Sunday 30 October 2022

Episode 43: Planet of Giants

  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Story Editor: David Whitaker (Planet of Giants to The Dalek Invasion of Earth), Dennis Spooner (The Rescue to The Chase), Donald Tosh (The Time Meddler).
  • Regular cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor); William Russell (Ian Chesterton in Planet of Giants to The Chase); Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright in Planet of Giants to The Chase), Carole Ann Ford (Susan in Planet of Giants to The Dalek Invasion of Earth); Maureen O'Brien (Vicki in The Rescue to The Time Meddler); Peter Purves (Steven Taylor in The Chase to The Time Meddler).
The Doctor and his companions are travelling in the TARDIS when Barbara burns her hand on the console. Something is over-heating. Before the Doctor can react, the doors suddenly open by themselves and an alarm sounds. As the Doctor attempts to remedy the situation the others force the doors shut. The TARDIS then appears to make a normal landing.
The Doctor and Susan explain that take-off and landing are the most dangerous times for anything to go wrong. When he turns on the scanner to see where they have materialised, the Doctor is shocked to see the screen blow out.
They go outside to explore and find themselves in a labyrinth of rock cut passages. The rock itself seems odd, made up of material like concrete. They decide to split up - the Doctor and Barbara going one way, and Ian and Susan the other.
The Doctor and Barbara come across a huge snake-like creature. Fortunately it is lifeless, but the Doctor points out it is not a snake. Rather, it is a giant earthworm. A dead bumble bee then falls at their feet. Ian and Susan come across large eggs, which belong to giant ants. These too are dead. 
They then come upon a huge matchbox and what looks like a poster - but is really a seed packet. The address on this is in England. They are on Earth. Ian thinks it might be some sort of fun-fair, but Susan is sure they have been shrunk to only an inch or so tall. The Doctor has come to the same conclusion.
They are amongst the paving stones of an English country cottage garden. It is the home of a scientist named Smithers, who has developed an insecticide named DN6.
A civil servant named Farrow is in the garden - come to let Smithers and his business partner Forester know that he has completed a report for the government. He intends to reject full-scale production as DN6 attacks all insect life - even that which is essential to agriculture. Not only that, it does not break down in the soil, but retains its potency for many years and could build up in the food chain.
When Farrow approaches the area where the TARDIS crew are, to pick up his match box, the miniaturised travellers are forced to scatter. Ian hides in the box and is carried away. The others are forced to set off to find him.
Forester has invested heavily in DN6. Farrow lets slip that he has come here on his way to the coast where he has a boat waiting. He is about to go on a sailing holiday across the Channel. When it becomes clear that the official won't change his mind and cannot be bribed, Forester pulls out a gun and shoots him dead.
Ian is reunited with the others and shows them the body. They realise that they cannot rely on the people in this house to help them, as one of them is a murderer.
As they wonder what to do next, everyone freezes in terror as they see the giant form of a cat watching them...
Next episode: Dangerous Journey

Written by: Louis Marks
Recorded: Friday 21st August 1964 - Television Centre Studio TC4
First broadcast: 5:15pm, Saturday 31st October 1964
Ratings: 8.4 million / AI 57
Designer: Raymond P Cusick
Director: Mervyn Pinfield
Guest cast: Alan Tilvern (Forester), Reginald Barratt (Smithers), Frank Crawshaw (Farrow)

The second season of Doctor Who gets underway in relatively low key fashion. The decision where to stop and take a break was always an arbitrary one. For a time they were going to break after The Sensorites. The production team recognised that this story was a weak start, and the BBC would have liked to launch with the forthcoming Dalek sequel. The problem with this was that the regular cast was about to undergo a major change, and so the running order could not be changed. As it was, whilst Planet of Giants wasn't under threat of being junked altogether, it did have part of its run scrapped, as we'll see when we get to Episode 3.

The story has a long history, in that a variant of it was supposed to have launched the series back in the Autumn of 1963.
CE 'Bunny' Webber had been tasked by Donald Wilson with writing the first story, the opening episode of which is known as "Nothing At The End Of The Lane". There are two overall story titles usually attributed to it - "The Giants" and "The Miniscules". Following a set-up similar to An Unearthly Child, the TARDIS would have landed in a classroom at Coal Hill School - Ian's science lab. The ship and its occupants would have become miniaturised, leading into an adventure in which they would have to traverse the lab to get back to the safety of the ship. Amongst the hazards would have been the threat of being stepped on by a teacher and their pupils, a particular pupil capturing one of them and putting them in a matchbox, and "giant" spiders and caterpillars. The travellers would have used a microscope to get a message to a teacher in order to help them. A device in the TARDIS - a micro-reducer - would have been the cause of this predicament. (This makes more sense than the "space pressure" cited in this episode).
Sydney Newman scotched the idea, thinking it lacked incident and concerned about the insects taking the series into BEM territory (Bug Eyed Monster). Additionally there were the on-going concerns about the technical facilities at Lime Grove Studios where the series was to launch.

The story was set aside for a while and then resurrected by the writer Robert Gould. This was intended as a potential fourth story for Season 1. Along with Malcolm Hulke's "Hidden Planet" idea, this was deferred again soon after due to scripting problems. Gould went on to propose a hostile vegetation plotline, and was upset to hear that this would be included in The Keys of Marinus after it was rejected by David Whitaker. The script editor had to prove that he and Terry Nation had come up with the idea behind The Screaming Jungle in isolation from Gould.
The series had as part of its basic set-up the idea that there would be adventures in space, in time and in 'strange states of matter' - the latter sometimes also referred to as "sideways" stories. Verity Lambert liked the idea of the miniaturised TARDIS and its crew and so persevered with it. It was only with a move away from Lime Grove that the idea could be made reality. The third writer to tackle it was Louis Marks. His background had actually been an academic one - he was a doctor of philosophy and a bit of an expert in Renaissance economics - but had developed a successful TV writing career, including soap operas. Whitaker knew him through the Writers' Guild.

