Wednesday 31 May 2023

What's Wrong With... The Seeds of Doom

The Doctor wields a gun and throws punches. The tone of this story sits awkwardly alongside the other early Tom Baker stories. Douglas Camfield liked his military / action stories, as well as those Euston Films crime dramas - and it feels like he's imported that sort of feel into this.
The Doctor far too quickly opts for the RAF bombing solution - when he has usually been scathing of military responses.
Criticised by Mary Whitehouse for recent violent incidents in the series, Robert Holmes claimed it wasn't as if they were teaching kids how to make Molotov Cocktails. What do we see being made and used here...?

The Krynoid pods travel in pairs, and can be located only a few feet from each other despite having been buried for years. We don't know how long - there's talk of when Antarctica was covered in vegetation thousands of years ago, but that's when the scientists think the pod is native. It may only have arrived days or weeks ago - especially when it is found so high in the ice layer.
Irrespective of how long they've been there - how do they manage to retain such close proximity? From an evolutionary standpoint, why pair up when the adult Krynoid can self-germinate? Wouldn't two of them actually compete, with only half the available food supply for each? Or is one simply a back-up, in case the first is destroyed?
The Doctor knows enough about them to find the second pod - yet he doesn't know anything else about their origins (he only speculates on their planet being volcanically active) and never tells us anything useful like why - and how - they travel in pairs.

By digging up the second pod, the Doctor directly triggers all the death and destruction of Episodes 3 - 6. If he had just left it where it was, and quietly collected it later on, only the base personnel would have been killed (as a result of their own actions before he got there anyway). Scorby and Keeler would have still turned up, but may have simply left empty-handed, or with the opened pod for Chase at best. They might still have blown up the base to hide their tracks, but everything that happens in England is down to the Doctor.

Major Beresford. Just how long has he been serving with UNIT that he ridicules the Doctor's warnings?
If John Levene had been available for this story, would he have taken the part Sgt. Henderson played - and if yes, would he have been killed off in the compost making machine?
At one point the Doctor puts Sarah's life in jeopardy by leaving her in the grounds of a mansion full of insane millionaires, mercenaries, alien plant monsters, and a trigger-happy private army, whilst he goes to make a phone call. Er, surely it should have been the other way round?
When he writes the cheque for Miss Ducat, Chase rips two cheques from his book instead of just the top copy he has signed. That's what you get for wearing black leather gloves all the time.

The one everyone mentions - the TARDIS arrives at the South Pole and Sarah says the Doctor forgot to cancel the co-ordinates, despite the fact that they arrived in Antarctica earlier by aeroplane. This can be got round if we assume the Doctor was going to use the TARDIS, then changed his mind to use conventional transport. However, he's in a hurry to get to the pod before it germinates - so why mess about with 'planes?
Sarah's breath clouds in England, but not at the South Pole. She's in a bathing costume, yet she stands around joking with the Doctor for a while. Mind you, she has form in this area - having spent ages in her swim suit on Exxilon before finally changing into something more practical.
Something which went wrong behind the scenes on this very sequence - the TARDIS prop collapsed on top of Baker and Sladen, prompting the building of a new Police Box for the start of Season 14.

Monday 29 May 2023

Countdown to 60: Genesis of Controversy

Dalek continuity went out the window with only their second appearance. 
Terry Nation never intended the creatures to have a history beyond the events of a single story. His original idea wouldn't even have left the Daleks as villains. A third party had started the war between them and the Thals, and they showed up at the end of the story to say sorry and help the warring factions make friends with each other.
Luckily Nation changed his mind, but - unluckily - he killed off the Daleks in their entirety at the conclusion of their debut. He was out of a job and keen to earn a few quid whilst waiting for something more prestigious to come along - describing The Daleks as a "hack job", where he took the money and ran - his phrase. In interviews later he couldn't even remember how many episodes it was.
Someone - probably David Whitaker - reminded Nation that Doctor Who was about a time traveller, so when it came to a follow-up - The Dalek Invasion of Earth - he was able to simply say that what we witnessed on Skaro happened at another point in history.
The problem was, he opted for the wrong direction.

In The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Ian asks the Doctor how they can be seeing Daleks when they were all wiped out on Skaro. The Doctor tells him that those events were in the far future, and they are currently seeing the "middle history" of the Daleks.
The big problem with this is that these Daleks are clearly more advanced than the ones on Skaro, able to travel across the universe, not reliant of static electricity generated through the floors of their city, or on the working of a single piece of equipment in their control room. It is a general rule of thumb that more advanced = more recent.
Fandom has it that the Daleks on Skaro are the ones which exterminated Davros. Without him, they have failed to develop and have stagnated in their city. It is early days for them, rather than their far future.

But they all get wiped out, I hear you cry. It can't possibly be the past...
There are ways round this:
(a) The Daleks we see dying may only be going into a dormant state. Power of the Daleks shows that a Dalek can remain in this state for centuries. Davros himself will lie dormant for many years.
(b) This might be only one of several Dalek cities on Skaro. There was no petrified forest around the Kaled city we see in the 1975 story.

In Genesis of the Daleks Nation elects to show us the creation of his monsters - encouraged to do so by Barry Letts after he had first submitted another derivative run-around (military expedition fighting Daleks on a hostile planet - presumably named after some geographical / environmental aspect of that world).
Contrary to the fan outcry at the time, it does not necessarily contradict what we learned in The Daleks. Back in the Hartnell story, we only had the ancient tales of the Thals and the Daleks to go on - stories which could easily have been corrupted over time.
The missing petrified forest is a problem. One can't grow afterwards. Another problem is the Dalek design. These are gunmetal grey Daleks, with the vertical slats round the middle section - a design which doesn't come in until they are space-going empire-builders. We also see them traverse the terrain of Skaro, when they ought to be confined to metal floors.
But, as I've already pointed out, there is always the fact that the Daleks of their first story are the Genesis ones - just regressed and backwards in their technology.

