Saturday 27 February 2021

Fortean Who (3)

The latest issue of Fortean Times (FT403 March 2021) has a small article about unusual ghosts - unusual as in non-humanoid. As well as a haunted lamppost, and a giant luminous crab, there is a tale as recounted by Third Doctor Jon Pertwee, of a ghostly encounter he had as a small boy.
He was the guest of a school friend at an Elizabethan house in Sussex. There were many other guests, and the friend he was staying with seemed uncertain about the room that Pertwee was to sleep in. The boy's mother assured him it would be okay as children tend to be deep sleepers.
On the first night, Pertwee woke up feeling nauseous, and threw up over the bedclothes. He had no explanation for this illness, which soon passed.
The next night however, he woke up to smell a terrible stench in the room, as of rotten meat. He then witnessed a glowing green object, similar to a tree stump, at the foot of the bed, which moved slowly across the room. He was so frightened that he wet himself and ran out of the room to where others were sleeping.
The family were obviously aware of this apparition but thought that, as a child, he would sleep through any manifestation.
Now Pertwee was a great story-teller, especially if it involved himself, and he would often elaborate and expand on his own role in the narrative. What makes this story sound plausible is the strangeness of the thing he saw (and smelled). Most kids making up ghost stories would have gone for the headless Tudor, or the hooded monk, or the spectral lady in white - something traditional being more likely to be believed. The sheer bizarreness of Jon's experience suggests that it might possibly have been true. Who knows...?

Friday 26 February 2021

Inspirations - The Curse of Fenric

The Curse of Fenric wears its inspirations on its sleeve. There are three main ones that can be clearly seen, plus the story also has to develop - though not quite end - the story arc of Ace.
The first inspiration is vampire stories in general, and the Dracula story in particular.
The monsters of the piece are known as Haemovores - as in eaters of blood. Haima is Greek for blood, and the prefix haemo- derives from this.
We don't see any fangs, though the creatures do make a beeline for Ace's throat when she is threatened by them on the roof of the church. Other victims are found drained of blood. The Haemovores are reanimated corpses. They can be destroyed by being staked through the heart, their bodies disintegrating. Whilst some of their victims appear to die, others are transformed into Haemovores themselves. In vampire cinema, victims either die or are 'turned', depending on what the plot wants to do with the character.
The legend of the Ancient One tells how it followed a vase from the Middle East to Britain (the one in which Fenric's essence was trapped). Mention is made of how this route took it through the forests of Eastern Europe - suggesting that this is where the traditional vampire stories of Transylvania and its neighbours originated, and from where Bram Stoker took his inspiration.
The location where the vase ends up is stated to be the North East coast of England. It was at the Yorkshire fishing town of Whitby that Dracula first came ashore in England in Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic horror tale.
Instead of a supernatural, occult background for these vampires, they are the result of pollution on a future, possibly alternate, Earth.
Objects like crucifixes in themselves don't harm the Haemovores - only the faith of the bearer. The Rev Wainwright can hold them back until they destroy his faith in humanity with talk of British bombs falling on German cities. Captain Sorin holds them back with his faith in the Russian Revolution, whilst the Doctor recites the names of his companions in whom he has always had total faith. The Doctor has to destroy Ace's faith in him so that she won't prevent the Ancient One from attacking Fenric.
The 1968 Hammer film Dracula Has Risen From The Grave features a scene wherein the young hero stakes Dracula through the heart, even though there's 20 minutes of the movie still to run. The young man is an atheist and his lack of faith allows the Count to pull the stake out and escape. (Apparently Christopher Lee hated this scene, as he simply felt that a stake through the heart kills vampires, full stop).
The Ancient One is called upon by Fenric to destroy the other Haemovores once their usefulness is at an end. In the movies at least, Dracula often discards and destroys his servants once he no longer needs them.