Marks' main inspiration was the 1962 book Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. This collection of New Yorker articles warned of the dangers of unrestricted use of pesticides and other chemicals in farming. The spraying of DDT in the 1950's had led to the destruction of bee populations. The chemical entered the food chain, leading to toxic worms which then killed the birds which fed on them. Cats were also susceptible to it, digesting it when they groomed themselves. Planet of Giants' DN6 is pretty much based on DDT. Marks elected to use this ecological threat to flesh out the miniscules one.

Because of the technical complexities of this story it was given to Mervyn Pinfield to direct. He would cover the first three episodes, then Douglas Camfield would be given an episode to test him out.
A week of filming got underway at Ealing on Thursday 23rd July for the various VFX shots for all four episodes. The exploding TARDIS scanner was simply video of a smashing screen that could be played in to the studio session on the night.
This filming included all the shots of the cat as well, as it would be almost impossible to wrangle it in a cramped TV studio setting with limited time. The regular cast members were only needed on Thursday 30th July - or so it was thought. The shots of the cast standing in front of photographic blow-ups (the dead Farrow, a rack of test tubes and a telephone) were deemed unsuitable for broadcast, and so a remount was required for Thursday 13th August.
The giant earthworm and bumble bee were made for this episode by Shawcraft Models of Uxbridge, but the giant ant encountered by Susan and Ian, used prominently in publicity photographs, derived from an earlier production. It was made by Derek Freeborn, who had provided VFX on the Pathfinders sci-fi serials and puppet show Space Patrol.
We see the upper storey of Smithers' cottage in a long shot, as the travellers observe Farrow sitting in the garden. This was a rare use of a glass matte shot - at least rare for Doctor Who at this stage in its history.

Significantly, this is the first story to have Dudley Simpson as its composer. He would go on to become the series' "court composer" during what many regard as its golden age. Born in 1922, he moved to London to work with the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet, conducting at Covent Garden and touring with Margot Fonteyn. He began working with the BBC in 1961. He composed incidental music for 62 Doctor Who stories (63 if you count the work he did on the unbroadcast Shada), as well as the themes for Moonbase 3, The Tomorrow People and Blake's 7.

  • For its second season, Doctor Who moved back to its old regular start time of 5:15pm.
  • The ratings were a big improvement on the closing episodes of the first season, which had gone out during the hot summer months. Both audience numbers and the appreciation index were up.
  • Despite this story taking place after a season break, it is suggested that this takes place immediately after the visit to Revolutionary France as the Doctor is still wearing his cloak from that story. The reason for this is actually to serve the VFX scenes where the tiny travellers stand in front of photographic blow-ups (see above). It was essential to wear light coloured clothing for the effect to work. Had he worn his usual black coat this would have been rendered invisible on screen.
  • The draft script made it explicit that this followed The Reign of Terror as the Doctor mentioned them just having left 18th Century France.
  • The draft script also had the Doctor state that he had never visited Africa or Australia.
  • No date is ever given for this story, but it is generally assumed to be around the date of broadcast, making it the first contemporary Earth story since An Unearthly Child. However, as the Doctor had been trying to get the teachers home when the TARDIS went wrong, it may actually be 1963.
  • Being the start of a new season, Radio Times elected to give its readers a summary of the story so far, with information and images from Season 1 alongside details of this first episode of a new story.

Friday 28 October 2022

The Chibnall Era - One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

The Power of the Doctor has aired. Chris Chibnall has stepped down as showrunner, and Jodie Whittaker is now an ex-Doctor. We can now look at the Chibnall era in its entirety and examine its highs and its lows. There were a few of the former, but - in my opinion - far more of the latter.
This isn't going to be a hatchet job. If there's something I disliked, I'll make sure to say why. I'll also say what I think Chibnall got right.
But before we look at the 13th Doctor's introduction, we ought to place the era in the context of Chibnall's previous contributions to the series. After all, he wasn't just parachuted in from nowhere.
Did his earlier work inspire confidence in his elevation to showrunner status?

Famously, Chibnall had been a member of a DWAS local group and had appeared on TV slagging off the Trial of a Time Lord season. His TV career took off with the cosy nostalgia drama Born and Bred, about two generations of country doctors. He then contributed to Life on Mars. In 2005 he was developing a series about the magician Merlin. His ideas were not taken up, and the series Merlin which was produced had nothing to do with him. He did eventually get to cover the Arthurian story with Camelot, which ran for just one season. He claimed to have been too busy for a second series. 
His first brush with Doctor Who was on the first series of Torchwood, on which he was made head writer and co-producer.
The first series was a very hit and miss affair. It attempted to link itself with the parent programme with the episode Cyberwoman, which Chibnall wrote himself. It was not widely liked. The series featured a Captain Jack who bore little similarity to the witty charmer of Doctor Who. The supporting characters were unlikeable. Even Gwen Cooper - our identification figure - cheated on her loveable boyfriend with the often unpleasant Owen. The stories were for the most part derivative of other things.
The second series was much better - and it had a lot less input from Chibnall. He wrote the opener and the final two-parter, and was no longer producer.
Chibnall went on to write for Doctor Who under RTD and Steven Moffat, mainly for the first half of Series 7. The problem with these episodes is that we don't always know how much was Chibnall and how much was the showrunners. Ideas such as that for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship were handed down by the showrunner, and we know that both RTD and Moffat rewrote other's material, sometimes heavily.
Beyond Doctor Who, Chibnall's big hit was Broadchurch. This whodunnit was hugely derivative. All Chibnall had to do was have a murder, then populate the plot with lots of people who all had means, motive and opportunity. You could have prolonged it for months just by adding new suspects.
The first series was popular, but the second was laughable. It was based around the trial of the killer from the first series, and bore no relation to any British court proceedings. At one point we see the victim's mother turning up at court just a couple of hours after giving birth. She was played by Jodie Whittaker, who featured in all three series. Chibnall had either done no homework - creating a courtroom drama based on ignorance of court procedures, or he had researched and simply ignored it all. The third series concentrated mainly on a new crime, but again simply followed the same structure as series 1 of filling the plot with suspects.