As far as I'm concerned, Genesis of the Daleks and The Daleks can sit comfortably next to each other as the first two Dalek stories, in terms of their chronology. It is actually the later chronology which poses the most headaches, even setting aside the whole Time War. 
Do the Davros stories change Dalek history? He's entirely absent from it until Genesis - not even a mention. Or does he come back after the defeat of The Dalek Masterplan? Do the Daleks master bigger-on-the-inside time machines then lose the skill, or do the Hartnell "DARDIS" stories come much later than the Pertwee ones? Was the civil war on Skaro "the final end" or just another blip? And where the heck does Power of the Daleks fit in?
All questions for another time...

Sunday 28 May 2023

Episode 70: The Search

Governor Lobos orders that the Doctor be taken away for processing, to become one of the museum exhibits...
He then goes outside to inspect the captured TARDIS, and demands to know of the Commander why it has not been opened. He in turn shifts the blame on to his subordinates.
In the corridor near the entrance, a Morok guard discovers the TARDIS travellers. Ian holds him at bay with the weapon he had taken from the museum whilst Vicki and Barbara flee back into the complex. They become separated. 
Barbara seeks refuge in an empty storeroom, only to find herself locked in.
Ian manages to escape the guard and takes the Morok technician hostage - forcing him to take him to the TARDIS. He has him trick its guard into leaving, claiming to have come to take over, then coerces him into telling him where the Doctor has been taken.
Lobos decides to flood the museum with paralysing zaphra gas.
Vicki is found by the Xerons. She tells Tor about Barbara and he sends Dako to find her.
He unlocks the storeroom and frees the history teacher, just as the corridors begin to fill with gas.
At their hideout, away from the main museum complex, Vicki learns of the recent history of the planet, and of the Morok invasion. She hears of Tor's plans for revolution and his frustration at their lack of weapons. 
The Moroks have a well-stocked armoury, but it is protected by a computerised security system.
Vicki asks him to take her to see it.
Outside, the Morok technician helps Ian by suggesting a quieter period in which to enter the headquarters and find the processing chamber where the Doctor has been taken.
Barbara and Dako locate the main entrance but are slowly being overcome by the gas.
At the armoury, Vicki examines the computer security unit and realises that it can be easily reprogrammed to do whatever they command. It only requires the answers to its questions to be truthful.
Tor starts to distribute the weapons to his followers.
Ian enters Lobos' office, pretending to be the technician's captive. The Governor is shocked to see that it is the other way round. Ian forces them to take him to the processing room.
He follows them into the chamber where the Doctor is being held - and is shocked at what he sees...
Next episode: The Final Phase

Written by Glyn Jones
Recorded: Friday 16th April 1965 - Television Centre Studio TC4
First broadcast: 6:00pm, Saturday 8th May 1965
Ratings: 8.5 million / AI 56
Designer: Spencer Chapman
Director: Mervyn Pinfield
Additional cast: Ivor Salter (Morok Commander), Billy Cornelius (Morok Guard)

William Hartnell was on holiday for the week in which this episode was rehearsed and recorded, so the Doctor does not feature on screen.
This gives the companions an opportunity to do more - but only Ian and Vicki really benefit. 
Jacqueline Hill's Barbara finds herself shunted into a plot cul-de-sac. After hiding from, then joining the Xerons, she makes for the main entrance as Lobos orders the use of the paralysing gas. She then spends the rest of the episode - and most of the next - moving very slowly along a very short stretch of smoky corridor.
The original draft of this episode had Vicki - still called "Lukki" - in Barbara's role, succumbing to the gas.
This shows up the problems with Jones' script - the poor pacing. He's not alone - third episodes often comprise more running up and down corridors and captures / escapes.
Underneath, there is still some serious philosophical debate, if we look hard enough. 
Are the actions of the time travellers making any difference? Are they moving closer or further away from the fate they glimpsed earlier? Can they make a difference at all, or are they always fated to end up in the display cases?

William Russell is paired once more with Peter Diamond (having worked closely together as Ian and Delos for much of The Romans).
It's a rather ill-tempered Ian we see this week, presumably reflecting the terror of the fate which the TARDIS crew have seen in store for them if they fail to change things. You could believe that Ian might actually use that museum ray gun this time. He's helped by the cowardly nature of the Morok he's accompanying, and we have seen how this particular invading force really doesn't have its heart in it.
We've already heard Lobos' moans, and the Commander is now seen to be just as bored and frustrated by being stuck here. He quickly passes the buck onto an underling when Lobos complains about the TARDIS remaining locked.

It is Maureen O'Brien who gets the most to do, as she joins forces with the Xeron teenagers. She has been the most proactive companion in this story so far - failing to be crippled by the indecision which has afflicted Ian and Barbara at times.
She finds the Xerons to be just as indecisive and takes the lead with them - insisting that Tor take her to see the armoury computer then working out how it can be reprogrammed to do what they want.
The arsenal doesn't need many Morok guards as it is defended by this computerised locking system. However, it is so easy to fool that you have to wonder why the computer itself didn't need more than a single Morok guard just for itself.
The logic of her reprogramming does not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. There are safeguards, such as requisition numbers that have to tally, but all Vicki does is make it simply respond to truth. 

Mervyn Pinfield planned the evening with no recording breaks, as it was scheduled for the later time of 9:00 - 10:15pm in studio. 
The passing of time for Barbara in the locked storeroom was simply achieved by a fade to black. These were included each week anyway, to allow foreign broadcasters to insert commercial breaks.
Pre-filming for The Chase got underway with director Richard Martin this week - but did not require taking any of the regular cast out of rehearsals.

