Saturday 30 April 2022

The Art of... Marco Polo

Marco Polo was novelised by its writer, John Lucarotti, and first published in April 1985.
We have fairly good likenesses of cast members Mark Eden (Polo), Derren Nesbitt (Tegana) and Zienia Merton (Ping-Cho) down the right hand side of the image, but the main figure in the centre appears to be John Wayne, from the 1956 Hollywood movie The Conqueror, in which he played Genghis Khan...
(This is the movie that was filmed 137 miles downwind of a US atomic bomb testing site. Many of the cast and crew later died of cancer - including Wayne himself).
The artist is David McAllister.

Merton read the novel for its audiobook release in December 2018, which reused McAllister's artwork. Sadly, this proved to be a posthumous release, as Merton had passed away in September of that year, at the age of 72.

At this point we would normally move on to the artwork for the VHS and DVD releases but, due to this story being absent from the archives and never animated (at least at time of writing), we need to turn to the soundtrack. Every lost story was thankfully recorded directly off air by a number of fans, in the days when video recorders were the stuff of science fiction. Often this would be achieved by the person simply placing the microphone of a tape recorder next to the TV speaker, then hoping that their family would keep quiet for 25 minutes. The more technically minded actually hard-wired their recorder into the TV set - a potentially very dangerous procedure.
The soundtrack release was on CD from the BBC Radio Collection, and utilised a photo-montage cover, which managed to include all the main guest artists. These soundtracks could sometimes utilise recordings from more than one source - the producers choosing the best audio available for each episode.
The cover design was by Max Ellis, and the soundtrack was narrated by William Russell. The 3 disc CD set included a copy of Marco's map.
A condensed (30 minute) version of the story did see a DVD release - as an extra on The Edge of Destruction DVD. This combined soundtrack and telesnaps, as well as photographs taken in studio during the production. This particular story is very well represented by photographs, many of which are in glorious colour.

Recently, thanks to the resurgence in interest in vinyl records, a lot of the soundtrack CDs are being re-released in this format. Marco Polo arrived as multiple discs from Demon Records, in September 2021. The colour scheme for the vinyl itself was described as " Desert Sandstorm" - referencing action from the second episode. As with the earlier CD set, the collection included a copy of Marco's map outlining their journey.

On This Day... 30th April

Only three Doctor Who episodes have ever debuted on this date - and all three just happen to be set in the United States.
Back in 1966 the Doctor and companions pitched up in Tombstone Arizona, in A Holiday for the Doctor, the first instalment of The Gunfighters.
When it looked like the Terry Nation estate might not allow the revived series to use the Daleks, Russell T Davies came up with an idea called "Sphere", whilst Rob Shearman had jokingly renamed his script "Absence of the Daleks". Luckily the Nation estate and the BBC came to an agreement, and we got Dalek. This was set in Utah.
The third episode was not only set in the USA but partly filmed there. This was Day of the Moon - the second half of the Series 6 opener.

Friday 29 April 2022

K.O. Round 1.12

A tough one this time, for a 1960's fan like myself especially. 
This round sees the first William Hartnell season compete against his last (which was also Patrick Troughton's first). Season 4 featured Hartnell in only the first two stories, after which Troughton took over for the remainder.
Season 1 comprises An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, The Edge of Destruction, Marco Polo, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs, The Sensorites and The Reign of Terror.
The companions throughout are Ian, Barbara and Susan, and behind the scenes the production team was a stable one - Producer Verity Lambert and Story Editor David Whitaker.
We are fortunate in that the vast majority of this season has survived. Only one story is missing in its entirety - Marco Polo - plus two episodes from The Reign of Terror (although these have been animated).
The season balances sci-fi stories with historical ones, including two of the most highly regarded - Marco Polo and The Aztecs. Other than the Daleks, there aren't many aliens on view here - only really the Voord and the Sensorites. The first story has a fantastic opening episode, but even the production team were unhappy with the three episodes which followed - thinking it a weak launch to the series.
The Daleks is such an influential story, but it does show some padding in the second half.
The Keys of Marinus is interesting in that it is a quest story, comprising different segments in different locations, with different threats in each. The Voord are under-utilised, however. We get our first spaceship in The Sensorites, and the titular aliens are better presented than the Voord were.

Season 4 comprises The Smugglers and The Tenth Planet, with Hartnell as the Doctor, and then Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones and Evil of the Daleks, with Troughton as the new Doctor.
The companions at the start of the season are Ben and Polly, but they are soon joined by Jamie in The Highlanders. Ben and Polly depart in The Faceless Ones, and we see the arrival of Victoria Waterfield in Evil of the Daleks. The Producer throughout is Innes Lloyd, but Story Editor Gerry Davis departs part way through the final story, replaced by Peter Bryant.
This season includes the first ever regeneration, the first appearance of the Cybermen, the final pure historical story, and two of the most highly regarded Dalek stories. The Cybermen have been introduced to help replace the Daleks, and they are quickly brought back in a story which is almost a rerun of the first, with the Cybermen themselves fully redesigned.  The era of the base-under-siege begins here.
The historical stories are phased out. These are genre-history stories, based more on classic adventure novels than academic history.
This season is particularly badly hit by the episode wiping that went on from 1967 to 1977. The Highlanders was wiped only a month or two after its broadcast. Luckily a lot of what is now missing has been covered by animation, so we can have a relatively good idea of what they might have looked like. Most animations are faithful to the original episodes, although The Macra Terror uses the medium to give us things which could never have been achieved on screen.
Only the two historicals lack episodes or animations, but we do have the soundtracks and telesnaps to go by.

As much as I love Season 1, the winner for me has to be Season 4, mainly because of the wide variety of stories on show. It also benefits from having two Doctors, two Cyberman stories and two Dalek stories - all good ones. Only The Underwater Menace lets the season down, but even that has some arresting images and sound design.
Next time: the final bout of Round 1. Season 2 versus Season 14.