The second inspiration for this story is the work of the World War Two code-breakers, in particular Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park group. Even Turing's homosexuality is hinted at, as there seems to be an implication that Commander Millington and Professor Judson may have been more than just classmates at school.
Mathematician Turing was born in London in 1902. Following spells at Cambridge and Princeton, in 1938 he joined the Government Code and Cypher School. He moved to Bletchley Park in 1939, working in Hut 8. His main work was in trying to crack the Nazi Enigma Machine, for which he developed an early computer known as the bombe. The main purpose for this work was to crack the codes used by the German U-Boats, which were sinking huge numbers of allied ships.
Immediately after the war, Turing was awarded the OBE and he went on to further develop computing machines and research artificial intelligence.
In early 1952 a burglary at his home revealed to the authorities that he was gay (the burglar being an acquaintance of his boyfriend). Offered a choice of prison or probation with a compulsory course of hormone treatments, he chose the latter. Two years later, in June 1954 he was found dead - having killed himself with cyanide which he had injected into an apple.
He did not get a posthumous pardon until 2014. This led to a wider pardon for men convicted of historical homosexual acts in 2016.
In The Curse of Fenric we see Professor Judson working on his Ultima Machine, to crack German U-Boat codes. As at Bletchley Park, we also have a team of women (WRENS in this case) carrying out some of the work.

The third inspiration for this story is Norse Mythology. There is a sunken Viking ship in the bay off Maiden's Point, and the Haemovores and all of the key characters in this story are the descendants of Viking settlers in the area - even Ace. It was Viking traders who found Fenric's vase in the Middle East and brought it to Yorkshire, with the Ancient One following. It is now known through archaeological finds that the Vikings travelled widely - from the Middle East to the Americas.
Millington is a great fan of Norse mythology, and mentions the great battle at the end of the world. Ragnarok itself is not named, as producer JNT thought it might confuse fans after the Gods of Ragnarok had featured in the previous season. Writer Ian Briggs had been inspired by a visit to Sweden to include these Viking references. Fenric derives from Fenrir, the great wolf monster, and Millington also mentions the great world tree (Yggdrasil), and the toxin which he plans to use as a biological weapon is said to derive from the poison of a great serpent (presumably Jormungandr).
Historically, the Vikings raided the north east coast of England where this story is set, before finally settling the area.

As mentioned, even Ace is one of the "wolves" of Fenric. One of the WRENS is a young woman named Kathleen Dudman, who has her small baby with her. Ace finds herself smitten with the child, though she dislikes her name - Audrey. What we knew of Ace up until now was that she had been transported to Iceworld by a time storm which suddenly materialised in her bedroom. There has never been any mention of her father, and she hates her mother, whose name is Audrey. Her own name, which she also dislikes, is Dorothy. Seemingly unrelated, the Doctor was intrigued by a game of chess which was in progress at the home of Lady Peinforte in Silver Nemesis.
When the Haemovores attack the base, Ace sends Kathleen to safety at her grandmother's house in South London, having earlier heard that her husband was missing, presumed dead, at sea. Later Fenric, now inhabiting Sorin's body, reveals that Ace has inadvertently set up her own existence. The baby whom she adores will become the mother she hates. Ace is as much a pawn of Fenric as Sorin, Judson, Millington and Wainwright. As Briggs had helped to create the character, so he was permitted to help resolve her story. It also transpires that the chess game which so intrigued the Doctor was the one he had played against Fenric, and the Doctor has seen Fenric's hand behind Ace right from the start. Ace's story isn't quite finished yet, as we'll see next time...

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Story 238 - The Crimson Horror

In which Madame Vastra is approached by a man named Mr Thursday, who wishes her to investigate the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of his brother, Edmund. He was found dead in a river in Yorkshire, his body rigid and and its flesh turned bright red. Vastra visits the morgue, where the ghoulish attendant has termed the condition the "Crimson Horror". She uses an optogram - photographing the dead person's eyes as it is believed that they might hold an image of the last thing they saw.
She is shocked to see an image of the Doctor's face, his skin bright red...
Edmund was a journalist who was investigating an industrial new town called Sweetville. This is run by a woman named Mrs Gillyflower, and her secretive business partner Mr Sweet. She has been leading a popular moral crusade - claiming that the end of their decadent society is nigh. She has been recruiting followers, all of whom tend to be good looking young men and women. Jenny Flint is despatched to Yorkshire to infiltrate the factory as a prospective follower.She sneaks off to explore and discovers that the factory is an empty shell, the sounds of machinery being played on a huge gramophone recording. Another chamber hold massive vats of bright red liquid, and numbers of young people are seen being dipped into these. In a storeroom she finds the Doctor locked away, his flesh red and his limbs rigid, almost unable to speak or walk. As Jenny rescues him she is almost stopped by the arrival of a young woman who is blind and disfigured. This is Mrs Gillyflower's daughter Ada.                                       