  • The ratings continue to tumble - now two million down on the first instalment. The appreciation figure, on the other hand, continues to grow to an impressive 56. We've seen this before - fewer people watching, but those who are tuning in are enjoying what they see.
  • For the second week running, the episode began later than usual. This was due to the BBC's coverage of the VE Day 20th Anniversary celebrations, marking the end of WWII in Europe.
  • A letter in this week's Radio Times highlighted the audience demographics for the show. A lady staying at a hotel had popped into the TV room as Doctor Who was showing. Present were ten adults, four teenagers and one smaller child. Only the child left the room during the broadcast.
  • Ivor Salter would return to the series the very next year, when he played Odysseus in The Myth Makers. He made one final appearance as the police sergeant in 1982's Black Orchid.
  • Peter Diamond was now credited as "Morok Guard" for this and the next episode, and he also gained an additional credit for fight arrangement.
  • Billy Cornelius had doubled for Kal in the climactic Cave of Skulls fight in The Firemaker and for Ixta in the duel in The Day of Darkness. He had also just featured as one of Richard's men-at-arms in The Crusade.
  • Salvin Stewart, who has been playing a Morok guard since last week, also provided the voice of the armoury computer.
  • A dummy in the museum can be seen wearing a spacesuit which had first featured in the Quatermass serials.
  • When the archives were checked in 1978, The Search was found to be the only episode of The Space Museum to be retained by the BBC as a positive film copy.

Saturday 27 May 2023

Doctor Who Poster Magazine (1976)

The second Doctor Who poster magazine was issued by Harpdown Publishing in April 1976, priced 30p.
Unlike the Legend Publishing mag from the previous year, this one was in full colour and had a lot more Tom Baker content. It had fewer pages, however.
On the cover, the main image came from the Genesis of the Daleks publicity session, where Tom posed with Daleks outside Television Centre. The posters were actually of the Doctor, from Brain of Morbius, and of Linx, from The Time Warrior. The photo of Sarah with the Giant Spider on her back was a little misleading, as there was no poster of this image.

The cover also promised features on Tom Baker and Lis Sladen. The Baker piece included photographs of the actor from outwith Doctor Who - as evil magician Prince Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and as Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra. There was one picture of Tom from Pyramids of Mars, but oddly two of the monster images derived from Pertwee stories - an Axon, and Vega Nexos from The Monster of Peladon. At least the Vogans came from one of his stories.

The Lis Sladen feature included two images of Sarah from Pyramids of Mars, plus a couple from Season 11 stories - The Monster of Peladon again, and Planet of the Spiders (repeating that image from the cover).

The best part of the magazine for me was the monsters section. As with the 1975 poster mag, Styre's boss featured prominently. There was a photo of Tom with a Cyberman, accompanied by more Pertwee images - Aggedor, Azal and Bok.

We then had a feature which looked behind the scenes. Of the accompanying photographs, only one - of the Zygon warlord Broton - came from a Baker story. The rest were all Pertwee era. Unlike the 1975 mag, there were no images from Hartnell or Troughton stories. And like the 1975 publication, this mag was devoid of Daleks beyond the tip of an exterminator - presumably for the same reason (copyright costs).

This final page had an advert for Target books. You'll be lucky to find any for 50p these days (though I have found all of them archived on the internet, free to download).
It's interesting to note that both magazines seemed to like certain stories / aliens over others (Sontarans and Peladon creatures in both), as well as sharing an interest in images from the same stories which the contemporary World of Horror magazine seemed to favour (e.g. Colony in Space, Frontier in Space and the Peladon stories).
Finally - the two posters:

As with the 1975 magazine, my copy was cut up for the photographs a very long time ago.
Next time - a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine feature from 1979.

DWM 60th Anniversary Poll (3)

"Predictable as ever, Doctor..."

As soon as I heard that DWM was going to embark on a new poll for the diamond anniversary, I made a few predictions. Two of these involved the best and worst of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors - and my predictions have proven to be correct.
I had assumed that the top Davison would be The Caves of Androzani, and the top Baker, C would be Revelation of the Daleks.
Bottom of the pile for each would be Time-Flight, and The Twin Dilemma.

What I hadn't predicted was just how little movement there would be since the last poll in 2014 - or even over the last four polls going back to 1998. That's a quarter of a century between earliest and most recent polls.
In second and third places for Davison we have (2nd) Earthshock then (3rd) The Five Doctors. I think Earthshock was the only Davison story that might have knocked Caves off its perch. As for The Five Doctors: is it really a Fifth Doctor story at all, or does it just happen to fall during his tenure? Did people vote for it due to Troughton or Pertwee as much as for anything else?

Joining Time-Flight at the opposite end of the poll, the lowest rated are (18th) The King's Demons and (19th) Warriors of the Deep.
Of the twenty Fifth Doctor stories, only six have changed position since the 2014 poll, and then only by + / - one place. The only significant moves, over a longer period of time, are Snakedance (up from 13th in 1998 to 9th this time out), and Black Orchid (down from 10th in 1998 to 13th in 2023).

If there has been little movement with the Davison stories, the Colin Baker ones haven't budged an inch since 2014. All 8 stories are placed exactly where they were in the 50th Anniversary poll.
In second place is Vengeance on Varos, and in third is The Two Doctors.
Even when we go back and compare 1998 to 2023, there hasn't been much movement - the odd story swapping with its neighbour only. 1st, 4th, 7th and 8th placed stories have always held those spots over the 25 years.
How significant is it, I wonder, that the top two stories see very little input from the Doctor...? It's patently obvious that he's an afterthought in Revelation, with Saward far more interested in Davros and his own characters, and the Doctor is stuck moping in the TARDIS for half of Varos. They are both very good Doctor Who stories - just not very good Colin Baker / Sixth Doctor stories.

The bottom pair just above The Twin Dilemma are (6th) Attack of the Cybermen, and (7th) Timelash. No surprises with second to bottom, then. It should be noted that Trial of a Time Lord was counted as a single story (as titled on screen and in its publicity), but it would have been interesting to have seen how the four component parts fared on their own.

Interestingly, the more continuity-heavy stories - Attack of the Cybermen, Warriors of the Deep, and Arc of Infinity have all fared badly. As far as writers go, Robert Holmes, Eric Saward and Chris Bailey have fared best.
The next results to be released will cover McCoy to Eccleston. Not entirely sure what they are going to do with The Movie - both the best and the worst Paul McGann story. We'll only know when they finally get round to giving us the whole integrated poll, with the actual individual scores.
Voting is now open for the Tennant and Smith stories. Will Fear Her remain the worst Tennant?