Up Close and Personal

In the past I have recommended a couple of free e-books which had memories of the Doctor Who Exhibition at Blackpool as their core. The first was Blackpool Remembered, which gave a year by year description of the exhibition from its opening in 1974 to its closure in 1985. There are floor plans for each year showing the layout of the many exhibits.
The second edition (Nov 2020) runs to 410 pages, and it covers the afterlife of the exhibits, auctioned off by Bonhams, on top of the many memories of visits. There are lots of photographs.

This was followed by Blackpool Revisited the following year. This runs to a whopping 639 pages.
The first section covers similar ground to the first volume, as people have sent in new memories and photos, having been prompted by the Remembered e-book. However, it then moves on to look at the later exhibition which opened in Blackpool between 2004 - 2009, run by David Boyle, the man behind DAPOL, whose own exhibition is also covered. The late Mr Boyle gets an appreciation. There is also a feature on his 'Bessie' replica, as well as some convention memories. Again, it is all lavishly illustrated.
Both of these can be found at the website

Now, today, the same site has a new publication. This is Up Close, by Alex Storer, who was a contributor to the first two publications.
This is a more personal look at exhibitions and conventions in Sheffield and Leicester and runs to a more modest 94 pages.
Other contents include meetings with the three 1980's Doctors, a visit to the Museum of Sci-Fi (which also features in the Revisited e-book, and was recently the subject of a Keith Barnfather DVD release presented by Sophie Aldred), plus a look at classic era Doctor Who soundtrack albums (with a Dominic Glynn interview) and a 2002 interview with Steve Cambden, who worked on the series between 1979 - 1981 assisting K9's operator.
Storer also has a memoir of being a fan on, called Who, Where & When. (This is also where you can order Cambden's two paperbacks: one a memoir - The Doctor's Affect - and the other a collection of interviews with VFX designers from the classic era - The Doctor's Effects).

If you're looking for 1100+ pages of nostalgia, totally gratis, then please do visit the sites mentioned above. All highly recommended.

On This Day... 29th April

Both The Faceless Ones and The Mutants reached their fourth episodes today - the Troughton story in 1967 and the Pertwee one in 1972.
Any doubts that the revived series was not a continuation of the series which had run from 1963  to 1989 were dispelled today in 2006 when Sarah Jane Smith returned to Doctor Who, bringing K9 Mk. III with her. This was in School Reunion
Guest star Anthony Head had often been mentioned when it came to potential Doctor actors, and he had been considered for the role back in 1996.
The episode was designed to warn Rose that she could not stay with the Doctor forever, and considered what happened to the companions after they had been left behind. One issue with the story is that it rather glosses over The Five Doctors. Perhaps Rassilon wiped people's minds when they were all sent home after that story?

Thursday 28 April 2022

On This Day... 28th April

A Dalek day today. 
In 1973 the fourth instalment of Planet of the Daleks made its debut, whilst in 2007 Evolution of the Daleks brought the Series 3 Dalek two-parter to a close.
At first glance the two stories seem worlds apart, except for the inclusion of the Daleks, but closer inspection shows a couple of parallels. Both show the Daleks as scientists, engaged in experiments, and both have the Daleks exploiting the native species as slaves. Both stories also depict Daleks killing other Daleks.

Today we remember Australian writer Anthony Coburn, who passed away on this date in 1977 at the age of 49. Coburn was tasked with writing the very first Doctor Who story - An Unearthly Child - after plans for a story involving miniaturisation were dropped. It was his idea to make Susan the Doctor's granddaughter, as he was concerned about the propriety of a young girl travelling alone with an old man. He also claimed to have been the person who decided to make the TARDIS a Police Box, after driving past one on a foggy evening.
His tale of cavemen and the quest for fire was not how the production team wanted the series to launch, however, but no other scripts were ready. An Unearthly Child was to have been followed immediately by a sci-fi tale called "The Robots", AKA "The Masters of Luxor", involving a planet of robots, but there were elements of this which the team did not like. A staunch Catholic, Coburn had added certain religious themes, which the Producer and Story Editor were unhappy with. The story was dropped and replaced with another by Terry Nation. Coburn never wrote for the series again. 
He helped create BBC nautical dramas The Onedin Line and Warship, and was working as Producer on Poldark when he died of a heart attack.
On a brighter note, spacewoman Carol from The Sensorites has her birthday today. Ilona Rogers is 80.

Wednesday 27 April 2022

Story 249 - Kill The Moon

In which Clara coerces the Doctor into offering schoolgirl Courtney Woods a trip in the TARDIS. This arose after his rudeness had upset her and Clara felt her self-esteem needed a boost. The Doctor elects to make her trip a visit to the Moon, and she will be allowed to become the first woman to set foot on Earth's satellite.
It is the year 2049, and the TARDIS materialises in the cargo hold of a space shuttle, but the Doctor points out that they are actually travelling towards the Moon when Courtney seems unimpressed.
He is shocked to discover that the shuttle's cargo appears to consist of a number of nuclear bombs.
They are confronted by the shuttle crew of three. In command is Lundvik and she is accompanied by colleagues Duke and Henry. 
The Doctor has been playing with his yo-yo, but explains that he has been using it to make gravity checks. It transpires that the Moon's gravity has altered. It has increased, and this has been causing all manner of catastrophic disruptions on Earth. 
Lundvik has been sent to destroy it. 