The Doctor has Jenny take him to a small chamber where he is restored to normal. Mrs Gillyflower's people attack them, but Jenny overpowers them.
It transpires that the Doctor and Clara had visited Sweetville some days ago, after being approached by Edmund Thursday for help. They too had gone to the factory posing as prospective followers. Some people were rejected by the process to convert them - the dipping in a vat of red liquid - and their bodies get dumped in the nearby river. Clara is found in one of the cottages, under a huge bell jar and in suspended animation.
Vastra and Strax arrive in Sweetville, and she reveals that she knows what the "Crimson Horror" is. In prehistoric times her people encountered a red leech creature, which produced a highly dangerous crimson toxin.
Ada Gillyflower is bullied and abused by her mother. She has been told that there is no place for her in her mother's promised Utopia, due to her disfigurement. She had rescued and protected the Doctor as she saw in him a monster like herself.

The Doctor and Clara confront Gillyflower and learn that she has formed a symbiotic relationship with a surviving red leech, which she calls Mr Sweet - her mysterious business partner. Her plan us to fire a missile into the skies above Sweetville, full of red leech poison. This will spread through the atmosphere killing millions, but leaving her elite group of converted people to restock the planet. Ada discovers that her injuries weren't caused by her father, as her mother led her to believe, but by Mrs Gillyflower using her as a test subject for Mr Sweet's toxin. The Doctor, Clara and the Paternoster Gang attack the missile silo in the factory, assisted by Ada. Mrs Gillyflower falls from a gantry to her death as the missile launches, but Vastra had earlier removed the poison from it. Ada then kills Mr Sweet as it tries to crawl away. Vastra will dispose of the toxin, whilst Ada will live a new life, free of her mother's malign influence.
On her return to 2013, Clara has a shock in store. Her young charges - Artie and Angie - have been searching on-line and have discovered evidence of Clara's ventures into the past. One of the images, of her in Victorian costume, she does not even recognise...

The Crimson Horror was written by Mark Gatiss, and was first broadcast on 4th May, 2013. Steven Moffat had intended to write a story himself which would feature one of the Doctor's adventures as witnessed and experienced from the viewpoint of someone else - in this case the Paternoster Gang of Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Moffat was then too busy to write the story himself, and so handed it to Gatiss, who decided on a northern Victorian setting. The Doctor and Clara hardly feature in the first half of the story, as the Gang take centre stage - especially Jenny. Events leading up to the Doctor being found in his crimson state are shown in flashback. This is the only story featuring the Paternoster Gang written by someone other than Moffat.
Gatiss took as inspiration for his story title that of The Green Death, a favourite of his from the classic series.
Gatiss had earlier worked on stage with Dame Diana Rigg, of The Avengers, Game of Thrones and James Bond fame, and he also knew her daughter Rachael Stirling. Mother and daughter had never worked together on screen, and so Gatiss wrote this story specifically to address this. Diana Rigg plays the formidable Mrs Gillyflower, whilst Stirling plays Ada.

The monster of the piece - the red leech - is inspired by one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, as "The Repulsive Case of the Red Leech" is referenced in The Adventure of the Gold Pince-Nez. As the red leech derives from prehistoric Earth, this is the first story in a long time to have no alien interventions.
Sweetville derives its name from Bourneville, the new town created at Birmingham for the chocolate manufacturers. It is also based on the area of Bradford known as Saltaire - another industrial new town founded by the wool magnate Titus Salt in 1851.
Other than Rigg and Stirling, the other actor worth noting is Brendan Patricks. He plays both Edmund Thursday and his unnamed brother who instigates Vastra's investigations. We should also give a mention to Jack Oliver Hudson as "Urchin Boy". He gives his name to Strax as Thomas Thomas, thus setting up a rather funny TomTom joke.

Overall, it's a fine, full-blooded bit of Victorian Grand Guignol, with some great performances. Diana Rigg really relishes the chance to go full-on nasty.
Things you might like to know:
  • Jenny's fight against Mrs Gillyflower's henchmen, clad in a leather catsuit, was a deliberate homage to Rigg's time on The Avengers.
  • Mr Sweet was named after Gatiss' friend, the broadcaster Matthew Sweet (who is currently conducting the in-depth interviews for the Complete Season Box Sets).
  • This was the 100th episode of Doctor Who since its return in 2005.
  • The story is set in 1893, yet Mrs Gillyflower and her followers are playing a 1906 version of the hymn To Be A Pilgrim (aka He Who Would Valiant Be).
  • There are a couple of Tegan Jovanka references. Mentioning that the TARDIS was better at getting where it is supposed to go, he states that he once spent a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport, and he later says "Brave Heart..." to Clara.
  • The Fourth Doctor had earlier mentioned the concept of optograms in The Ark in Space, where he does get a Wirrn's retina to show its final actions before death.
  • I strongly suspect that the idea of dipping people into a bubbling vat to preserve them comes from Carry On Screaming.