Friday 26 May 2023

The Art of... The Space Museum

The Space Museum was novelised by its writer, Glyn Jones. Unhappy with changes forced on his scripts by Dennis Spooner, he took the opportunity to reintroduce some of what was lost, without deviating too much from the broadcast episodes. 
The oddest thing is the relationship between the Doctor and Ian, which is nothing like that ever seen on screen. It's not just the way they spar with each other, but they just don't sound like their TV incarnations.
Published in June 1987, the cover is by David McAllister.
It can easily be accused of being misleading, featuring as it does a couple of Daleks. No Moroks, or even Xerons. Just Daleks.
We all know that a single Dalek features briefly - an empty shell - and that's it until the throw-forward at the end of fourth episode - a scene which doesn't even feature in the book! A casual browser in a bookshop might not have known this, and would have been fooled into thinking that this was a Dalek story.
We also see a re-entry capsule from a NASA craft, which never appears in the story.
The Hartnell image derives from a photograph from the closing moments of The Firemaker, as the Doctor and companions rush to the safety of the TARDIS.

The story was never given a VHS release of its own. It was issued in June 1999 alongside the two surviving episodes of The Crusade as a special release - and it was clear from the packaging which of the two stories was thought to be the main event. The cover was a photomontage, as was the custom towards the end of the VHS range.
Whilst The Space Museum was paired with the story screened before it on tape, it was paired with the following story when it came to the DVD release:

Released in March 2010, the two stories came in their own separate slipcases, in a cardboard sleeve which had only the artwork for The Chase on it. The US Region 1 set was released in July 2010.

The photomontage cover, by Clayton Hickman, depicts Lobos and Tor, with the frozen Doctor in the background. In the distance, on the left, is the exterior of the museum, with the spaceships lined up.

The story was part of The Collection - Season 2 Blu-ray box set, released in December 2022. The Doctor and his companions were seen in their display cases in the accompanying booklet - courtesy of Lee Binding, and the story disc had an image of Ian and the Doctor in the freezing room with Lobos and his technician. Part of this same photo had been used for the 1999 VHS release.

The Space Museum was one of the few stories complete in the archives to be given a soundtrack release. This was issued in May 2009, with linking narration from Maureen O'Brien. As with all these soundtrack releases, we have some quite gaudy colouring - including bright red hair for the Moroks.

An audiobook of the novelisation was released in February 2016 using a slightly adapted version of McAllister's original artwork. The bottom of the book cover has been cut off, but the planet in the bottom left corner has been moved up the image so that it can be included.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Story 268: Thin Ice

In which the Doctor and Bill discover that the TARDIS has materialised on the frozen River Thames. It is February 1814, and one of the famous Frost Fairs is taking place. These occasional events happened when the river froze over - allowing temporary entertainments to be set up on the ice. The Doctor shifts the TARDIS onto the riverside and they don appropriate period costumes to go outside and explore. As a woman of colour, Bill is concerned about the racist attitudes of this time, but the Doctor points out how cosmopolitan the Fair's visitors are. Back in the ship, a reading on the console shows a large lifeform, stretching the entire length of the river at this location.
They are both impressed by the flavour of a fish pie being sold. The Doctor then becomes curious about small lights which seem to be moving around just under the ice.
A group of street urchins is working the fair, picking pockets and stealing from food stalls. Whilst an older girl named Kitty distracts them, a boy named Spider steals the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. He accidentally activates it, and the Doctor sees the lights swarming in a circle below the boy's feet. He is then sucked down through the ice. The Doctor is able to retrieve the sonic, but is too late to save Spider.

The Doctor and Bill track down Kitty and the other children to a derelict house by the river. He produces pies from his top hat, stolen from a stall earlier, to win their trust. From them he learns that a man with a ship tattooed on his hand had given them all flyers to encourage people onto the ice. The Doctor suspects that there is something living in the river which must be fed - and someone is luring people onto the Thames to achieve this. The strange lights must be part of this feeding process - identifying isolated individuals like the unfortunate Spider.
He and Bill locate diving suits and that night they descend to the river bed. They see Spider's distinctive red hat, then come across a gigantic marine animal. It is like a huge eel, more than a mile long, and it has been secured to the river bed by heavy chains.

Returning to the surface, they find the pie stall owner fishing. The fish he has been catching are an unusual species. They generate light by bioluminescence, and the Doctor deduces that they live symbiotically with the huge sea creature. They lure the creature's food - humans and other animals - and dissolve the ice beneath them, then live off the scraps.
The next morning, the Doctor and Bill set off to locate the man with the ship tattoo. They trace him to a factory in the East End, where thick mud is being harvested from the river. Tricking the man, who is an overseer, into believing they know what is going on here, the man reveals that the mud is turned into bricks which can be used as fuel. The Doctor realises that it will be many times more efficient than coal - and that it is the waste product from the marine creature in the Thames. Properly exploited, it could alter history. People would be able to propel themselves to the Moon 150 years early.
The factory belongs to a man named Lord Sutcliffe. The Doctor and Bill go to his mansion and gain entry. Sutcliffe proves to be an odious man, launching a sexist, racist attack on Bill. This prompts the Doctor to punch him in the face. Captured by his men, they learn that Sutcliffe's family have owned the creature for generations, and now he is exploiting it on an industrial scale. It needs feeding, and he plans to use explosives to shatter the ice when the Frost fair is at its busiest. 