At this time, the human race has lost interest in space travel. Duke and Henry are older men - the only experienced astronauts Lundvik could find. This shuttle had until recently been a museum exhibit.
On landing, Courtney is permitted to set foot on the lunar surface before Lundvik. 
The group heads towards a small mining base which was established by a Mexican expedition. Contact was lost with them some time ago, their last transmission appearing to be a scream.
They find the base and discover that it is covered in web-like material. The crew are found to be dead, their bodies wrapped in the web. The Doctor examines their records and declares that they had discovered that the Moon was on the brink of disintegrating.
Henry is sent back to the shuttle but comes across a cave in which he notices movement. He is attacked by a huge black spider-like creature.
Another of these attacks the others in the mining base, and Duke is also killed. Courtney has been carrying a bottle of disinfectant and when she uses it on the creature it is destroyed.

The Doctor realises that the spider creatures are actually germs. Courtney is sent back to the TARDIS when she no longer feels safe here.
He decides to go out onto the lunar surface and explore. He finds Henry's desiccated corpse by the cave and ventures inside to explore. 
The cave is much bigger than when Henry found it. Cracks and crevasses are opening across the lunar surface as it starts to break up. The Doctor discovers millions of the spider germs, and realises that they must be living on the body of some gigantic living creature.
He contacts Courtney in the TARDIS and tells her to insert a DVD into the console, and this brings it to the mining base. Once she has arrived, the Doctor tells everyone of his findings.
The Moon is actually an egg, millions of years old. A vast winged creature is about to be born from it - something which the Doctor suspects might be unique in the universe.

Clara is shocked when the Doctor suddenly announces that he can no longer remain here. A decision must be made that he should not influence. The outcome affects Earth and the human race, so the humans here present need to make the choice. He enters the TARDIS and dematerialises.
Clara and Lundvik realise that they must choose between destroying the new life-form to save the Earth, or risk allowing it to be born. They have the nuclear weapons brought to the base, but the shuttle then plunges down a crevasse. Lundvik wants to use them to kill the creature, but Clara worries that they would be potentially committing genocide, and there is no guarantee the birth will destroy the Earth. They decide that the decision is too big for the three of them and so contact Mission Control on Earth - asking for a message to be spread to those night-time regions. If the people of Earth want the creature destroyed, they should switch their lights off - which should be visible from the base.
As the Moon begins to break up, the vote is to kill - but Clara stops the countdown to the bombs at the last moment. 
The TARDIS reappears and the Doctor has them transported down to the planet's surface.

They witness the destruction of the Moon as the dragon-like creature is born. This fails to cause any serious disruption to the planet, and moments after it has gone they see that it has left an egg of its own - a new Moon. The Doctor tells them that they have made the right choice, and it was a decision that only they could have made. As an alien, it was not his choice to make.
Alone in the TARDIS later, Clara lets the Doctor know in no uncertain terms that she hates how he just abandoned them and forced them to make a potentially terrible choice. He does not seem to be aware of the trauma he put them all through. She cannot see why he could not have told them what was going to happen. He might be an alien, but he had made the Earth his home for many years and should have been involved in the decision.
Realising finally that she cannot relate to this latest incarnation of the Doctor, she announces that her time travelling with him has to come to an end...

Kill The Moon was written by Peter Harness, and was first broadcast on Saturday 4th October, 2014.
It had originally been intended as a story for Matt Smith's Doctor.
Harness had been a writer on the English version of the Scandinavian detective series Wallander, and had adapted the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for the BBC.
In 2005 he had also adapted the MR James story A View From A Hill as a "Ghost Story for Christmas", so no doubt Mark Gatiss would have been one of those who recommended him to Steven Moffat.
It was decided that the first half of the story should be a scary sci-fi / horror tale, but that the second half should concentrate on a moral dilemma, and the pressure this places on the relationship between the Doctor and Clara. Clara had been very much living a double life, right from her first meeting with the Eleventh Doctor, where she was only ever a part-time TARDID traveller. Since joining Coal Hill School this double life had become much more complicated, especially once Danny Pink arrived on the scene.
The rest of this series would examine the consequences of her being unable to stick to her intention to leave the Doctor - her double life having become a form of addiction.

How much you like or dislike this story depends on your opinions about the science on show. For many it was just so awful that it couldn't be simply shrugged off, and it really ruined their enjoyment of the episode.
Right from the start, Doctor Who was supposed to have an educational remit running alongside the family orientated action adventures. The modern series has tended to ignore this, preferring to have what will make an exciting story take precedence over proper science or history.
After the atmospheric first half, we are expected to believe that the Moon is an egg, and it is about to hatch into a giant space dragon - but no-one on Earth knows this. 
All that is known is that the satellite has increased its gravity, and this is causing all sorts of catastrophes on Earth. It seems the best way to solve this problem is to blow the Moon up. 
Now blowing the Moon up would not mean it simply vanished without a trace. It would break into fragments, some of which would be very big indeed. Many of these would come crashing down onto the surface of this planet. A lot would remain in orbit, giving the Earth a ring system. There is also the impact of what the Earth would be like without a Moon.
The Moon holds Earth in relative stability in space - providing the tilt which we currently experience. Without this stabilising influence our tilt would vary greatly, so we would have periods with no seasons, and other times when we had extreme long-lasting seasons, even ice ages.
The other big issue is - how exactly does the space dragon lay an egg the same size as the one it has just emerged from?