Monday 22 February 2021

Saint Nicholas

Hard to believe that is 10 years to the day since we lost Nicholas Courtney. He passed away on 22 February 2011, at the age of 81.
His role as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart - the Brig - didn't just shape his career - it shaped his life. And yet it almost never happened.
His first brush with Doctor Who was almost being cast as King Richard in The Crusade (1965). Director Douglas Camfield had not expected Julian Glover to accept the role, and so Courtney was approached to take it on. As it was, Glover did accept, and Courtney had to wait for a future Camfield project to appear in the programme. He was cast as Space Security agent Bret Vyon in the first four episodes of the epic The Daleks' Master Plan (1965 / 66). The character was killed off by his sister, fellow agent Sara Kingdom. She was played by Jean Marsh, who would also have played his sister had he got the King Richard job. According to Courtney, William Hartnell convinced him to change his agent - and he didn't work for a year.
Camfield came calling once again when it came to casting for The Web of Fear. Courtney was offered the role of Captain Knight, who is killed off after four episode, felled by a Yeti in a Covent Garden electronics store. Actor David Langton (famous as the pater familias in Upstairs, Downstairs) was given the role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. However, he had to pull out of the role late in the day, and Courtney was promoted from Captain to Colonel. He makes his first appearance in the (sadly still missing) third episode.
Even then, Courtney's future as a regular on the show was not a done deal. When Camfield came to direct The Invasion, written by Script Editor Derrick Sherwin, it had originally been thought that only Professor Travers and his daughter Anne might be carried over from the Yeti story. The new military set-up, UNIT, which was to become a fixture of the Earthbound Season 7, might have had a new commanding officer in charge. As it was, Jack Watling was unavailable, and the BBC were concerned about the payments which would be due if they reused so many characters from writers Haisman and Lincoln. Travers and Anne were dropped, and the Colonel was retained. Rather than hire a new actor who would simply be another version of Lethbridge-Stewart, the production team elected to pay for the already existing character, to be played once again by Courtney.
Season 7 commenced with Spearhead From Space, with the newly regenerated Doctor now exiled on Earth.
Apparently Courtney and Pertwee did not hit it off straight away. Pertwee expressed concerns about Courtney's lunchtime drinking. During the making of Terror of the Autons, Courtney suffered a fit of nerves and missed some of the filming (the quarry scenes in Part Three. An extra doubled for him in some shots. The Brig would never wear white socks).
The friendship with Pertwee did form, and they remained great pals up until Pertwee's death in 1996. It was Pertwee who talked the usually shy Courtney into attending conventions, and Courtney became a regular attendee over the years, practically until the end of his life. His stories became legend - especially the one about the eye-patch.
His most famous line - "Five rounds rapid..." - was almost cut, but Courtney fought to keep it in.
Other great lines were actually ad libs by Courtney (such as "I'm pretty sure that's Cromer...").
The UNIT family, as it was affectionately known, started to unravel with the death of Roger Delgado, and the departure of Katy Manning at the end of Season 10. When Pertwee also said that he would leave at the end of the next season, along with Producer Barry Letts, and Script Editor Terrance Dicks, Courtney suspected that this might be the end for the Brigadier. When Tom Baker took over, and Philip Hinchcliffe became the new Producer, Courtney could see that the show was going to move away from Earthbound stories to more outer space ones. After Baker's first story, the Brigadier was to appear in only one further story in the 1970's - Terror of the Zygons. Courtney got a lengthy stage role, and so was unable to return for The Android Invasion, and none of the UNIT regulars appeared in The Seeds of Doom, despite it being directed by Camfield. The Brigadier was always said to be away in Geneva, to explain his absence.
It would be 1983 before we saw the Brigadier once more - this time retired from UNIT and teaching at a Public School. Courtney was slightly disappointed to learn that he had not been first choice for this story, as it had originally been hoped that William Russell might have come back as Ian Chesterton. As it was, Courtney was actually third choice, as the second choice was the return of Harry Sullivan, as played by Ian Marter.
Courtney's role in Mawdryn Undead led to JNT asking if he would be available for the 20th anniversary story which was planned for that November - The Five Doctors.
Outside of the TV show, Courtney played the Brigadier in two radio plays, alongside Pertwee, and he also appeared on screen in the made-for-video Downtime - an unofficial sequel to the two Yeti stories.
His swan-song on the show was in its final season - in Battlefield
It had originally been intended that the character would be killed off in this, which Courtney was okay with so long as it was a heroic demise. As it was, the writer couldn't bring himself to kill off the Brig.
When the series returned in 2005, many fans hoped to see the return of the Brigadier, but this time he was always stuck in Peru, rather than Geneva, in stories involving UNIT.
Courtney did play the Brigadier one final time, but it was to be in The Sarah Jane Adventures (the story Enemy of the Bane). Tragically, we were to lose both Courtney and Lis Sladen within a few months of each other, ten years ago.
The character has not been forgotten since Courtney's death. The Eleventh Doctor just missed saying goodbye to his old friend, who did indeed die in bed as the Seventh Doctor predicted. The Brig's daughter went on to run UNIT, and his portrait is often to be seen in the background in UNIT based stories. The least said about being turned into a Cyberman, the better.
I never met Courtney, but from all the DVD extras, documentaries, commentaries, and published interviews, it's clear that he was a thoroughly nice bloke. He loved Doctor Who, and was always thankful for its place in his life, and his part in its history - which was a huge one.
He'll always be remembered with great affection.