The Doctor and Bill find themselves tied up in a tent full of explosives out on the ice. He tricks their guard into giving him the sonic screwdriver after it attracts the lure fish. The man is sucked under the ice whilst the Doctor and Bill free themselves.
They locate Kitty and the other children and have them urge everyone to get off the ice - claiming a thaw has come on.
Seeing many people starting to leave, Sutcliffe attempts to detonate the explosives but finds nothing happens. He goes to the tent and discovers some of the gunpowder is missing. The Doctor has donned the diving suit once more and used the explosives to break the marine creature's chains. Now free, it cracks open the ice and Sutcliffe disappears beneath the surface.
The creature swims out of the Thames and away to the open sea. Before returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor forges documents to show that one of the urchins - a boy named Perry - is Sutcliffe's heir.
Back at St Luke's, Nardole is upset that the Doctor has clearly used the TARDIS as he sees them both still in their period costumes. Bill looks up the Frost Fair of 1814 on-line and is surprised to see no mention of a sea monster in the river. They do note that Perry was eventually accepted as Sutcliffe's heir.
The Doctor decides to take Bill on another trip in the TARDIS. Nardole checks on the vault, and is concerned to hear someone, or something, knocking from within...

Thin Ice was written by Sarah Dollard, and was first broadcast on Saturday 29th April, 2017.
This was her second story, following Face the Raven in the previous series.
The first part of the episode is pretty much a retread of The Shakespeare Code - even down to the concerns by the companion about her ethnicity, and the references to Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder in their worry about inadvertently changing history.
The Doctor leaves it to a human to decide the fate of a seemingly monstrous creature - just like in Kill The Moon, though this time the Doctor is prepared to offer some advice rather than simply abandoning them to make the choice alone.
There's nothing original about the Frost Fair setting, either - having already been mentioned in A Good Man Goes To War when River mentions the Doctor having Stevie Wonder play for her under one of London's bridges. The setting had already featured in other Doctor Who media.
The 1814 fair was the last ever to be held on the Thames. It was set up between Blackfriars and Old London bridges. The river was wider before the building of the embankments, and therefore slower flowing - enabling it to freeze over in extremely cold weather. An elephant had been paraded on the ice, to show the suspicious citizens that it was safe to walk on it.
The fairs were run by the Thames Watermen, who normally acted as a river taxi service. Unable to work with the river frozen, managing the fairs gave them some income until the thaw came.

Critics praised the episode for its handling of racism in history. As we've said, Gareth Roberts and RTD had already got there first as far as the companion is concerned. The episode goes out of its way to show a more diverse population attending the fair, and it is only Sutcliffe who is openly racist. The episode is unsure if it is his class that is behind this, or simply his own personal nature.
Whilst the episode does have a monster, it appears to be a terrestrial one, though of unknown origins. The Doctor naturally suspects an alien presence behind the scheme to advance technology - or perhaps a time-traveller. However, Sutcliffe is a purely human villain. The idea that the worst kinds of monsters can be human ones isn't exactly original.
Playing Sutcliffe is Nicholas Burns, who was well known for a regular comedy role - as Martin in the ITV sitcom Benidorm. He has also featured in The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd and Nathan Barley.
The Pie-Man is Peter Singh and Simon Ludders plays the factory overseer.
Of the urchins, Kitty is Asiata Koroma, Spider is Austin Taylor, and Perry is Badger Skelton.
It is an unusual episode of Doctor Who which features the death of a child - especially one clearly eaten by a sea monster.

Overall, an okay episode, with some plot elements best not looked into too closely - like how a mile long sea serpent could have gone unnoticed in the Thames for centuries (despite it having various bridges built over it through the years) - and how it was captured and secured in the first place.
Things you might like to know:
  • Steven Moffat had always thought that the Thames looked like a giant snake when he saw the opening credits to EastEnders.
  • The Power of Kroll also deals with a gigantic marine creature whose waste products are being exploited by humans - in this case its methane gas emissions. On the Third Moon of Delta Magna, the humans are unaware of the substance's origins, however.
  • Dollard named Sutcliffe after the character Dr. Donald Sutcliffe, from serial killer drama Hannibal. She was writing some Hannibal fan fiction at the time she wrote this episode.
  • She clearly has a love of Regency England, as she is one of the producers on Bridgerton.
  • The Doctor reads a story to the urchins - one of the nightmarish Struwwelpeter tales. These were cautionary stories, designed to discourage children from bad behaviour. The Doctor relates The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb: "Don't suck your thumbs while I'm away / A great tall tailor always comes / To little boys who suck their thumbs / And ere they dream what's he's about / He takes his great sharp scissors out / And cuts their thumbs clean off..."
  • Bill uses the internet search engine - which is the same one Rose Tyler used to look up the Doctor way back in Rose.
  • This episode was, for a couple of weeks, the joint lowest watched story of the revived series. It tied with Sleep No More, but both were beaten into lowest watched episode by Oxygen.
  • Mike Tucker's Model Unit created a small model of the Doctor in deep sea diver suit for the diving scenes. Veteran BBC VFX designer Colin Mapson was also involved. Peter Capaldi's features were modelled by Stephen Mansfield, who had worked on some Sylvester McCoy stories - sculpting the melting Kane, the Haemovores and the Destroyer amongst other creatures.
  • The Doctor in diving suit model featured in the recent Worlds of Wonder exhibition:

Tuesday 23 May 2023

The novelisation of the repeat of The Evil of the Daleks...

When I first saw this I was a bit confused as this story was already novelised by John Peel years ago. However, on reading the blurb I saw it wasn't so straightforward as simply an alternative version, in the way that David Fisher rewrote two of his novels.
When The Evil of the Daleks was repeated following the broadcast of The Wheel in Space, it was incorporated into the on-going narrative of the series by having the Doctor 'show' the story to Zoe via a mental projection. Frazer Hines' version of the story is an account of that "repeat showing", so will have a framing device beyond the story as recounted by Peel. From the synopsis, it may link in with The Mind Robber, which was all about fiction coming to life.
It's released in hardback and in audio format on 26th October 2023.