When Moffat announced he was standing down, there were two names fans thought might replace him. The obvious one was Mark Gatiss, who had worked so closely with Moffat on Doctor Who and on Sherlock. The problem with him was his lack of showrunning experience, his busy acting schedule, and the fact that some of his stories were right old duds. The other name bandied about was Toby Whithouse. He had real showrunner experience (Being Human), only very rarely acted, and had a much better hit rate when it came to stories.
The person chosen, however, was Chibnall - showrunner on the worst Torchwood season (until Miracle Day) or crime dramas, with only a handful of middling Doctor Who stories under his belt.
There were warnings signs right from the start. Chibnall was given lots of notice, yet failed to deliver a script for that year's Christmas Special. Moffat was forced to junk the ending to The Doctor Falls and come up with a hurried festive replacement - Twice Upon A Time - for fear of losing the prime Christmas night slot.
The debut of the 13th Doctor would have to wait until the Spring, but we then learned that that Doctor was to be the series' first female one. This was an overdue development, now that Moffat had paved the way with the female Master (Missy) and the male Time Lord General regenerating into a female incarnation. So Chibnall's biggest innovation wasn't all that original, other than it was now the main character who was changing gender.

Series 11 got underway with a good episode - that's 'good' rather than 'great'. We had been promised 50 minute episodes, and had been told about all sorts of technical changes re: camera lenses etc. All very well, but it was the stories which fans were most interested in. The first series was lacklustre in content but looked nice.
Chibnall decided to give the new Doctor three companions - arguing that the original TARDIS crew had comprised four people, and so had Peter Davison's first season. What Chibnall had completely ignored was the fact that back then we had the series on more than 40 weeks of the year in the Hartnell days, and the phrase "overcrowded TARDIS" had always been used to describe Davison's first year. There are simply far too many people in the Whittaker TARDIS for the plot to sustain. Add to this Chibnall's insistence on giving the Doctor temporary episode-based helpers on top and you have full-time companions being left with very little to do. Only Bradley Walsh's Graham stood out, thanks to his comedic role. Ryan was under-utilised throughout. It was a good thing to give him a disability, but the writers then conveniently ignored it most of the time. The worst character was Yaz, who was universally thought redundant to the series and not particularly well played.
Chibnall was also flagging up his insistence on diversity on screen by having one white companion, one black companion and one Asian companion. A bit of a stretch. The first episode ended with a trailer for forthcoming stories. We wanted to see action and monsters, but instead were given a list of guest actors who would be appearing. The unfortunate impression given was that Chibnall was saying: "Just look at all the minority actors I've employed"...
The whole "Fam" thing is particularly annoying. The Doctor has never regarded their companions as a family. Family members don't walk out after one or two series and be replaced by other equally short-lived members.

There had been very little publicity for the series, with the BBC actively stamping down on "spoilers". The ironic thing about this was the fact that the series was entirely lacking in anything worth spoiling. Chibnall elected to have no links to the past in his first series. No returning monsters or characters.
The opener was not bad, and got very good ratings. At the time I pointed out that these would probably be very high as people would have been curious about the programme's first ever female Doctor. I wrote in the review that it would be the ratings for episodes four or five which would be the indicative ones. This proved to be correct. The first lot of ratings were artificially inflated - casing the drop to the on-going figures to be a noticeably steep one. Trumpeting the opening ratings proved to be a big mistake - drawing attention to the following slump.
The Woman Who Fell to Earth had just short of 11 million viewers, whilst Legend of the Sea Devils had around 3.5 million. There were no peaks in the interim.
Two stories were regarded as highlights - recent history episodes which dealt with race / religion issues. These were Rosa and Demons of the Punjab. Both were written by people other than Chibnall. In the case of Rosa, we had a very weak, badly conceived villain, and a situation where the Doctor could not possibly influence any of the events depicted. You can't have a white woman being in any way instrumental in the actions of a black woman. As for Demons, the Doctor and companions might as well never have bothered to turn up. Both stories are simply not good Doctor Who.
Chibnall's own contributions to the series are the weakest of the lot, taking up the bottom half of most series polls. My own personal hated episode is the P'ting one, which is atrociously written. The only decent character gets killed half way in, and we are left with a bunch of underdeveloped ones. The thrilling exit from the dangerous region of space is depicted by watching a woman waving her hands about in a white room. No external CGI shot. It's one of the biggest problems of Chibnall's tenure - his failure to grasp "Show - don't tell". The Ghost Monument is a perfect example of this. We are told about all the hazards of this planet, but don't ever get to see any of them. 
This episode introduces the new TARDIS interior - the worst design since 2005.
The giant spider story ought to have been a big hit, but it was saddled with a heavy-handed Donald Trump caricature. The Doctor, who has professed to be a pacifist (a thoroughly stupid idea in an action-adventure series) kills the spiders by locking them in a room to suffocate to death, if they don't eat each other first, and she then stands around and watches the big spider slowly die. The supposed villain of the piece puts it out of its misery whilst she just stands there.
Kerblam! - another popular episode - basically sees the Doctor side with a big faceless corporation, making the man who is fighting to win work for people the villain. It's supporting Amazon over the workers struggling to form a union, to protect themselves from exploitation.

Series 11 limped to its conclusion with The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. It opens with the battle already finished - and that's the Chibnall era in a nutshell right there. It's not worthy of being a series finale, and most of us regard the following New Year Special as the proper finale to the first year.
The New Year Specials are, for the most part, Chibnall's better instalments. The only problem I have is the overuse of the Daleks. Every one is a Dalek story. There is also a considerable amount of padding in these episodes. Ryan's reconciliation with his father really kills the momentum. In Revolution of the Daleks we have a lengthy set-up with a character who is about to get killed and play no further part in proceedings.
If Series 11 had been seen a weak, it was then followed by an entire year off. The impression given was that Chibnall needed the time to write more episodes. This failure to capitalise on the first series had a knock-on effect in the ratings. They had been dropping steadily since the first instalment, and those who left decided not to come back after such a long gap.