Thursday 18 February 2021

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

There are many who would argue that there is nothing wrong with The Evil of the Daleks. It is regarded as the great lost masterpiece of 1960's Doctor Who, and everyone would love to see it animated if it isn't likely to ever be found intact.
I'm on record as disagreeing with this opinion, for I think it suffers terribly from padding in the middle episodes. There are four characters in this story who simply have no role to play in it - Toby, Arthur, Mollie and Ruth. I just don't see the point of their inclusion.
If anything, their presence adds to some confusion. The Daleks need Jamie for their experiment. The Daleks have Arthur under their mental control. Why then does Arthur hire Toby to kidnap Jamie - putting the experiment in jeopardy? If it is because his mental conditioning is failing, and he's actually trying to save Jamie, then this isn't made clear.
Arthur never eats or drinks - indeed he cannot, for we see him attempt to take a sip of wine and fail. Why? What possible purpose do the Daleks have for stopping him eating and drinking? And why is he slightly magnetic (other than because this is a David Whitaker script, and we all know how good he is on science).
You could argue that Episode One is also padding, as the Doctor and Jamie simply travel all over London following clues which will finally get them into the story. Again, we are presented with a number of characters they encounter who muddy the waters a little, but are irrelevant to the main plot.
The Doctor and Jamie don't reach the main plot until two thirds of the way through Episode Two.
The experiment Jamie is forced to take part in involves the rescue of Victoria Waterfield. The desired outcome of this experiment really depends on him succeeding, otherwise the Daleks don't get the data they're after. Why then make his task so potentially lethal? As well as numerous deadly booby-traps, Maxtible also throws in his Turkish manservant Kemel to try to kill him. It's surely possible to have a complex experiment that will deliver what you want, but that isn't as likely to kill your test subject before they can complete it.
What the Daleks are after is the "Human Factor" - the thing that means humans are continually beating them. Once they get it, they have it transplanted into three test Daleks. It later turns out that they don't want the Human Factor at all, but to reverse engineer this and find the "Dalek Factor". So why introduce the Human Factor into those three test Daleks if you have no use for it? They plan to blow up Maxtible's house when it's time to leave, so why take the three with them when they go - into the heart of their city? And once back, they don't properly supervise these potentially disruptive Daleks. They're left to wander about.
On a similar point, why do the Daleks take Kemel with them, but leave the Doctor behind? Their plan is actually to have the Doctor spread the Dalek Factor throughout Earth's history using the TARDIS, after they've converted him. Bit difficult, if you've left him to be blown to bits.
Then again, if the Daleks already have time travel technology, why do they need the TARDIS to spread their Factor?
And why do Daleks need to know what their own Factor is anyway? Surely they know what they do and why they do it. They never shut up about being the supreme beings in the universe. They could simply have bottled it on their own back on Skaro.
We know the house that was used as location for the filming of this story, and it does get shown on screen. The interior simply doesn't fit with the exterior. The Daleks would need to have taken over virtually the whole building to hide Victoria (without Ruth knowing about it) and use for their experiment.
Why does Maxtible have a portrait of Waterfield's dead wife on prominent display in his living room? Aspects of their relationship are never properly explained.
The TARDIS ends up outside the city at the conclusion. Maxtible claims that he moved it there, when he's pretending to be helping the Doctor. If he was pretending to be helpful, why not move it closer to where the Doctor was imprisoned? It's as if Whitaker simply needed a reason for the ship to be outside the city when it gets destroyed.
Marius Goring has a few stumbles on his lines - including calling Waterfield "Whitefield", and he seems to think that the Daleks come from someplace called Skarov.
In the same way that fans were terribly disappointed with some of the effects in Tomb of the Cybermen when it was rediscovered, I strongly suspect that there would be similar disappointments at the use of many pointy-topped toy Daleks in the epic conclusion to this story, were Episode Seven ever to resurface.
Waterfield's shop in 1966 sells "Genuine Victorian Antiques". Is this to differentiate it from the shop next door proudly advertising "Fake Victorian Antiques"?