The guest cast is a small one - comprising only the three members of the shuttle crew. Lundvik is Hermione Norris, Henry is Phil Nice and Duke is Tony Osoba. The latter had featured in the series twice before - as the Movellan Lan in Destiny of the Daleks, and as Kracauer in Dragonfire
Norris was best known for her role in Spooks. Phil Nice had featured as a hiker in the opening episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day.
Ellis George once again portrays Courtney.
Overall, definitely a game of two halves - an excellent first half followed by a nonsensical second. Clara is particularly annoying here, and we all hoped that this signalled the beginning of her departure.
Things you might like to know:
  • With the lunar surface scenes filmed on Lanzarote, this episode was given the working title of "Return to Sarn" (Lanzarote having been the location for the Peter Davison story Planet of Fire, which was set on a volcanic planet called Sarn). However, this was simply a joke by the production team.
  • Harness was advised by Moffat to "Hinchcliffe" the story in its first half - a reference to the series during the producership of Philip Hinchcliffe, which was regarded as being a very scary era.
  • Thanks to this story, all of the earlier stories which prominently featured the Moon have actually been set on the new one - The Moonbase, The Seeds of Death, Frontier in Space etc.
  • The moral dilemma of balancing the life of a single creature against the fate of millions is actually a retread of an earlier story - The Beast Below. Both even feature the companion going it alone to take the final decision.
  • And as early as 2005's Aliens of London, the Doctor had signalled that there were times when he would step back and allow humans to decide their own fate.
  • The Ark in Space is referenced twice - with the use of a yo-yo to investigate local gravity, and the mention of a Bennett Oscillator, which Tom Baker named after the story's director, Rodney Bennett.
  • Much reduced in the finished programme was the notion that Courtney would go on to marry someone called Blinovitch - presumably the scientist responsible for the Blinovitch Limitation Theory, which was the get-out clause used by the 1970's production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks to explain why the Doctor, or anyone else, couldn't simply pop back in time when something went wrong and try again. It was first mentioned in Day of the Daleks.

On This Day... 27th April

The Wheel in Space got underway today in 1968. The opening seconds featured Victoria Waterfield on the beach as the TARDIS departed - earning Debbie Watling a credit for the episode. Wendy Padbury's Zoe would not appear until the following week.
The Monster of Peladon reached its conclusion with Part Six in 1974. Little did we know it then, but the Ice Warriors would not be back for a very long time.
In 2013, the Doctor and Clara embarked on a Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. They needn't have bothered, really.

A lot of birthdays to mention today, starting with Russell T Davies, who turns 59. He brought the series back in triumphant style in 2005, and we are all hoping he can salvage it in 2023.
Jenna Coleman, who played the aforementioned Clara, is 36.
Kevin McNally, who played Lt Lang in The Twin Dilemma, and was one of the better things about Flux as Professor Jericho, turns 66.
Joseph Millson, who was Maria's dad throughout the first season of The Sarah Jane Adventures, is 48.
In my recent post on the Marco Polo episode Five Hundred Eyes I mentioned Zohra Sehgal, who lived to be over 100. Today would have been her birthday. She passed away in 2014 at 102.
Someone else we lost whose birthday it would have been today is Glyn Jones - the first person to both write for the series as well as act in it. He died in 2014 at the age of 82.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

On This Day... 26th April

In the second episode of 1969's The War Games, it was starting to appear increasingly unlikely that the TARDIS had landed in the middle of the First World War. Not only had Jamie encountered a Redcoat soldier from 1745, but a trip through a fog bank would bring the Doctor and friends face to face with a contingent of Roman soldiers.
In 1975 the Cybermen invaded Nerva Beacon in the second instalment of Revenge of the Cybermen. A black helmeted Cyber Leader had featured in Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis, a novelisation of The Moonbase, but they had never been seen on the screen before this story.
In 2008, the Sontarans made their debut in the revived series in the first episode of a two part story. This was The Sontaran Stratagem. Christopher Ryan featured as the Sontaran commander. He had previously portrayed another alien back in 1986 - the Mentor Kiv in Trial of a Time Lord / Mindwarp.

The original Sontaran was Linx, played by Kevin Lindsay. He passed away on this date in 1975, aged only 51. Lindsay portrayed Field Major Styre in The Sontaran Experiment as well as Linx in The Time Warrior. In between he was seen in Planet of the Spiders as the Tibetan monk Cho-Je, who turned out to be a future projection of the Time Lord K'anpo.

Lindsay suffered from a heart condition, and sadly died within a short time of his last episode being broadcast.

Monday 25 April 2022

Inspirations - The Christmas Invasion

It's the first ever Christmas Special - as opposed to a normal run episode broadcast on 25th December, like The Feast of Steven - so the main inspirations here are many of the traditional Christmas trappings. 
Whilst these have happy connotations, associated with gift-giving and family get-togethers, Russell T Davies subverted them for the benefit of an action adventure story - finding ways of making them threatening. In this he was following in the footsteps of Robert Holmes, who had often subverted supposedly safe things to turn them into threats (most noticeably in Terror of the Autons).

As far as the secular Christmas goes, the main figure is Santa Claus. Many people wishing to raise money at this time of year dress up as him, as well as those giving out gifts to children in a variety of settings - from hospital wards to department stores. With a heavy hooded costume and big bushy white beard, the wearer is easily concealed, so it made a perfect disguise for one of this story's villains. These are the Roboforms, or Robot Santas. So disguised are they that we don't actually get to see what lurks underneath the beard and costume.
The Roboforms first appear as a brass band. Salvation Army brass bands are synonymous with Christmas, issuing well known Christmas Carol music.
However, these Santas have weapons disguised as instruments.
At one point they are described as "pilot fish". The naucrates ductor are small black and white striped fish which feed on the parasites which attach themselves to sharks, rays and sea turtles, as well as their leftovers. They get their name from the fact that it used to be thought that they led bigger fish towards sources of food.
In The Christmas Invasion, the Roboforms have come specifically for the Doctor's regeneration energy and the Sycorax are coming to attack anyway, so they aren't actually acting as "pilot fish" at all.

Santa is an amalgam of St Nicholas, Father Christmas and the Dutch Sinterklaas.
The name 'Santa Claus' is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, a 4th Century Greek bishop who was known for his gift giving. He was martyred and his relics are now split between Bari and Venice, and he is the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow.
Father Christmas derives from Tudor England, where he was a bearded figure in either red of green gown. It was as a man garbed in green that he was portrayed in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, translated as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He represented good cheer, feasting and revelry.
With the Reformed Church of England no longer celebrating saints' feast days, St Nicholas' Day on the 6th December was dropped, and Father Christmas was now associated with the 25th of the month.
The 6th December remained the day for gift giving in the Netherlands, however, where the Santa figure is known as Sinterklaas. He is often represented as a bishop figure, in orange robes.
The notion that the traditional Santa Claus we know today is an invention of the Coco-Cola company is not true. They did use the image heavily from the 1930's but another drinks company was already using the image 15 years earlier, and the white bearded, red suited Santa was already featuring in Edwardian images.
The main villains of this story - the Sycorax - also wear red velvet costumes, mirroring the Santa costume.