Inspirations: The Unicorn and the Wasp

The Unicorn and the Wasp is this season's celebrity historical. This time it is the 1920's, and a meeting with the "Queen of Crime" Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976).
Like the previous series' celebrity historical - The Shakespeare Code - it is written by Gareth Roberts, and like that story he basically uses the writings of the celebrity to form the basis for his plot. He also employs lots of the celebrity's titles or well known sayings in the dialogue.
In this episode, Roberts uses quite a few of Christie's many, many book titles. These include:
  • Sparkling Cyanide
  • Dead Man's Folly
  • Cat Among The Pigeons
  • Nemesis
  • The Secret Adversary
  • N or M? (The scrap of paper in the fireplace)
  • Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (The professor says: "Why didn't they ask... Heavens!")
  • They Do It With Mirrors
  • Appointment With Death
  • Cards on the Table
  • Yellow Iris (There is a vase next to the Doctor when he is poisoned)
  • Crooked House
  • Endless Night
  • Taken at the Flood
  • The Moving Finger
  • Death Comes As The End
  • Murder At The Vicarage ("Murder at the vicar's rage..." says the Doctor).
Other book titles are mentioned specifically - Murder on the Orient Express is mentioned by Donna, unaware that Agatha hasn't written it yet. Lady Eddison reads a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and it is this which triggers the entire chain of events. 
The Colonel pretending to be disabled, and the jewel thief posing as a house guest, are both plot points lifted from After the Funeral.
The Doctor is The Man in the Brown Suit.
Roberts was inspired to have a giant wasp as the monster in this by the cover of the 1957 Fontana paperback edition of Death in the Clouds. This novel involves a blackmailer being murdered on a flight from Paris to London. An injection of poison has been sued, initially mistaken for a wasp sting. The cover depicts the wasp in close up - making it look like a gigantic insect is threatening the aeroplane:

The Doctor shows Donna a facsimile copy at the end of the episode - one published in the year 5 Billion (suggesting it comes from New Earth).
Some of the incidents are lifted from And Then There Were None. This was previously given a title which is quite unacceptable today. The draft script was going to allude to this:
DONNA: "It's like Ten Little -"
DOCTOR: "Niggles aside...

The episode is set in early December 1926 (despite the weather seen on screen) as this was when Christie famously disappeared from her home. Her car was found at Newlands Corner in Surrey, and it was at first feared that she had drowned herself in the Silent Pool - a nearby beauty spot. She was found 11 days later at a spa hotel in Harrogate, claiming loss of memory. She was in the middle of an acrimonious split from her first husband at the time. She elected not to mention the incident at all in her autobiography. Theories include a nervous breakdown, or a deliberate attempt to embarrass her husband. The general public suspected a publicity stunt for her books.

Sherlock Holmes is referenced in that Donna thinks of detectives as going around with a big magnifying glass - an image usually associated with Holmes.
She speaks to Agatha about Miss Marple - not realising that she had not been created yet. Christie's detective in the early years was Hercules Poirot only.
She also gets a bit confused about whether or not Noddy is a real character. Noddy was the 1949 creation of Enid Blyton.

The other big inspiration is the boardgame Cluedo - itself inspired by the works of Christie. In this, the players have to guess the identity of a murderer, as well as the murder weapon used and the location in the country house where the crime took place - e.g. Professor Plum, with the lead pipe, in the library.
This is the very crime seen in the opening section of the episode, as Professor Peach is killed in this fashion, in the same location.
Other characters in the episode also mirror Cluedo characters:
  • Robina Redmond = Miss Scarlet
  • Clemency Eddison = Mrs Peacock
  • Colonel Curbishley = Colonel Mustard
  • Miss Chandrakala = Miss White
  • Rev. Golightly = Rev. Green
The Doctor has a store of items in the TARDIS catalogued alphabetically, with the paperback novel under "C" for Christie. This also contains the Carrionite crystal ball prison (The Shakespeare Code) and a Cybus Cyberman chest plate.
The Doctor has "kissed" all of his female companions since 2005, and here Donna kisses him as a way of shocking him, to help expel the toxin.
The first idea was to have the story set in the 1960's, with an older Christie acting like her Miss Marple character, before settling on the 1920's which was visually more interesting. 
David Tennant had starred with Fenella Woolgar in a movie about 1920's high society - Bright Young Things, directed by Stephen Fry and based on the work of Evelyn Waugh. Woolgar had form with Christie, having previously featured in two episodes of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot.

Sunday 21 May 2023

Episode 69: The Dimensions of Time

As time corrects itself, the Doctor announces that they have now properly arrived... 
They can now be seen by the people who run this museum - the ones who will kill them and place them on display if they capture them. Outside, the TARDIS is already discovered by the white uniformed guards.
Nearby, the Governor in charge of the complex - Lobos - is bemoaning the lack of interest in the museum by his people. They are the warlike Moroks, who once had a great empire. They invaded this planet - Xeros - a generation ago and established the museum to celebrate their many military victories. Now, the Moroks have lost their thirst for conquest. Lobos looks forward to finally getting back home, but still has many months before that can happen. He is notified of the strange craft which has arrived unannounced on Xeros, and orders his men to seek out its occupants and capture them.
A new exhibit may rekindle interest in his museum.
The Doctor and his companions decide to make for the TARDIS, but soon find they are lost in the labyrinth of corridors. Ian decides to remove a futuristic weapon from its display case, if only to use it to threaten.
Elsewhere, the young men in black previously seen by the travellers are meeting in a disused storeroom. Their leader is Tor, and he and his friends are Xeron natives. When the Moroks invaded, they killed all the adults but spared the children. When they grow older, they are shipped off to work as slave labour elsewhere in the empire. Believing that the new arrivals may be in a position to help them, Tor sends Dako and Sita out to find them and bring them to him.
He leads a resistance movement, but they lack the weapons to overthrow Lobos and his men.
The Doctor lags behind the others and is grabbed by the Xeron youths. He feigns unconsciousness until left alone with only Dako then overpowers him. When the rest of the Xerons return they find he has vanished. He is actually hiding in the empty Dalek shell.
So pleased is he with his ruse that he fails to notice a pair of Morok soldiers, who capture him and march him away.
The others argue about what they should do. Will their actions take them away from the display cases - or bring them closer to that fate? Ian unpicks Barbara's cardigan to use the wool as a trail so they won't go round in circles. They finally reach the main doors - only to see the TARDIS just outside under armed guard.
In Lobos' office, the Doctor finds himself trapped in a strange chair. Lobos informs him that it allows him to see images from the Doctor's mind - a means to locate the others and find out who they are. The Doctor realises that the device can be easily fooled - showing the Governor nonsensical images.
Frustrated, Lobos orders that he be taken away for processing...
Next episode: The Search