Monday 15 February 2021

Ten Bad Target Book Covers

I'm pleased to report that my internet appears to be back up and running. Before I get back into the swing of the regular run of blog posts I thought I'd run this piece - prompted by the most recent issue of DWM. This edition has a Target Books emphasis, and I was most taken with the free poster. On one side are all the original covers for all the books, whilst the reverse has the same books but with later reprint covers. Naturally I've gone for the first side to grace my wall, with all the classic Chris Achilleos covers from the 1970's.
I've been looking at it a lot over the last few days, as well as dipping into my "The Target Book", and have identified some firm favourites - and some that I don't think are anywhere near as impressive, for one reason or another. In story order, these are my ten least favourite first edition covers. (I could have filled this piece with the first batch of reprints, which are uniformly bad, but decided to stick with just the first editions). By all means, do let me know if you disagree. You might love some of these, or have others you hate more.

No.1: Doctor Who And An Unearthly Child.

Yes - a Police Box, standing in a junkyard, is where it all began. However, this just isn't representative of the story as a whole. The junkyard scene takes up only part of the first half of the first episode. The sequences on screen were set at night, and look atmospheric, yet this image shows the TARDIS in broad daylight. I just find it rather dull - and I always hate banners across the image.

No.2: Doctor Who And The Keys Of Marinus.

This is another deadly dull image, which has nothing to do with the story itself. The TARDIS is never seen in space. Some later novelisations which were full of characters and locations elected to represent several of them on their covers - e.g. The Chase or Mission to the Unknown (The Daleks' Masterplan Vol 1). This is a globe trotting adventure, with lots of creatures and characters - Voord, Morpho, Ice Soldiers etc. - yet none of this appears. It's just a generic Doctor Who book cover.

No.3: Doctor Who - The Aztecs.

The artist here just hasn't bothered looking at any of the photographic publicity material from this story. If the last cover was a generic Doctor Who one, then this is a generic Aztecs one. Presumably the fierce looking gentleman with the dagger is meant to be Tlotoxl, but looks nothing like him. Sticking a TARDIS in the corner just isn't good enough.

No.4: Doctor Who - The Romans.

What lets this one down for me is the representation of the Emperor Nero. Like the previous cover, the artist has ignored the publicity images of Derek Francis. That's it for this one.

No.5: Doctor Who - The Space Museum.

A perfectly good image of William Hartnell, but they stick a couple of generic spaceships beside him, then include a couple of Daleks - suggesting something which this story is not. It isn't a Dalek story. There's an empty casing which the Doctor hides in, and one turns up at the very end as a cliff-hanger into the following story, but I think it's misleading to feature them on this cover.

No.6: Doctor Who - The Mind Robber.

I hate the pink background, but more than that I hate the fact that they've once again ignored images from the story itself. The Gorgon looks nothing like the one which featured in the story (which was actually quite creepy), and the other characters are simply generic versions of things which appeared in the story.

No.7: Doctor Who And The Androids Of Tara.

The problem with this one is the dreadful likenesses of both Tom Baker and Mary Tamm. It's also rather boring. "The Target Book" has a detailed drawing of Tom which was prepared for this cover, which is really very good, but it just didn't translate into the final painted image.

No.8: Doctor Who And The Destiny Of The Daleks.

It's just bland, and the Daleks are bit cartoon-y. Stick Tom Baker on the cover with a couple of Daleks and anyone will buy it. I suspect this cover was painted before the story had even been made. Apparently Graham Williams hated this as well - so I'm in good company.