Series 12 went the opposite way to Series 11, in that it embraced characters from the past. It very quickly delivered a regenerated Master, only 12 episodes after Missy. The casting of Sacha Dhawan is another of the positives of the Chibnall era. A good opener was followed by another dip in quality - beginning with the second half of the two-parter. The Doctor uses the Master's ethnicity against him - allowing him to fall into nazi hands just because he is Asian in appearance. She swans off with two temporary companions - meaning that the three real ones are left with nothing to do. The human villain simply runs away at the end, never to be seen again.
Orphan 55 was this year's Tsuranga Conundrum. A whole load of underdeveloped characters, badly acted. A Planet of the Apes rip-off twist, and a dreadful preachy speech from the Doctor at the end. Messaging in drama is all fine and good, but you have it emerge out of that drama and make use of allusion. Hitting the audience over the head with it just turns people away from the very message you are trying to impart. Something similar happens with Praxeus. It's noticeable that these two episodes, the ones which dealt with environment issues, were the lowest ranked in most series polls.
The thing Series 12 will forever be remembered for is the introduction of the Timeless Child, and the fact that there had been Doctors before Hartnell. This originated in a scene from The Brain of Morbius, which never needed any sort of explanation in the first place. One backstory is simply replaced with another, which insults everyone who brought the series into being. 
Bottom line: this alienated many, many fans - and it was neither wanted nor needed.
Ratings continued the slow, inexorable decline from the very first appearance of the 13th Doctor.
The series ended with Gallifrey being destroyed. No big deal, it is always being destroyed these days - ever since the novels. JNT had almost commissioned a Pip & Jane Baker story that would have destroyed the Time Lords. That's the same Pip & Jane Baker whom Chibnall had slagged off on national TV back in 1986.

We then learned that Chibnall's third series was to be his last, and that Whittaker would be leaving as well. This was presented as a deliberate choice on their part - something they had agreed since Day One. I, frankly, think this a lie. I think Chibnall was pushed out by an unhappy BBC and she went with him out of loyalty. I do not believe for a minute that someone who professes to be a fan would walk away from a series in the run-up to its 60th Anniversary. Some claim that his getting the BBC Centenary Special shows faith on the part of the BBC, but I think it's simply a matter of timing.
Had he really only intended three series then I think he would have plotted them better. Would he really have launched with such a weak first season if it was part of a three year-only plan? 
We know that Flux had to be thrown together under the shadow of Covid, as with the two specials which followed. They were basically remnants of the series there would have been had Covid not got in the way.
Another pointer to Chibnall's claim being a lie is "Thasmin". Had he really only planned a three year stay surely he would have made a better job of this? It is clear that he never plotted out this relationship at all, but simply added it in very late in the day - after finding out that fans had formulated it.

The final series came in the form of a single story - Flux. This got off to a great start, but rapidly went downhill. The best episodes were those involving aliens he had not created - Sontarans and Weeping Angels. In the latter case, once again it was not one of his solo efforts, but the work of a collaborator. One good thing was to rehabilitate the Sontarans after Moffat had made a joke of them. That was until he totally undermined himself with the stupid chocolate addiction scene in the weak final episode. Swarm and Azure are simply dismissed with the click of a finger, after all that set-up.
John Bishop's Dan was a welcome addition, as we were all dreading Yaz as lone companion.
It was rather a shock to see Dan leave only 10 minutes into his final episode - the BBC Centenary Special.

When I reviewed this I said that it would be remembered for three things - the appearance of the old Doctors, the appearance of the old companions, and the regeneration into David Tennant.
The Power of the Doctor did sum up a lot of what is right and wrong about the Chibnall era. We applaud the casting of the first female Doctor, and Sacha's casting as the Master. It looked very good. We were happiest when it came to the nostalgia elements. The actual plot, though, wasn't brilliant.
We've had some very good actors - including Whittaker herself - badly served by the writing, and the least effective of the writers was the showrunner himself. By aligning herself so closely with Chibnall, she will be tarred with the same brush, and people will talk of her era in the same negative way as his (though it will be him they are really referring to). It would have been interesting to see her work under RTD.
A few good things came out of the era, but the missteps far outweighed the positives.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Story 262: Heaven Sent

In which the teleport takes the Doctor from the Trap Street where Clara died, to a mysterious stone chamber in an unknown location. Seconds before, a dying man - his face badly burned - had operated machinery to bring him here. He had then died, his body crumbling rapidly to dust leaving only his skull. 
The Doctor sets out to explore and finds that the building seems to resemble a castle.
He believes that he will be able to estimate his location once he sees the night sky.
As he moves around the castle corridors he discovers a number of monitor screens. When they activate he sees point of view images of someone - or something - which is moving inexorably towards where he is located. He makes his way to a courtyard garden where he finds a spade and what looks like a grave.
A large figure is watching him, its body hidden by a shroud, and it is this which has been stalking him.
He takes another corridor and comes to a door with the number 12 on it - but beyond is a solid wall. As the hooded creature approaches he shouts out loud that he is afraid to die. The creature suddenly freezes, along with the flies which were buzzing around it. The entire castle infrastructure then begins to reset itself, like clockwork.

He enters a bedroom and finds an ancient, flaking portrait of Clara on the wall. The shrouded figure begins to stalk him once again. When it enters the bedroom he has no choice but to leap out of the window. However, he has worked out how high up they are, and the fact that there is water below. Diving into the water, he sees thousands of human skulls littering the sea bed. Back in the castle he comes across a chamber with a roaring fire - and a fresh set of dry clothes. In trying to work out what is going on - and the means by which he ascertained what was beyond the window he jumped through - the Doctor enters a mental space, which resembles the TARDIS console room. He sees an image of Clara here and bounces ideas off her.
The Doctor once again goes exploring the castle as the shrouded figure comes stalking him. He recalls this creature from his childhood, when he had seen a dead body and been terrified by it. It is known as the Veil. He finds himself back in the courtyard with the grave. This contains a clue pointing him back to the door marked "12". The creature reaches him and he once again shouts out that he did not leave Gallifrey because he was bored - but because he was scared. The Veil freezes and the castle resets itself once again.

He now knows that he is being interrogated, and that the Veil has been created to scare him into making a confession. It is halted every time he speaks a true statement. He discovers that the castle stands in the middle of a vast ocean, out of sight of land, so he has nowhere to escape to. he also works out how much time he has before each of the attacks by the Veil. He goes back to the teleport room and discovers a skull lying on the floor, with electrical leads attached to it. The word "Bird" is drawn in the dust. Up on the roof he discovers that the stars do not match anything close to Earth when he was taken away from it - but they do match the pattern for 7000 years in the future.
The Veil attacks once more and this time the Doctor tells it that he knows that the Hybrid is real and knows what it is. It freezes, the castle resets. He returns to door 12 and this time finds a corridor, at the end of which is a wall of a solid diamond-like substance called Azbantium. He sees the word "Home" beyond, and knows this is what he must breach to escape. He punches it.