Another Christmas tradition which Davies includes is the Christmas Tree. The Roboforms plant - no pun intended - a killer remote control one in the Tyler flat.
It was Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, who popularised the Christmas Tree in England, it having been a popular tradition in his native Saxe-Coburg. The first known Royal Christmas Tree was that of the German Queen Charlotte in 1800.
They are supposed to be erected on the first day of Advent, and taken down on Twelfth Night.
In ancient times, people used to decorate their homes with a wreath of evergreens in mid-winter, as a symbol of eternal life, such as during the Saturnalia of the ancient Romans.
Whilst trees were often decorated with sweets and ribbons, it was Martin Luther who is said to have first added candles - the forebear of the Christmas Tree lights which can be a modern bane.

The Doctor defeats the Sycorax leader with a satsuma. It is traditional to include a small fruit such as a satsuma in a Christmas stocking. In this fight sequence the Doctor seems to suggest that Arthur Dent, the main protagonist of Douglas Adams' The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, exists as a real person in the Doctor Who world.
The notion that Time Lords continue to regenerate for 15 hours may have been included to help explain Romana's try-out of multiple bodies in Destiny of the Daleks, a sequence written by Adams.

The Sycorax are named after the mother of Caliban, from Shakespeare's The Tempest. The character does not appear in the play. Sycorax was a malignant witch who used to live on the island where Prospero dwells, but she died before he arrived. She was the mother of Caliban, and had been responsible for imprisoning Ariel in an oak tree. Prospero uses his own magic to free Ariel, and to enslave Caliban.
The first glimpse of the Sycorax at UNIT HQ shows four of them in a diamond shaped pose - imagery borrowed from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody video.
The modus operandi of the Sycorax is based on Voodoo, especially in the way they zombify people.
The look of their masks was based on the skulls of horses.

Beagle 2, the ill-fated British lander despatched to the surface of Mars, was the inspiration for the Guinevere probe - the equally doomed mission to Mars in this story. Both factual and fictional probes came a cropper at Christmas. Guinevere collides with the Sycorax spaceship, whilst Beagle 2 crash-landed on the Martian surface when its parachutes failed to deploy as planned.

Finally, Harriet Jones' destruction of the retreating Sycorax spaceship was inspired by the sinking of the Argentine warship General Belgrano during the Falklands conflict. It was torpedoed by a Royal Navy submarine whilst it was outside and moving away from the exclusion zone which the UK government had imposed around the islands.
"Torchwood" are said to have been the ones who fired the weapon - setting this organisation up as the story arc for Series 2.
Next time: New Doctor, New Earth, New New York...

On This Day... 25th April

William Hartnell was on holiday this week in 1964, so the Doctor was absent from the third instalment of The Keys of Marinus - The Screaming Jungle. This was the first time that one of the leads had been on leave. The Doctor had decided to go on ahead in the previous episode, allowing the star a two week break.
His co-stars would each get a fortnight's break over the course of the following three stories.
The Ambassadors of Death moved on to its penultimate episode today in 1970.

Today's birthdays include Jonathan Bailey (Psi in Time Heist - 34), Cyril Nri (The Sarah Jane Adventures and Class - 61), and John Ogden (Bostock in Revelation of the Daleks - 78).
We also remember actor George Couloris, who appeared in the opening episode of The Keys of Marinus in the role of Arbitan. One of the stars of Citizen Kane, he passed away on this day in 1989 aged 85.

Sunday 24 April 2022

On This Day... 24th April

Today in 1965 the Doctor and his companions found themselves in The Space Museum the first episode of the story of the same name. One of the exhibits they came across was a Dalek - and another was themselves!
The third instalment of Colony in Space made its debut in 1971.
2010 saw the return of the Weeping Angels, en masse this time, in The Time of the Angels, which also featured the first of many returns for River Song.

Today we remember composer Tristram Cary, who provided the music for The Daleks, Marco Polo, The Rescue, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Ark, Power of the Daleks and The Mutants. He was also responsible for the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon in The Gunfighters. Director Christopher Barry liked to reuse some of his work from The Daleks in his later stories. Cary was originally approached to provide the series' theme music by Rex Tucker during his time as acting producer.
He passed away in 2008, aged 82.

