transport the trio back to Victorian London, as by this stage the Doctor has set off to find baby Melody Pond.
  • The alien resurrection technology used to revive Strax is the same he will use to try to save Clara in the Christmas Special.
  • This prequel, which is available on the Complete Series 7 DVD / Blu-ray box set, was released as part of the promotion for the second half of the season, just before the broadcast of The Bells of Saint John, though it has nothing to do with that story.
  • It was first released in the USA.