This time when the Veil attacks he refuses to tell it any more about the Hybrid. The creature seizes him and burns him. He crawls back to the teleport room and attaches electrical leads to his head, then uses regeneration energy to power the device. As his body crumbles to dust - leaving only the skull with the leads attached - the Doctor steps out of the teleport, reset to the day he first arrived.
The whole process repeats itself, over and over again. Each time the Doctor can tell from the stars that millions of years have passed, and his punching of the Azbantium wall are starting to make a tunnel into it. He had left the word "Bird" as a clue for himself that a tiny peck from a beak on a mountain would, over a long enough timespan, reduce it to nothing.
Eventually 4 billion years have passed, and the Doctor smashes his way through the wall. He emerges onto a familiar landscape - that of Gallifrey. He sees the citadel of the Time Lords on the horizon. It transpires that he has been trapped within his own Confession Dial - the Time Lords determined to find out what he knows about the Hybrid due to the legend that it will destroy them. He sees a small boy and sends him to the citadel with the message that he has arrived and knows what has been done to him. Knowing he is still being observed, he announces that he is the Hybrid...

Heaven Sent was written by Steven Moffat, and first broadcast on Saturday 28th November, 2015. 
It formed the first part of the series finale, dealing with the aftermath of the death of Clara in Face the Raven. It also moved on the series story arc of the Hybrid. The Doctor claims this is him, but we will later discover that there is more to it than this.
Most of us count this as the first half of a two-parter because of the title structure - Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, which come from the saying "Heaven sent, yet Hell bent". To be Hell Bent suggests determination to do something, irrespective of the cost.
Many have questioned if the titles are the right way round, as "Hell Bent" can suggest the events of this episode, and the Doctor is trapped in a form of Hell.
There's also some dispute as to whether or not this is really the middle part of a trilogy, which opens with Face the Raven - with Heaven Sent picking up exactly where Raven ended, and Hell Bent doing the same with this instalment.

The episode is remarkable in that it is designed to be a solo performance by Peter Capaldi. Clara does appear but only in the TARDIS "mind palace" scenes. The Veil never speaks, and nor does the boy at the conclusion. Moffat was concerned that such an episode might not work, but knew that in Capaldi he had an actor who could pull it off.
The notion of the "mind palace" was lifted wholesale by Moffat from his Sherlock series.
The story is all about grief - how the Doctor comes to terms with the death of Clara whilst at the same time trying to unravel the mystery of where he is and why he is there.
The Veil was performed by Jami Reid-Quarrell, who had been seen as Colony Sarff earlier in the series. The creature is only named as such in the end credits.
Though mostly seen from the back, Clara was played by Jenna Coleman throughout the "mind palace" scenes. The boy was an uncredited local extra.

Overall, a superb episode, with a tour-de-force performance by Capaldi at its heart. This was nominated for a number of Prime Time Emmys in the US - for Capaldi's acting, Moffat's writing and Rachel Talalay's  direction. The only pity is the inclusion of Clara, otherwise it would truly have been a single-hander.
Things you might like to know:
  • Two Welsh castles were employed to represent the Doctor's prison - Cardiff and Caerphilly.
  • The Gallifrey landscape was filmed at Fuertaventura in the Canary Islands - the same location as used for Skaro in The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar.
  • The Doctor mentions having come to Gallifrey "the long way round" which refers back to The Day of the Doctor, where we first learned that the planet had been saved. The Doctor mentioned then that he would find it again by going "the long way round".
  • Fandom had always been led to believe that the Doctor left Gallifrey because he was bored - something he articulated to his companions in The War Games. Here he claims this was not the case - and the Veil accepts it so it must be the truth.
  • The "Bird" clue takes the Doctor to a Brothers Grimm story, where a shepherd boy tells an emperor about how a small bird can destroy a mountain made of diamond if given long enough, by way of explaining how many seconds there are in eternity.
  • In a BBC America documentary in 2013 Moffat had described the Doctor as the sort of person who would throw themselves out of a window and work out what to do next on the way down - something which he actually does here.
  • No Cybermen. Up to this point, Moffat had always included Cybermen in the penultimate episode of his series, and he'll do so again for Series 10.
  • No TARDIS. The TARDIS does not feature in this story, other than as a mental image.
  • The Doctor's final line states that "the Hybrid is me". In writing, as printed on the scripts, the last word was capitalised as "Me" - giving away the clue that the Hybrid is Ashildr. Up to now there has been a suggestion that the Hybrid was a Time Lord or human / Dalek creation, but the Doctor points out that the Daleks would never permit this. We have seen human-Daleks on two occasions (Evil of the Daleks and The Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks, and both times the Daleks destroyed them.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

New Logo & Disney+ Streaming

With any luck the logo which made its debut today will be the official one for the 60th Anniversary specials and beyond. It's an updated version of the classic Bernard Lodge design which first appeared on Season 11 and lasted through to the close of Season 17.
Also announced today was confirmation that Disney+ are the new streaming partners for Doctor Who. Presumably this refers to international access to the new episodes. They will still be screened on the BBC in the UK as far as I'm aware.
No word on archive material - just the new RTD / Bad Wolf stuff.
Also, it had been hoped that a link with Disney might have led to a new source of funding for the missing episodes animation. No newd on this, but no wonder BBC America are no longer offering this, as they are one of the outfits who have now lost out to the House of Mouse.

Monday 24 October 2022

The Power of the Doctor: A Review

And so it ends. The final story of the Chibnall era, and the last time we'll see Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor (unless she returns for a future special). I'll be posting my overview of the whole CC / JW era - with its pros and cons - later this week, but for now let's look at The Power of the Doctor.
Did the showrunner manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat - right at the very end?

Warning: there be spoilers ahead...

