Sunday 26 March 2023

Episode 61: Crater of Needles

Fleeing from the Zarbi, Ian and Vrestin take refuge in a crevice in the rocks. However, the ground gives way beneath their feet and they plunge into the darkness...
They find themselves in a subterranean chamber, where they are confronted by small grub-like beings, armed with sharpened quartz weapons. Their leader - Hetra - identifies his people as the Optera. They have lived underground for generations and have come to fear the surface of Vortis and hate anything which comes from there. They threaten to sacrifice Ian and Vrestin.
At the Crater of Needles, Barbara and Hrostar have been set to work, piling vegetation into pools of acid. This feeds the Carzenome and helps it grow. There are several other Menoptra captives here.
In the Zarbi control chamber the Animus orders one of the creatures to place a gold wishbone device on Vicki, to coerce the Doctor into hurrying his efforts to trace the Menoptra invasion force.
An alarm sounds at the Crater, and the captives are forced into their lean-to shelter. Hrostar fears that Barbara's friends may have helped the Animus, as it is on the plateau above them that their invasion will shortly land. The Zarbi will now be ready for them.
They and another two Menoptra - Prapillus and Hylnia - manage to escape and make for the plateau.
The Doctor is able to use the TARDIS Astral Map to deactivate the wishbone device, neutralising its effects on them. The Animus once again addresses the Doctor, but this time it is able to activate his recording of the Menoptra communications - proving he had been lying to it. He and Vicki both have the wishbone devices placed on them.
Underground, Vrestin has learned that the Optera think of her people as their gods. She opens her wings and shows them that she is one of that kind - saving them from sacrifice.
Barbara and her friends reach the plateau. The invasion has commenced, and hundreds of Menoptra swoop down from the sky, led by Captain Hilio. However, the Zarbi are waiting for them, accompanied by Larvae Guns. A massacre ensues, as the Menoptra weapons prove ineffective. The survivors split up and rush for shelter.
Barbara and her Menoptra friends find themselves trapped on a narrow ledge, with Zarbi closing in all around them...
Next episode: Invasion

Written by: Bill Strutton
Recorded: Friday 12th February 1965 - Riverside Studio 1
First broadcast: 5:40pm, Saturday 6th March 1965
Ratings: 13 million / AI 49
Designer: John Wood
Director: Richard Martin
Additional cast: Ian Thompson (Hetra), Barbara Joss (Nemini), Martin Jarvis (Hilio), Jolyon Booth (Prapillus), Jocelyn Birdsall (Hylnia).

The relationship between Verity Lambert and Richard Martin took another knock when she wrote a memo to him complaining about the cast making changes to dialogue in rehearsals, which he seemed to be encouraging. She disapproved of this, and insisted that Dennis Spooner, as story editor, could be available to oversee any changes required in a more structured fashion. One major concern was that Hartnell liked to fix his lines on the very first day and was reluctant to deviate thereafter. Changes late in the day unsettled him - even though he was usually happy if it meant a decrease in his workload.

This episode introduces the Optera - underground cousins of the Menoptra. These creatures never featured in Strutton's original storyline. They were created between director and story editor, when it was felt that the later episodes needed an extra element. Strutton was consulted and agreed to the changes.
Short actors were chosen to portray them. Ian Thompson (Hetra) was an old acquaintance of Martin's, and together they worked on developing the odd Optera speech patterns. They use a lot of symbolism and imagery to describe events.
The costume was made of a felt material. Vestigial limbs are simply pieces of shaped material hanging above the sleeves containing the actors' arms.

All of the Menoptra artistes came from a dancing background. One young man who auditioned for the role of Captain Hilio was Peter Purves, who had been on the chorus line at the London Palladium. Martin was impressed, but decided on Martin Jarvis instead. He offered to give Purves another role soon, suggesting he deserved something better.
Jarvis was known to Richard Martin as he had acted alongside the director's girlfriend in 1963.
Jarvis has since become of Britain's favourite stage and television actors, especially known for voice work. He and his wife have produced thousands of talking books for the blind.
Jocelyn Birdsall had just returned to acting after the death of her husband, cartoonist Timothy Birdsall.
Martin had worked with her at Stratford in the 1950's when he had followed an acting career.

The vegetation which Barbara and her fellow captives had to handle was seaweed, provided by a company called "Cornish Manures", though it was actually collected from a couple of Norfolk beaches. Unfortunately the material was quickly warmed up beneath the hot studio lights and began to smell, stinking out the whole studio.
(The script had actually referred to the vegetation as seaweed - suggesting that Vortis had oceans until the coming of the Animus).
When Ian and Vrestin fall down the chasm at the start of the episode, we clearly hear someone laughing as they are covered in debris - a female voice, so presumably Roslyn De Winter.

  • This episode saw an increase in the viewing figures up to 13 million, and yet the appreciation index fell to below 50 for the first time.
  • The invasion / ambush material was filmed at Ealing between Tuesday 5th January and Thursday 7th January, 1965, with the flying scenes filmed on the last day. Friday 8th was supposed to be a standby day but the complexity of these scenes meant it had to be used, and a remount was also necessary, which took place on Monday 11th January.
  • The flying Menoptra are Roslyn De Winter and Martin Jarvis only.
  • Jarvis would return to the series on two further occasions - as Butler in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and as the Governor in Vengeance on Varos.
  • Ian Thompson would return later in this season, as Aridian Malsan in The Chase. That story also featured Arne Gordon (Hrostar) as the Empire State Building tour guide, and De Winter portrayed the ghostly Grey Lady in the Haunted House sequence.
  • When not acting, Arne Gordon ran an antiques stall in West London.
  • New BBC 1 Controller Huw Weldon was enjoying the series, but another executive complained that he couldn't tell the "goodies" from the "baddies", and another found the weird names confusing.

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