No.9: Doctor Who And The State of Decay.

A dark, gloomy, gothic horror story - so why on Earth did they choose bright blue and neon pink as a colour scheme for this cover? Had they just extended that nocturnal sky across the whole cover, and ditched the pink logo, then this would have avoided this list.

No.10: Doctor Who And The Visitation.

This one is actually representative of the whole run of early Peter Davison novelisations where they dispensed with cover artists, and stuck rather bland publicity photos on the covers instead. Everyone mentions the cover for Earthshock - which doesn't have any Cybermen on it (and shows the Doctor brandishing a gun). I almost went for that one, but just think about this cover for a moment. There's a brand new, great looking, reptilian alien, an ornate robot, a historical setting, and the Great Fire of London in this story - and what do we get? A smiling Doctor standing outside the TARDIS.
Actually, a painting was submitted for this book, but Davison and his agent turned it down as they didn't think much of the likeness.

And finally, a dishonourable mention...

Not a first edition cover, but you just have to include this in any list of bad covers. Is that honestly supposed to be Colin Baker???

Thursday 11 February 2021

Inspirations - Ghost Light

One of Ghost Light's principal inspirations was the day job of its author, Marc Platt. He had spent some time with the BBC helping to catalogue its radio archive. You would expect the work to have reduced as the catalogue progressed, but instead it actually grew into a bigger and more complex task as the categories were refined. This feeds into the finished story as Light gets frustrated by the constant changes which mess up his catalogue of life-forms on Earth.
Platt had no professional writing experience but had submitted a story called "Lungbarrow" to the Doctor Who production office. This involved the Doctor going back to Gallifrey, to visit his ancestral home. It was vetoed by JNT, as it gave too much away about the Doctor's origins. Lungbarrow was the name of the Doctor's house, and this was one element which Platt kept for Ghost Light - the setting of a big old house full of bizarre characters. Inspector McKenzie's suspended animation derives from a character in "Lungbarrow" who had been trapped into a transmat for 300 years.
One of the inspirations for "Lungbarrow" was the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, another ancient household full of odd characters and even odder incident - so you can argue that this another inspiration for Ghost Light.

Instead of a story exploring the Doctor's origins, Platt ended up writing a story about Ace's origins, as it delivers a great deal of information about her life before she encountered the Doctor.
He was a great fan of all things Victorian / Edwardian, which prompted the historical setting, and the dialogue references many Victorian books. One such would be the notion that Ace is like Lewis Carroll's Alice, going down the rabbit hole into a strange world.
The Doctor mentions Bandersnatches and Slithy Toves - which also come from Carroll (the 1871 poem Jabberwocky). 
The housekeeper of Gabriel Chase is Mrs Grose. This was the same name as the housekeeper in Henry James' supernatural classic The Turn of the Screw (1898). Mrs Pritchard seems to be modelled upon Mrs Danvers, from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Written outside Platt's favourite historical era, but it is very much a 1930's version of a Victorian Gothic novel.
Josiah Smith calls himself "a man of property", which comes from Galsworthy. The Man of Property is one of the books in The Forsyte Saga.
Big game hunter Redvers Fenn-Cooper gets his surname from James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans (1826).
Control's desire to become a "ladylike" obviously derives from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1913).
The clergyman who visits Smith is the Rev. Ernest Matthews. This might be a reference to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (Ghost Light has a reference to Reading Gaol), but is more likely to come from Platt's own relations (Ernest is his dad's name).
The Rev Matthews brings us to the other big inspiration - Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution, and its Creationist opponents. The story could be seen as being about the conflict between science and religion, or as the conflict between change and conservatism / technological advance and tradition.

There's a 1960 movie with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March called Inherit The Wind, which is based on the infamous 1925 "Monkey Trial". Conservative town leaders take a school teacher to court for advocating Darwinism. The film was seen at the time as an attack on McCarthyism.
The costume design for Light was based both on a William Blake angel, and an insect with a wing case. There was supposed to be third husk creature in the cellar - with a fish-like head. Smith would therefore have evolved through the four main fauna groups - insect, reptile, fish and mammal.
A couple of more recent references for Ghost Light include the draft version of The Evil of the Daleks, in which the Doctor would have collected a Neanderthal named Og from prehistoric times in order to help identify the Human Factor for the Daleks - bringing him to a big old Victorian mansion. 
The other is the Doctor's query "Who was it said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round for dinner?". This comes from Douglas Adams and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Some people have also seen parallels with The Rocky Horror Show - big old spooky house; strange inhabitants (who turn out to be alien); the main character in the house seeking a form of perfection and being overthrown by his servants at the end; and one of the characters being served up for dinner. The house takes off and flies into space at the end.
Next time: more character development for Ace. And Bram Stoker's Dracula...