Series finales and festive episodes can be big events - especially when written by Russell T Davies - but to date we have only had one really big Special episode. That was the 50th Anniversary story The Day of the Doctor. As a celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who, it didn't quite get there. It was much more a celebration of the revived series only - with very little of the classic series in its mix.
This new story isn't designed to meet a Doctor Who anniversary, but instead it's honouring the 100th birthday of the people who make the programme. By having Tegan and Ace included in a meaningful way - more than just a pair of cameos - The Power of the Doctor celebrates the series in both of its incarnations far more than the Moffat story ever did.
Aldred and Fielding were just the two main returnees from the classic era. What we hoped for was some surprise guests - and boy did we get them.
After the Doctor is apparently regenerated out of existence she finds herself in a bleak landscape, where she encounters aspects of her previous existence. Cue appearances by David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. For some reason the latter insisted on wearing his costume from the Night of the Doctor mini-sode, which just looked wrong. His co-stars all joined with the idea that this was simply a representation of a single Time Lord, so why couldn't he?
There was one other previous Doctor appearance - the Fugitive one. The Doctor was appearing to companions as an interactive AI hologram, and she was one aspect of this.
Old school fans will have loved it when this hologram interacted separately with Tegan and Ace - appearing to each as their version of the Doctor. It was a pity that Colin Baker never got to have a similar scene.
If the appearance of old Doctors was a beautiful surprise, then there was a further one right at the end. After Yaz is reunited with Graham, they set up a sort of "Companions Anonymous" support group, to enable them to talk to people about their adventures without people thinking them mad. Joining this group, along with Dan, Tegan, Ace and Kate Stewart were Katy Manning's Jo, Bonnie Langford's Mel, and William Russell's Ian Chesterton.
The final nod to the past was, of course, the final confirmation that the 14th Doctor is played by David Tennant. And he is the 14th. Russell T Davies has now officially called Ncuti's Doctor the 15th.

So far, so nostalgic. When it came to the actual plot for this episode, I'm afraid it demonstrated a lot of the problems with Chibnall's writing. Some things happened for no apparent reason, and there were plot holes a plenty.
Another surprise not yet mentioned occurs very near the start. After a lengthy pre-credits sequence involving the space bullet train under attack by the Cybermasters, during which Dan is almost killed, he suddenly announces his departure. He walks out of the TARDIS and plays no further part in proceedings until the support group at the end. This was a none too satisfying ending for the character. I suppose the stage had to be cleared to allow for Ace and Tegan to join in.
The Master's plan made little sense (a nice nod to the past was his description of the "Master Dalek Plan"). He captures a sentient energy form to feed a device which will allow him to force a regeneration on the Doctor - making her regenerate into him. I didn't quite grasp what he wanted from this. If he wanted to undermine her, he could just as easily have gone round claiming to be her. If he did become her, why not adopt any of her personality and morality? There was absolutely no difference between the Master and the Doctor-Master.
His base in 1916 Russia had no relevance to the plan, other than to allow him to be Rasputin. (The only benefit of this was the sight of him dancing to the Boney-M hit. Many will claim to hate this scene, but we previously saw the John Simm version dancing to the Scissors Sisters - so we have precedent).
Later, the same device which needed a captured sentient energy form is powered by half a dozen Cybermasters regenerating. Why couldn't he have just used them in the first place?
The sentient energy form destroys the artificial planet and gets free. Why hang around till the end of the episode to do this?
It turns out that Ashad was a clone of the original. The Daleks seemed to be drilling into a volcano to activate it. They're defeated by Ace and Graham. But were they doing the same thing at other volcanos? How can triggering one single volcano set them all off. The Doctor resolves the volcanic eruptions with a bit if stupid technobabble - the artificial planet managing to freeze the lava somehow.
Another old companion, of more recent times, is Vinder. It was hardly worth his time turning up, and his own companions - Bel and Karvanista - were nowhere to be seen.

This episode will be best remembered for three things - the appearance of the old Doctors, the appearance of the old companions, and the regeneration. The actual story itself less so.
Some fans were looking forward to seeing Tennant in Whittaker's costume. As it was, her clothes regenerated along with her body (again we have precedent with Troughton's full outfit and Davison's boots). Instead it was the Master who we saw in the 13th costume.
I was sad to see Jodie go. I've always said she is a good actor who has been badly served by the writing, and I think this remained true to the end. The regeneration scene looked wonderful, though her final words didn't have anything like the impact of other Doctors of the revived series.
Once the end credits had rolled, we got the briefest of glimpses of the new RTD era. This included Neil Patrick Harris as - reputedly - the Toymaker and our very first glimpse of Ncuti's 15th Doctor.
With no Xmas or New Year Special for the first time since the series came back, we have a whole 13 months to wait, as the trio of 60th Specials definitely won't be screened until November 2023.

PS: overnight figures 4.04 million. Legend of the Sea Devils had only 2.20 million.
And for completism's sake - the final Regeneration portrait. You see what I mean about the final words...

Sunday 23 October 2022

Coming 2023


My review of The Power of the Doctor coming tomorrow, but for now here are a couple of images to whet the appetite for what comes next...

Episode 42: Prisoners of Conciergerie

The Doctor arrives at the home of Jules Renan, and everyone is shocked to see that he has brought Lemaitre with him...
The Official informs them all that he is the man they have been searching for - James Stirling. The Doctor explains that he has been forced to bring him here in return for his help in freeing Susan.
Ian gives him the message from Webster - that he has vital information and should return to England immediately. When forced to remember anything else the dying man said, Ian recalls something about a "Sinking Ship". Jules recognises this as an inn on the Calais road.
Stirling strikes a deal with the Doctor and his companions. He has heard of a plot by Paul Barrass which is brewing against Robespierre, which could take place any moment. They must go to the inn and report what they see and hear there, and he will have Susan freed on their return. Only Ian and Barbara will go, as the Doctor must remain in Paris with Stirling should Robespierre summon them again.
Jules takes the two teachers to the inn where the owner is locked up in the cellars. Ian and Barbara then pretend to be friends filling in for him. Once the last guest has gone Barrass arrives and is shown into a private room which he has booked. Ian had earlier drilled a spyhole in the wall, however, so that he could eavesdrop. Barrass announces that he is expecting only one more person. This proves to be the army officer Napoleon Bonaparte. If he can promise support, the soldier will be given a role in the new government once Robespierre is deposed and executed.
The next morning Ian and Barbara report back to Stirling. The Doctor goes to fetch Susan from the prison whilst Ian and Stirling witness Robespierre's arrest - the tyrant being shot in the jaw as the soldiers seize him. The Doctor and Susan see him being brought into the prison as they hurriedly leave it.
Stirling must flee Paris back to England with his information, and agrees to accompany the TARDIS crew as far as the farmhouse near to where the TARDIS landed. Jules will remain in the city to see what happens next. He scoffs at Ian's suggestion that Napoleon might be the next ruler of France...
Safely back in the TARDIS, the Doctor's companions discuss what would have happened had they warned Napoleon of his future. Would they have changed history? Susan suggests that the future Emperor would have dismissed them as crazy, or forgotten all about their predictions, and history would still take the course they were familiar with. The Doctor indicates that they have their own destinies to fulfil - and theirs lie in the stars...
Next episode: Planet of Giants