Written by: Glyn Jones
Recorded: Friday 9th April 1965 - Television Centre Studio TC4
First broadcast: 5:50pm, Saturday 1st May 1965
Ratings: 9.2 million / AI 53
Designer: Spencer Chapman
Director: Mervyn Pinfield
Guest cast: Richard Shaw (Lobos), Jeremy Bulloch (Tor), Peter Craze (Dako), Peter Sanders (Sita), Peter Diamond (Morok Technician), Salvin Stewart (Morok Messenger)

Stop me if you've heard this before, but there is an old joke that says that there are only three things wrong with The Space Museum. Those are Episode 2, Episode 3, and Episode 4...
It's at least the third time I've used this gag on this blog, and I didn't even come up with it.
To be honest, this isn't entirely fair, though the opening instalment is undeniably far superior to what follows. The science fiction mystery of jumping time-tracks and glimpsing potential futures was fascinating - the first time that the series had really made time travel an important plot point and not just the thing that gets the Doctor and his companions into the adventure at the beginning of Episode 1, then away again at the end of the last episode.
From its beginnings, Doctor Who was to have told three different types of story: those set in the past, those set in the future / on another world, and those termed "sideways". 
This latter was described as stories which explored different states of being. To date only two stories had fitted this category - The Edge of Destruction and Planet of Giants.
The Space Museum (i.e. the episode) also fitted the bill, but the same can't be said of the rest of the story for it is as conventional as they come.

From halfway through The Dimensions of Time, the story takes a turn to the predictable, as it morphs into a typical capture / escape tale with lots of running down corridors.
I say halfway, because first of all we get the lovely scenes between the Doctor and Governor Lobos, as the latter attempts to interrogate the former.
The Morok leader relies on his technology to tell him all he wants to know. He has little or no imagination, whereas the Doctor has this in abundance. He uses it to baffle Lobos by making his mind-reading machine show whatever the Doctor wants it to show. Amongst other bizarre images, we are treated to the sight of the Doctor in Edwardian bathing costume after Lobos insists he is not an amphibian - the Doctor having claimed to come from a rock in the sea covered in walruses.
When Ian, Barbara and Vicki are seen on the device at a particular location, it simply doesn't dawn on Lobos that that was where the Doctor last saw them ages ago, and they would almost certainly have moved on by now.
We also get the almost iconic scene of the Doctor making use of one of his deadliest enemies to outwit his latest foes - chuckling to himself as he emerges from a Dalek casing.
Without doubt, Hartnell is the best thing about The Dimensions of Time.

The opening scene with Lobos, on the other hand, is a prime example of how not to deliver exposition.
He sits at his desk and explains all about the museum, how long he has been there, how long he still has to stay, why no-one seems to be visiting, who the Xeron youths are and why they're rebelling...
He's a Morok, talking to another Morok, yet they both feel the need to explain what their own time units are, and where they come from:
  • LOBOS: "Well, I've got two more minims before I go home. Yes, I say it often enough, but it's still two thousand Xeron days...".
  • LOBOS (on being told a ship has landed): "From home? There was no advance notification".
  • MESSENGER: "Not from the planet Morok. Alien".
The Xerons were originally going to be called the Tarkans, but people struggled with pronouncing this. The Moroks derived their name from "morons", as they were deliberately scripted to be rather dim-witted, unimaginative soldiers. Likewise, Lobos was named after the process of lobotomy - a surgical technique that can leave people "zombified".
The Moroks are given white uniforms, with big shoulders, and their hair is styled in a large quiff. 
The Xerons, on the other hand dress in trendy black polo necks and jeans. They have more conventional hairstyles and they have distinctive double-eyebrows.
The Moroks might be styled on the Teddy Boys or Rockers, representing the 1950's, making the Xerons the cooler, more up to date, Hipsters - more likely to be into jazz than rock'n'roll. It's significant that they are all teenagers. The conflict between the Xerons and the Moroks is as much a generational / cultural one as anything else.

There is much discussion between the TARDIS crew as to Ian's missing button. Had they noticed it when in the display cabinets they might have known if the future had been altered. What they neglect to think about about is the more obvious destruction of Barbara's cardigan. She is wearing it in the case, so they have altered the future - even if they don't know to what extent.

There is an unseen pre-Totters Lane adventure mentioned, when the Doctor states that he was with Scottish inventor James Watt when he realised that steam could be harnessed as an efficient power source. This suggests that he was in Glasgow in the early 1770's.
He often takes the credit for inventions and discoveries, but in this instance simply states that he was with Watt.

  • After their rally last week, the ratings drop by more than a million, but the AI actually rises two points.
  • The episode began 10 minutes later than usual due to Bank Holiday sporting events, covered by the BBC's Grandstand programme. The BBC had broadcast the FA Cup Final live that afternoon.
  • This is one of the shortest ever episodes, with a running time of only 22 minutes.
  • It was cleared for wiping on 31st January 1969, but a film copy was found to have been retained by the BBC in 1977.
  • Jeremy Bulloch will become best known for playing bounty hunter Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy. He returned to Doctor Who in 1974 to play archer Hal in The Time Warrior - a role which led to him being briefly considered as a potential companion.
  • Richard Shaw will return to the series in Frontier in Space as lunar prison trustee Cross, and in Underworld as one of the cyborg Seers.
  • Peter Craze will return in The War Games, as French soldier Du Pont, and again in Nightmare of Eden, as Azure customs officer Costa. He was the brother of Michael Craze - future companion Ben Jackson.
  • Peter Diamond was employed both to play the Morok technician and to arrange the action sequences. He had only recently played Ian's friend Delos in The Romans.
  • Following the recording of this episode, Hartnell embarked on a week's holiday. He would be absent from The Search.

Saturday 20 May 2023

Countdown to 60: "Indomitable!"