Saturday 23 April 2022

Episode 16: Five Hundred Eyes

Alone at the oasis, Tegana mocks his fellow travellers as he pours water into the sand - knowing that they will be dying of thirst...
The Doctor has been allowed to rest in the TARDIS, accompanied by Susan. He is awakened by water dripping onto his face. He fills a jug and takes it outside to show to the others. At first Marco is furious - believing that the Doctor has been secretly hoarding water in the ship. Ian and the the Doctor have to explain to him that it derives from condensation - moisture forming on the walls and ceiling of the ship as it cools down overnight, after the great heat of the day. Marco's anger subsides as he recalls having seen this before.
With the extra water supplies, the caravan proceeds to the oasis.
Tegana tells them that he came across bandits at the oasis last night, which is why he could not return with water for them.
They decide to spend the night here before moving on the next morning. The Doctor had been hoping for a period of at least a week to repair the 2LO circuit. He has managed to make a spare key, however.
Ian and Barbara are suspicious of Tegana's tale of bandits, as there is no sign of their fires. The desert is freezing at night, so surely they would have built fires? Marco dismisses their suspicions.
The next day they set off for Tun-Huang, famous for its many temples and for the Cave of 500 Eyes. Ping-Cho has a story about this place, where there are painted masks of 250 evil men who dwelt there. These were the Hashashins, so called because of their use of hashish according to Marco. Ian believes this is where the word "assassins" comes from.
At the Cave, Tegana has a secret rendezvous with a couple of warriors who have come from Noghai - Malik and Acomat. He learns that their master has formed an army and is on the march to Karakorum. Tegana tells them of the magical caravan which he plans to steal from Marco and the Doctor.
Barbara has followed him and he captures her and ties her up, leaving Malik and Acomat to guard her.
When her absence is discovered, the Doctor and Susan ask Chenchu - the way-station manager - for directions to the Cave, suspecting that the history teacher may have gone there. He warns that the place is haunted by the spirits of the Hashashins.
After they have gone, Tegana questions Chenchu and learns that he has told them of the Cave.
The Doctor and Susan explore the tunnels and find evidence that Barbara has been there - her dropped handkerchief.
Susan suddenly screams as she sees the eyes of one of the painted faces move...
Next episode: The Wall of Lies.

Written by: John Lucarotti
Recorded: Friday 14th February, 1964 - Lime Grove Studio D
First broadcast: 5:15pm, Saturday 7th March, 1964
Ratings: 9.4 million / AI 62
Designer: Barry Newbery
Director: Waris Hussein
Additional cast: Philip Voss (Acomat), Jimmy Gardner (Chenchu), Charles Wade (Malik).

The highlight of this episode is the lengthy scene wherein Ping-Cho recites the story of Ala-eddin and Hulagu. The popular Christmas pantomime of Aladdin has the title character a young man -a heroic figure - but the version told here is of a wily old man of the mountains. The full recital is included below.
Surprisingly, this recital was going to be cut by Waris Hussein, and Zienia Merton had to argue strenuously for it to be kept in.
We learn about the possible origins of the "assassins", deriving from their use of hashish. "Hashashin" does refer to a user of hashish in the Arab world, and a religious sect who used hashish to create visions later set out to assassinate the leaders of the European Crusades.
Mention of real life illegal drugs in a family show would never have been allowed just a few years later. Opium is referenced in 1976's The Talons of Weng-Chiang - a story which refers back to Marco Polo as the Doctor tries to recall his previous visits to China.

It ought to be remembered that in its earliest days Doctor Who had an educational remit. There was a reason why the two human companions were teachers - one of history and the other of science. The historical stories were supposed to inform children of the facts of these time periods, and the sci-fi stories were supposed to include references to genuine chemistry, physics or biology. According to Sydney Newman, even the more odd-ball "sideways" stories would have an educational element, as the TARDIS crew encountered different states of matter - being miniaturised, made invisible etc.
This episode also has the Doctor and Ian explaining all about condensation and how it can form, so this week we are getting lessons in science, history and etymology.

Merton was extremely nervous about her recital, but nailed it on the first attempt, and the applause from her fellow cast members was genuine. She was coached in her performance by Indian actor and dancer Zohra Segal, who was featuring in the episode as a background artist.
To make life easier for himself, designer Barry Newbery had the set for the Tun-Huang way-station simply the one seen at Lop last week, redressed.

  • Both Philip Voss and Jimmy Gardner will return to the programme later - Voss playing Cully's friend Wahed in The Dominators, and Gardner playing Idmon in Underworld.
  • Zohra Segal returned in The Crusade. She is one of a very small number of Doctor Who actors who lived to be 100 or more.
  • Ping-Cho's recital goes as follows:
Gracious maidens, gentle lords
Pray attend me while I tell my tale
Of Ala-eddin, the Old Man of the Mountain
Who by devious schemes, evil designs
And foul murders ruled the land.
No host of arms, no vast array
Of banners served this wicked lord.
They were but few - ruthless, reckless men
Who obeyed his cruel commands.
Thus did he persuade them

Promising paradise, he gave his followers
A potent draught and whilst they slept
Transported them to a vale where
Streams of milk and honey, wine and water, flowed.
Here were gardens and flowers of every hue

And essence. Here, too Golden pavilions outshone the sun
And even the stars of heaven envied
The bejewelled interiors strewn with incomparable silks, tapestries,
And treasures.
Hand-maidens, dulcet-voiced

Soft of face, attended them, and thus bemused
Did they dwell in this man-made paradise
Until Ala-eddin intent upon some evil deed
Proffered again the hashish draught
And brought them sleeping to his castle

What lord, are we cast out of paradise
Awakening, they cried.
Not so, Go abroad, seek out my enemies
And strike them down.
But care not for your lives.

Paradise is eternal.
So terror stalked the land for many years.
Then one day, came mighty Hulagu To stand before Ala-eddin's lair
For three long years in siege
And thus fell Ala-eddin and his men.
Now honest hands reap harvests of life
From the soil where death and evil Reigned.
And those who journey
Through the vale are heard to say
Tis truly paradise today.

  • On the Thursday following the broadcast of this episode (12th March) it was announced that Carole Ann Ford would be leaving the series in October when her current contract expired. The reason given was fear of typecasting, especially whilst playing a character much younger than herself (she was 23 and a mother). Privately, she was unhappy that Susan was not being developed in the way that she had been promised.
  • The next day, it was officially confirmed that there was to be a second Dalek story later in the year.
  • On a personal note, Five Hundred Eyes was the first episode to be broadcast after I was born.