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Recorded: Friday 14th August 1964 - Television Centre Studio TC4
First broadcast: 5:30pm, Saturday 12th September 1964
Ratings: 6.4 million / AI 55
Designer: Roderick Laing
Director: Henric Hirsch
Additional cast: John Law (Paul Barrass), Tony Wall (Napoleon), Patrick Marley (Soldier)

This episode brings the first season of Doctor Who to a close. 
At one point the season was to have ended sooner, with The Sensorites, but they decided to continue with this story. Thoughts also went the other way - to extending Season One further - but a late decision was made to end it here with Prisoners of Conciergerie. The end sequence in the TARDIS, with the Doctor's speech about their destiny lying in the stars - his words spoken over a starscape - was a last minute addition to the script.
This discussion suggests that Time has some "proper" course - a sequence which it is always destined to follow. Any attempt to meddle with this will be undermined by various circumstances, which would intervene to make sure History followed its intended path. Dennis Spooner would come to adopt a totally different view on History once he took over from David Whitaker.
Originally Verity Lambert and Whitaker were informed that they would be responsible for devising the series that would plug the gap between Seasons One and Two. Before they gave this any serious thought, however, it was agreed that the comedy series The Valiant Varneys, starring Reg Varney, would fill the break. (The future On The Buses star played various ancestors of his through history).

The episode revolves round the fall of Robespierre, and introduces his later replacement as de facto ruler of France - Napoleon Bonaparte.
The meeting between Barrass and Napoleon depicted here is a total fiction.
Paul Francois Jean Nicolas, Vicomte de Barrass, was born in 1755. President of the National Assembly he later became Member then President of the National Directory. This body governed France between the fall of Robespierre and the rise of Napoleon. He voted for the execution of Louis XVI, but spent most of the Revolution working outside Paris. He never led on the overthrow of Robespierre, but did join the faction who did. Later he was placed in command of the defence of Paris when it came under attack by disillusioned National Guardsmen. He employed Napoleon, who ruthlessly put down the insurrection. The two men had met during the siege of Toulon in 1793. Barras lived right through the Empire, dying in 1829.
Napoleone Buonaparte, as he was born, was of Italian descent. His father had fought for the independence of Corsica, and later acted as governor of the island under Louis XVI. Napoleon was born in 1769, and joined the Paris Military Academy in 1784. By the age of 24 he was already a brigadier general in the republican army.
When Robespierre fell, the future Emperor was actually placed under house arrest, as one of his biggest supporters was the tyrant's brother Augustin.
In the episode it is implied that Robespierre is shot in the jaw to prevent him from talking the soldiers out of arresting him. It is generally thought that it was really a botched suicide attempt. He was executed the very next day - Monday 28th July 1794. It is claimed that when the bandage was taken off his face whilst on the scaffold, his whole jaw came away with it.

For the third time this story, the four regulars were taken out of rehearsals for filming at Ealing for Planet of Giants. In this instance, it was because reshoots were needed.
Carole Ann Ford's daughter Miranda visited the studio on the afternoon of camera rehearsals. 
A new set was that for The Sinking Ship, which was a two room linked set. A second hole - much bigger than the one Ian drills - was made in the wall between the two rooms for the camera to view through.
Strangely, we never heard anything about "the sinking ship" in the second episode, where Webster spoke to Ian in the prison cell - and Ian never mentioned it when he first met Jules. Some fans claim that this is a mistake - the Chien Gris being replaced with The Sinking Ship, but it is really an addition rather than a replacement piece of dialogue. The Chien Gris was an entirely different inn - the one where Ian was to seek out Jules. 
We ought to question why one inn is named in French, whilst the other is named in English.
It is noticeable that the stock footage of the coach at the end of the episode is shown twice, but the second time in reverse.

As mentioned under the first episode, this story saw the sole contributions to Doctor Who by some of the key crew members. Henric Hirsch did not stay with the BBC for much longer. He went freelance, then worked a great deal with ITV companies. Frazer Hines would have encountered him on Emmerdale Farm in the mid-1970's. He died in March 1999.
Composer Stanley Myers went on to have considerable success in TV and cinematic music. His work can be heard in My Beautiful Launderette, Prick Up Your Ears and the original film version of The Witches. Amongst his TV themes is the music for the BBC's Question Time, still used today. Beyond doubt his most famous piece is Cavatina, which was the theme from The Deer Hunter. His guitar piece had words added, to become He Was Beautiful. Both versions were Top 20 hits in the UK.
Myers died in 1993.

  • This story had replaced an intended six part adventure from David Whitaker known as "The New Armada", which would have been set at the time of the historical Spanish Armada. This was still under consideration for Season Two.
  • The Napoleon I Society wrote to the production office following broadcast of this episode, complaining about the historical inaccuracy of the Napoleon / Barrass meeting. A Mr Oborski, the society's honorary secretary, was unhappy that children were being taught bad history.
  • Another letter a couple of days later addressed the fact that everyone in the programme spoke English - an old chestnut when it comes to TV drama. David Whitaker wrote back to say that no-one wanted to hear actors doing dodgy Fronch accents, nor could they have everyone speaking your actual French - so some middle ground had to be followed.
  • Patrick Marley is the speaking role soldier who arrests Robespierre. Hartnell's double Brian Proudfoot returns as a non-speaking soldier.
  • The audience numbers drop by half a million on the previous week yet again, though the appreciation index rises from 53 to 55.
  • In late October 1964, regular cast and producer attended a function in the Bridge Lounge at the BBC to celebrate the overseas sales of the first season episodes. Had the series not sold abroad, we would have very few of these episodes to enjoy today.