We are all used to the big series opener / epic series finale way of working in television these days. This is another of those practices which had been going on for ages in the US. 
In series such as The X-Files, Star Trek: TNG / DS9 / Voyager, Supernatural or Buffy, the series opener was usually the outcome of the previous series' finale. As far as the networks were concerned, leaving fans on a cliff-hanger was guaranteed to get them watching when the new series began.
The only drawback for this style of programming is when the decision is made not to renew. Luckily I read a few of the sci-fi magazines and websites, and know if a series has been axed - so can avoid wasting my time watching a series which I know will end on a never-to-be-resolved cliff-hanger.
Doctor Who can often go with a more low-key series opener, but since it returned in 2005 it has always made sure of an epic series finale - and we only get a cliff-hanger when we know that it will lead somewhere.
Things were different during the "classic" era. 

When it came to Season One, they weren't actually sure where the run was going to end. At one point it might have been with The Sensorites, whereas The Dalek Invasion of Earth would be the more obvious end-point. A big Earth invasion story, the return of a popular monster, the departure of a companion, and no throw-forward to the next story.
Planet of Giants made for a terribly weak first new story for Season 2 - and The Chase was the other obvious choice to have ended things, with more Daleks and the departure of Ian and Barbara.
The "shape" of Season Four is particularly odd. The Smugglers is another weak opener - and non-fans are amazed to learn that the very first change of Doctor took place at the end of the season's second story. These events are obviously held back for special occasions these days.
At least you could point to The Evil of the Daleks as a suitably epic finale.

Another oddity of the classic era was its production blocks. Barry Letts liked the old custom of recording an episode at the end of a block, which would then be held over to form an early show of the next season. (In the monochrome era, this was always the first story, as they didn't make them out of sequence until Season 8).
Carnival of Monsters was recorded straight after The Time Monster, and The Time Warrior was recorded straight after The Green Death.
Planet of the Spiders and Robot actually overlapped production. This coincided with a change in production teams.

In the same way that Spearhead from Space was a transitional story - the first Pertwee, the first colour story, the first story of the 1970's, the first story of Season 7 - it was produced by the Troughton era's Derrick Sherwin, and it was made in 1969. Barry Letts didn't take over until the following story, and even then it had been set up entirely by his predecessor.
So it is with the end of the Letts era. Robot may be the first story of Season 12, and the first of Tom Baker's tenure - but it is very much a Letts-UNIT story. You could swap Pertwee for Baker and he wouldn't look out of place.

For many, the real Tom Baker-Philip Hinchcliffe-Robert Holmes era begins with The Ark in Space - and within that it is the scene where the new Doctor and his backroom team set out their stall.
The Doctor has clearly had a soft spot for Earth and its people from the start. We first met him during an extended stay in London (at least 5 months according to Susan) and we hear of many earlier visits to the planet throughout its history.
We then see him visit Earth in other historical periods, and in the present day, on many, many occasions. The Time Lords note his fascination with the planet and so decide that it's the best place to exile him. All but four of his companions were from Earth, or descended from Earth people.
Later, he'll hold more of a cautious attitude towards the human race's expansion into the rest of the galaxy, even questioning why he likes us so much, but for now he is impressed:

"Homo Sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable!".

Friday 19 May 2023

What's Wrong With... The Brain of Morbius

Had I written this piece a couple of years ago, the only really big problem with The Brain of Morbius would be the mind-wrestling sequence suggesting that William Hartnell wasn't the first Doctor. 
The Three Doctors had already clearly contradicted this, the Time Lords themselves saying so.
Hinchcliffe and Holmes thought there might have been earlier Doctors, which is why they included this scene in this form, but we could easily dismiss it by pointing out that it is Morbius who loses the battle - so the faces we saw must have been his. He's the one who is pushed back along his timeline.
Unfortunately, some hack writer decided that this sequence couldn't simply be left alone as a bit of an aberration, and it just had to be addressed when he was put in charge of the programme...
We now have the whole Timeless Child thing to put up with, all because of this one scene. The problems of the mind-wrestling sequence are multiplied.
If these incarnations of the Doctor were wiped from his mind, how can he picture them?
If the Doctor being a white man for 13 incarnations has been a problem for some people, he's now been a white man for 21 consecutive incarnations, thanks to Chibnall.

Everywhere the Doctor goes, he encounters people who look just like us. So how come, out of a dozen or so wrecked spaceships, not one of the passengers or crew had a humanoid head? 
Why did Solon not use Condo's head? Why just one of his arms?
Terrance Dicks' criticism of this story is perfectly valid. If Solon is the greatest surgeon in the universe, why has he come up with such an ugly, mis-matched body for the person he idolises? Surely he knows Morbius will have some concerns about the way he looks, if he is going to seek to pick up where he left off?
Why does Solon only want to use the Doctor's head? Can't he simply transplant Morbius' brain into the Doctor's intact body - especially when he finds out he is a compatible Time Lord?

Is Kriz, the Mutt, a Solonian mutant, or just a reused costume? If it is a Solonian then what is it doing flying around the galaxy during this period of transformation? Do they still transform if away from Solos, where the atmospheric changes of the seasons are supposed to play a role?

Why did Maren not use the Elixir to make herself younger and fitter?
If the Sisterhood can see into people's minds - other than those of the Time Lords - why have they not seen what Solon or Condo were up to?
Why don't they tap into Sarah's mind and find out what she has seen and heard? They would have known the Doctor wasn't here by choice for a start.
Why did Solon insist on continuing to work on Karn - right under the noses of the Sisterhood, and only a short hop away from Gallifrey? Why not smuggle the brain to an obscure planet with lots of humanoids he could have used?
Sunrise on Karn look remarkably like the turning on of a light bulb...

How does the Doctor recognise where they are from the stars when the sky is overcast and a thunderstorm is about to commence? 
His perception varies. He knows he's on Karn, and that Solon was reputed to be a member of the Cult of Morbius, yet takes ages to recognise the bust as that of the evil Time Lord.
When trapped in a locked room, the Doctor thinks the way to go is to poison the only people who can let you out.