On This Day... 23rd April

St George's Day in England, and both the supposed birth and death dates of William Shakespeare.
(The painter Raphael also died on his birthday, as did Hollywood film star Ingrid Bergman. In the world of Doctor Who, Ian Marter passed away on his birthday).
In 1966, it was the fourth and final instalment of The Celestial Toymaker, as Steven and Dodo faced The Final Test. This is the only remaining episode of this story in the archives.
2005 saw the concluding half of the Slitheen story make its debut - World War Three.
Series 6 launched today in 2011 with The Impossible Astronaut. CBBC showed a tribute to Lis Sladen - My Sarah Jane - on the same day.
Finally, in 2016 viewers got to see Bill Potts for the first time in a short item called Friend from the Future. This was recorded at the same time as The Pilot, using the set from Dalek section from that episode.

Today we remember another William who passed away on this date. We generally refer to William Hartnell as the First Doctor, but he really ought to be simply 'The Doctor', with everyone else since numbered after him. (He will always be the first Doctor, no matter what Chris Chibnall says).
Hartnell was keen to get out of "hard man" parts, like villains and army sergeants in 1963, which is why he elected to take on what he considered to be a role aimed at children. His first love was comedy and he made many cheap comedy quickies before getting typecast in the parts he wanted to get away from.
Only 55 when he took on the role of the Doctor, he looked older, and would act older when he wasn't getting his own way with producers and directors. 
He suffered from a hardening of the arteries which resulted in his sometimes erratic performance - especially remembering lines - and he took out his frustrations on others. His second producer John Wiles attempted to get rid of him - such as in the story mentioned at the top of this post, but Hartnell managed to cling on and outlive him. The next producer, however, guided him out of the TARDIS. 
Due to his ill health, he worked very little after 1966, but did manage to come back - albeit in a limited way - for the 10th Anniversary season story The Three Doctors. This proved to be his last acting work.
The 50th Anniversary drama An Adventure in Space and Time was as much a Hartnell biography as it was the story of the early years of the programme.
William Hartnell passed away on 23rd April 1975, at the age of 67.

Friday 22 April 2022

What's Wrong With... Terror of the Autons

This story is a sequel to Spearhead From Space, which was shown the year before. Despite being produced only a short time later, and written by the same writer (Robert Holmes) there are elements of this new story which don't quite match up with the earlier one.
In Spearhead, there is no indication of any Nestene sphere being unaccounted for. The only one missing is the one that poacher Sam Seeley has found, which the Autons eventually track down. Yet in this story there is an intact sphere that was somehow missed. 
The Autons in the first story could not, or would not, speak, but they can and do here.
The Nestene only needed the Autons in the first story to get their invasion plans up and running, so why not do the same again? Why do they need the Master?
And why does the Master need the radio telescope, when the Autons didn't need anything like this the first time?

Despite everything that happened in Spearhead, why on Earth would the Brigadier allow an intact Nestene sphere to go on show at a museum? How did the museum even know about it, if UNIT and its activities are supposed to be top secret?
Despite the Autons' previous use of a plastics factory, UNIT take rather a long time to start investigating them here. When it becomes clear that Jo must have encountered the Master at one of the ones on her list, why does it take the two suspicious deaths to attract the Doctor's attention to Farrell's? Surely Jo's list couldn't have been all that big?

Why does the Master go to the circus? It is a colourful plot location for the first two episodes, but is then discarded once the action moves on. Why did the Master not just go straight to the plastics factory and start making Autons there immediately? The kidnapped scientist, Phillips, could have been hidden there just as easily (if not better - as there are Autons there). And why kidnap the Phillips in the first place? 
He serves no purpose, other than to actually become unstable and put the Master's plan at risk.
The Master's TARDIS is not very well protected, and the Doctor is given ample time to get inside and steal the dematerialisation circuit.
Mind you, the Doctor leaves his TARDIS door open all the time, so why doesn't the Master do some sabotaging of his own when he breaks into UNIT HQ?

The sequences at the radio telescope cabin in Part One throw up all sorts of issues.
It's a great pity that we never got to see the scene of the Master and Phillips having to clamber out of the radio telescope cabin window - as that's the only way they could have got out after the Master had set up his trap.
Why have the trap in plain view of the window? And why on Earth doesn't the Doctor check through the window, rather than blindly edging the door open as he does? He doesn't bother to warn the Brigadier, Jo, Mike Yates etc. and get them out of the area before he tackles the bomb.
UNIT have been called in because two scientists have gone missing, yet no-one has bothered to check the cabin - where the two men work. If they had checked it, then did the Master pop back again afterwards to set up his bomb trap?
The Master's bomb would have made a right old mess of the radio telescope had the Doctor failed to prevent it falling. 
That's the radio telescope which is vital to the Master's plans.

The civil servant Brownrose comes to UNIT to tell them about lots of unexplained deaths in the region. Did every single one of these people really die on their own, with not one witness to see them collapse seconds after holding a plastic daffodil? Surely the flowers would have been dropped on the floor as the person dies - giving a clue to the authorities that they were involved, if every corpse had a daffodil next to it?
A fluff between Pertwee and Richard Franklin - when Yates says he had "gone to fetch some cocoa", the Doctor responds "fetch a tin of what?". No-one mentioned a tin of anything.
Director Barry Letts is happy for us to see the troll doll being blasted to bits by a handgun - but can't bear to let us see a solid rubber toy being cut open. He later stated that there were complaints from parents about their children being afraid to take their teddy bears to bed at night in case they came to life and throttled them.

Just what was the Master's plan here? Did he want to see the Earth destroyed by the Nestene, or did he want to conquer it for himself? If the Nestene were going to destroy the planet, why did he continue to co-operate with them when he knew that he no longer had his dematerialisation circuit - and so would be stuck here as well? He has lots of opportunities to get his circuit back, but fails to take any of them.
Why did he not just allow the RAF to bomb the coach? He would have got rid of the Doctor and sacrificed only a handful of Autons, whilst he could have sneaked off to the radio telescope - a location UNIT haven't thought of until the Doctor warns them.
And did it really take the Doctor to point out to him that the Nestene might not want to treat him any differently to anyone else on the planet? When the Doctor does this, he switches sides amazingly quickly. There is not even the slightest hint of an argument about this. 
At the conclusion, the Doctor grins as he says he's looking forward to his next meeting with the Master - despite the fact that hundreds of people have just been killed.
(Barry Letts' boss objected to the original line: "Until I kill him, or he kills me..." as being too much of a downer).