Saturday 22 October 2022

Countdown to Regeneration: Twelfth Doctor

The fourteenth incarnation of the Doctor - the first of the new regeneration cycle as far as we knew at the time - is played by Peter Capaldi. He was the second fan of the series to become Doctor, after David Tennant. Peter was a leading member of the old Doctor Who Fan Club and wrote articles for their fanzine.
His final story was supposed to be The Doctor Falls (the clue was in the title) but because Chris Chibnall couldn't get his act together and come up with a Christmas launch for Jodie Whittaker, Capaldi's finale was extended into Twice Upon A Time.
Chibnall's mess turned out to have advantages - in that we got a bit more Capaldi, plus a whole David Bradley First Doctor story. Just a pity they cut the Mondasian Cyberman scenes from the opening section.

Friday 21 October 2022

Countdown to Regeneration: Eleventh Doctor

The thirteenth and final incarnation of the Doctor, but the one known as the Eleventh. 
His place at the end of the expected regenerations limit (established by Robert Holmes in The Deadly Assassin) was laid out in The Time of the Doctor. As it was, the Time Lords gave him a whole new life-cycle - quantity undefined. 
Seems these Time Lords were out of the loop regarding the fact that Gallifrey was supposed to know that the Doctor was immortal and didn't need a new regeneration cycle - or they did know, and only pretended to give him a new cycle to hide from him the fact that he was immortal and had had memories wiped.
But then why would Rassilon ask how many regenerations they'd given him in Heaven Sent?
You see, Chibnall really never thought this whole "Immortal Doctor" thing through at all, did he?
I'm sure we will always remember when he was the Doctor as well.

Chronicles 1973

Received the latest in Doctor Who Magazine's Chronicles bookazine range today. This is the first Pertwee one, and covers the 10th Anniversary year of 1973. This was due two weeks ago but was put back a fortnight for reasons unknown.
Stories covered are The Three Doctors (despite the first episode falling in 1972), Carnival of Monsters, Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks and The Green Death. Oddly, despite having three episodes fall in 1973, The Time Warrior is absent - so this edition seems to be more season- rather than year-based.
Regular purchasers of these bookazines will know the recurring contents by now. As well as a two-page overview of the year's stories, we have a look at merchandise; special effects; studio / location filming; Doctor Who in the news; what else was on the box; the year's Dr Who Annual and so on.

The merchandising chapter gives us the first of the Target paperbacks - the trio of Hartnell stories with the Chris Achilleos covers.
Items unique to this issue include the famous Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special and TV Action's Doctor Who Summer Special, which had a huge behind-the-scenes photo layout from Frontier in Space. You could go out and try to find a dog-eared second-hand copy of this, paying an arm and a leg, or you could just buy this.

Other contents include a look at Moonbase 3 - the series which Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks hoped would provide an escape from Doctor Who; a feature on Jo Grant on the occasion of her departure from the series; and an article about Mr Dicks' correspondence with the writers for this season. The ones with Bob Baker and Dave Martin are always a hoot.
I know a lot of people don't buy these, as they think that it has all been covered in the regular monthly magazines or in the Special Editions, but I think they go above and beyond, and bring a lot of material together all in one place. Just think about what a complete collection will look like, for every year of the series, old and new.

Thursday 20 October 2022

Countdown to Regeneration: Tenth Doctor

This is where it starts to get really complicated... 
The eleventh incarnation is known as the Tenth Doctor, universally. They are also the twelfth incarnation in a sense, as this one used up another regeneration - and if rumours are true they are also about to become the sixteenth incarnation, if Whittaker reverts back to this version for the duration of the 60th Anniversary. And there's two different Tenth Doctors kicking about as well - thanks to that extra regeneration he used up.
No offence to any of the others but David Tennant is by far the most popular actor to portray the Doctor in the revived series. It's no wonder he's the one asked back for both the gold and diamond anniversaries. 
He didn't want to go - and he never really has.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Countdown to Regeneration: Ninth Doctor

The tenth incarnation thanks to that War Doctor, but he's always going to be known as the Ninth Doctor.
Interested to see that it was Eccleston whom Strictly Come Dancing got to do a Doctor Who related video for this Saturday's show. (Each of the couples will apparently be dancing in costumes with a BBC TV programme theme - tying in with the Centenary).
The surprise is due to Eccleston's distancing himself from the show for such a long time. His attitude towards it has thawed somewhat in the last year or so, as he has returned to the role on audio. As far as the TV show is concerned, he seems as anti as he ever was. He certainly said he would never do a multi-Doctor story (but never ruled out one on his own). Considering the number of living Doctors - 10 of them - it just seems odd that he should have been the one to ask.
It was a great pity that the news of his departure from the role should have been leaked so early (after just one episode) - so we lost the shock value of his regeneration at the conclusion of Parting of the Ways.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Countdown to Regeneration: War Doctor

The ninth incarnation of the Doctor is the 'War Doctor' - as performed by John Hurt.
Technically not a Doctor at all. There was reason that he wasn't counted by the Doctor himself: he was ashamed of his actions on the final day of the Last Great Time War. He basically didn't deserve the title of "Doctor". As everyone was supposed to forget what really happened at the war's conclusion, he should still be the shunned, non-Doctor. We only saw his arrival at the end of The Night of the Doctor, then his final hours in The Day of the Doctor. Like the First Doctor, his regeneration seemed to be due to natural causes - his old body growing a bit thin.

Monday 17 October 2022

This week...

Quick update. I've been in hospital today and yesterday, which is why I posted the Episode on Saturday and why I've only been running these regeneration portraits since. As I will have other things to catch up on when I get home tomorrow, I won't be posting any of the regular items until the next Episode on Sunday. My review of The Power of the Doctor will follow on Monday, after which things should get back to normal.
Should any big news break, however, I will endeavour to cover it.