Tuesday 9 February 2021

IT Update 2

As you may have noticed I was able to post normally yesterday. I got myself one of those small mobile wi-fi gizmos as an interim measure, while I wait for the new ISP to get set up.
Problem is, the gizmo isn't terribly reliable. Have had it a week and last night was the first time I got more than two or three minutes of service, so please expect more shorter text-only posts until I'm properly set up with fully operational internet access (end of next week, fingers crossed).

Monday 8 February 2021

Peter Craze (1946 - 2020)

The latest issue of DWM has reported that Peter Craze has passed away. It was actually on 30th December, 2020, but most of us only learned of it at the end of last week.
He appeared in Doctor Who on three occasions. The first was as Dako, a young Xeron rebel in The Space Museum, where he featured alongside the late Jeremy Bulloch - his friend and contemporary at drama school.

His next appearance was a brief one - as the captured French soldier Du Pont in The War Games.
His final role was a more substantial one - that of the Customs Officer Costa in Nightmare of Eden.

His other connection with the worlds of Doctor Who was, of course, the fact that he was the younger brother of companion actor Michael Craze, who played Ben Jackson between The War Machines (1966) and The Faceless Ones (1967).

What's Wrong With... The Faceless Ones

The aliens in this are known as the Chameleons, because they take over other people's identities and can therefore blend in with the humans around them. Did they take over an airline that was already called "Chameleon Airlines", or did they name the setup themselves? If the latter, isn't it sort of drawing attention to yourselves?
A problem with all aliens who come to Earth to get what they want: how many more suitable planets did they fly by to get here. The Chameleons want humanoids to copy. Are there no humanoid races less technologically advanced, and therefore less of a threat, they could have picked on instead?
Just how did they manage to set up the airline? These things take a huge amount of time and capital, with all manner of international agreements if they're flying beyond the UK. Lots of licences and other paperwork involved. Just how long did they spend setting this up?
Why has no-one noticed before now that their flights are only full one way, and are always empty on return journeys?
If this has been going on for a while, how come Samantha Briggs seems to be the only person to have raised a missing person's report. Most of these holidays would be for a fortnight at best, which suggests that the aliens can't have been operating long, yet they have thousands of young people already swapped with - despite only ever operating those one way flights.
Is hiding your original bodies in a car park really a sensible thing to do, especially when tampering with them can kill you? Surely people using that car park day in, day out, would have noticed the same people snoozing in the vehicles. 
All sorts of things happen with Meadows in Air Traffic Control, yet he seems to be able to just return to his station as if nothing has happened.
The James Bond style "kill your enemies in an overly complicated manner without bothering to stay to make sure nothing goes wrong" bit has to be mentioned, as there's a glaring example of it here with Spencer and the laser weapon.
Victor Winding, who plays Spencer, on his first entry into the hidden office, takes the door handle away with him - and carries on acting regardless. What a star!
There's a security alert out for someone in a kilt. Just how many Scotsmen are passing through Gatwick this week, for Jamie not to be picked up straight away?
Ben and Polly discover that it is the same date as when they first walked into the TARDIS back in Fitzroy Square. That means that the whole War Machine incident has been occurring at the same time as this - yet there's no mention of it. WOTAN thought Heathrow would make a good base for setting up one of the Machines, so surely it would also have selected Gatwick. Very easy to get your raw materials shipped in, and lots of outbuildings to work in unnoticed. After all, if a bunch of aliens can run an airline for several weeks, killing policemen along the way, without anyone local noticing, then Gatwick would be ideal for a few day's construction on a War Machine.
For their final story it's sad that Anneke Wills and Michael Craze have such little involvement, disappearing after the first couple of episodes before a tacked on filmed farewell at the conclusion. Both were contracted up to the second episode of the following story, but were let go early (though paid up to when they should have left).

Thursday 4 February 2021

IT Update

Am moving to a new ISP, but it won't be set up until 18th / 19th February. There will be a couple of text-only What's Wrong With...'s, and a couple of Inspirations before then, hopefully.