Behind the scenes, a single location shoot was the cause of many problems. Nicholas Courtney suffered a panic attack and could not film, so an extra took his place. You can spot him as he is wearing white socks, which the Brigadier would absolutely never do. Then the stunt involving Terry Walsh's Auton policeman went slightly awry, and he tumbled down the slope far further than intended after making contact with the car. On the same day, Katy Manning injured her leg tripping over some rocks (she was as blind as a bat without her spectacles). Production Assistant Nick John, brother of recently departed companion actress Caroline John, joked that as she had only just joined the production she could be easily replaced - something which upset Manning, and Jon Pertwee in turn.
The Auton policeman caused a complaint from the police, arguing that youngsters were being encouraged to approach officers if in trouble - not be put off by them in case they were Autons.

His first chance to direct a story now that it's in colour and he's in charge, Barry Letts is over-zealous in his use of CSO. The backgrounds to the museum, Auton laboratory, and Mrs Farrell's kitchen are obviously photographic - the latter looking the size of  a barn.
When Robert Holmes later went up for the Script Editor job on Doctor Who, he was told by Head of Serials that some idiot had once written a story which generated lots of complaints from parents and police, and he should try and avoid this sort of thing. He elected to keep quiet about his involvement...

On This Day... 22nd April

Today in 1967 the third instalment of The Faceless Ones made its debut.
The Mutants was also on its third episode in 1972.
In 2006 Series 2 gave us a wonderful werewolf in Tooth and Claw. The Harry Potter movie franchise also delivered a wolfman around the same time - and everyone agreed that the Doctor Who one was far superior, despite the money Warner Brothers threw at theirs.
In 2017 Smile saw the Doctor take Bill to a colony world inhabited by robots that killed you if you weren't happy. Well-intentioned AI's that harmed people whilst trying to help them were becoming a bit ten-a-penny in the series by this time, what with the Siren, the Handbots etc. 

Today we wish actor Denis Lill a happy 80th birthday. Best known for his recurring role as Rodney's father-in-law in Only Fools and Horses, he appeared in two Doctor Who stories - as Prof. Fendelman in Image of the Fendahl, and as Sir George Hutchinson in The Awakening. Much of his career was spent in stage adaptations of Agatha Christie stories.
He shares his birthday with Michelle Ryan, who played one-off companion Lady Christina in Planet of the Dead. She is 38 today.

Thursday 21 April 2022

On This Day... 21st April

Just two Dalek stories debuted today - one in the classic era and another in the revival.
1973 saw the third episode of Planet of the Daleks. This is the one that is missing from the archives in its original colour form, but has since been colourised for its DVD outing (and improved upon for its inclusion on the Blu-ray box set of Season 10).
In 2008 the emergency temporal shift by Cult of Skaro at the conclusion of Doomsday was seen to have taken them back in time to 1931 New York City - to Manhattan's Empire State Building to be exact. Daleks in Manhattan introduced a new servant race for the Daleks - half human pig slaves.

Today we remember actor and stuntman Terry Walsh, who died on this date in 2002, aged 62. 
Walsh joined Derek Ware's HAVOC stunt team and was first seen in Doctor Who in the big fight sequence between UNIT and General Carrington's heavies in The Ambassadors of Death.
He remained with the show right through the 1970's, doubling for both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker (sometimes noticeably). A TV pantomime in 1974 actually saw him play the Doctor, with dance troupe Pan's People as his companions. 
In Season 9, HAVOC were stood down and Walsh took over with his short-lived PROFILE team. It gets its only credit on The Curse of Peladon. Thereafter, the series used individual fight arrangers for each story - and this was often Walsh. He occasionally got a speaking role - especially if the character was expected to fall over at some point. Indeed, you could tell that something nasty was going to happen to someone if he was played by Terry.
Some notable appearances include the security guard in The Green Death (above), Zake in The Sontaran Experiment and Mensch in The Power of Kroll.
His last appearance was in a credited role, that of engineer Doran in The Creature from the Pit - where he gets thrown down the titular pit...

We also remember designer David Myerscough-Jones, who worked on three Doctor Who stories - The Web of Fear, The Ambassadors of Death, and Day of the Daleks. He was the person responsible for the remarkable London Underground tunnel and station sets - so realistic that LU thought that the BBC had sneaked in and filmed without permission. He passed away on this date in 2010, aged 75.

Wednesday 20 April 2022

K is for... Keillor

A member of the Navarino race who acted as a bounty hunter. One of the Navarino "1950's Club", he was participating in a trip to Earth in that era when he learned that a member of the Chimeron race was also present on board their spacecraft, which was disguised as a period coach. The Navarino themselves had used a transformation arch to make themselves look suitably human.
Keillor discovered that Gavrok, leader of the brutal Bannermen, was willing to pay a huge bounty for the head of the Chimeron - a young woman named Delta. 
A mishap caused the Navarino ship to miss Disneyland in the USA and they ended up instead in rural Wales at the 'Shangri-La' holiday camp.
Keillor contacted Gavrok who was in orbit above the area, giving him Delta's whereabouts. Rather than pay up, Gavrok instead sent a destructive energy pulse along Keillor's radio wavelength, hoping to destroy Delta if she was near the bounty hunter. She wasn't and only Keillor was vapourised. Nothing remained of him except his blue suede shoes.

Played by: Brian Hibbard. Appearances: Delta and the Bannermen (1987).
  • Hibbard was best known as a singer with the a capella group The Flying Pickets. This was one of his first acting roles, and he went on to become a regular of Coronation Street.