Tuesday 29 August 2023

Countdown to 60: "Barcelona!"

"That's the trouble with regeneration. You never quite know what you're going to get..."

The revived series was only three days old when news broke that Christopher Eccleston had already quit the show, and this would be his one and only season. We fans knew exactly what this meant: there would be a regeneration at the conclusion of Parting of the Ways. The only speculation would be how it would come about. We were spared the long, drawn-out, speculation of who would replace Eccleston, as it was very quickly announced that the next Doctor would be David Tennant, who had just starred in RTD's Casanova, and was known to be a great fan of the show.
The event proved to be another act of self-sacrifice - the Doctor saving Rose's life by removing the Vortex from her and taking it into himself.
(Quite why it "killed" him, a Time Lord, when he only held it for a matter of seconds, when she, a mere human, could hold it for much, much longer remains a mystery - or a bit of bad plotting...).

Something else we wondered was: what would the regeneration look like? I'm sure many people assumed that it would resemble most of the previous ones - with the Doctor prostrate on the floor, changing via some roll-back and mix process.
What we got instead was the Doctor standing upright, arms outstretched, as the regeneration took place - an explosive event with golden energy bursting from collar and sleeves. Unlike in the old days, when different directors and production teams came and went over the years, there was no consistency with this - but since 2005 the programme has maintained this explosive process for every Time Lord regeneration (the Master, the General and River Song as well as the Doctor). 

The very first regeneration wasn't even called that. The Doctor seemed to age and tire - probably due to the influence of the peripatetic Cyberman planet Mondas, which was draining energy. (Though he may have already been affected by the Dalek Time Destructor and the life-force draining of the Elders).
The Doctor passed out for a whole episode, then finally staggered out to the TARDIS. The ship certainly played a role in the first change. We saw the lights dimming - with the ones on the console flashing erratically. The controls seemed to move by themselves. The Doctor fell to the floor and his features flared and blurred and there was another man lying there in his place. Not only did he change physically - his clothes changed with him. 
The first regeneration, at the end of The Tenth Planet, is actually the best of the classic series. They spent a long time on the day getting it right. The faces of the two actors line up beautifully, with just the right amount of flare to cover the transition.
Afterwards the Doctor confirms that the TARDIS played a vital role in the process, and he describes it as a form of "renewal" - which led many fans (and official books and magazines) to claim that the Doctor had actually rejuvenated.

When it came time for Patrick Troughton to move on, at the conclusion of The War Games, it was a case of forced change brought on by the Time Lords. Despite his protestations, the Doctor actually complains about the fact that he's known on Earth in the late 20th Century - so is in a small way complicit in his change of appearance. The Doctor appears to be transported from the trial room to a black void (the Matrix?) and he spins round as his features vanish into shadow - leaving him looking oddly decapitated. It's an alarming sight for any younger viewers watching - especially when it leads to a cliff-hanger as we don't get to see him emerge at the other side of the process. We'd have to wait six months to see where this would lead.
The new Doctor - Jon Pertwee - would stagger out of the TARDIS into a new, colourful decade. This time, the clothes did not change with his body.
When the time came for him to leave, we had another regeneration to sit through first - that of his old Time Lord mentor K'anpo. The process was now called "regeneration" for the first time - the term which remains to this day.
The Doctor's regeneration - the result of intense radiation poisoning - is underwhelming. K'anpo had simply cross-faded into Cho-Je, and the same fate befalls Pertwee as he turns into Tom Baker. It's bland and boring, and the two actors' features - and their shirt collars - fail to match up.
This time, the regeneration is "nudged along" by K'anpo / Cho-Je. (Would it not have happened had he not done this - and how did he do this?). Another new thing is that Cho-Je could exist concurrently with K'anpo - being a projection of his future incarnation. Director / writer / producer of Planet of the Spiders Barry Letts would remember this when it came to the next one.

The Fourth Doctor was haunted by a mysterious white figure who watched events - so is known as the Watcher - as he headed towards his regeneration at the conclusion of Logopolis. This figure proved to be another future projection - but of the intermediate stage in the regeneration process rather than his next incarnation. We aren't party to the conversation the Doctor has with it on the bridge over the Thames, but it looks as if the Watcher basically tells the Doctor what's going to happen to him.
After Tom had fallen off the radio-telescope, the Watcher appeared and merged into his broken body. Tom turned into the Watcher, then the Watcher turned into Peter Davison. This was the old roll-back and mix process as used in Planet of the Spiders, but it was made more visually interesting thanks to that intermediate stage, as Davison himself was also seen made-up in mid-change.
Just before the change we also get the Doctor recalling all of his particular companions, as well as his more memorable villains.
By the time Davison left, at the end of The Caves of Androzani, the BBC had more VFX toys to play with, so the regeneration could be made to look more interesting. (This time the cause was a fatal infection, and for the first time the Doctor regenerates as a form of self-sacrifice - as he could have used some of the antidote for himself). 
Visually, director Graeme Harper was inspired by the closing section of the Beatles' Day in a Life, which builds to a chaotic crescendo.
Harper elects to have a mass of visual trickery overlay the Doctor, who once again recalls his particular companions (but culminating in the Master willing him to die). Instead of clips, all the actors filmed these cameos specially, as they were at the BBC to attend the leaving party.
What isn't made clear is just what Peri sees of this process. Does she see what we see (the visual trickery, that is - not the companions, obviously)?
It's the second best of the classic regenerations.

The next regeneration was... problematic - the biggest problem being that one of the two Doctors had been sacked and was refusing to come back and do the changeover. Poor Sylvester McCoy, already lumbered with a dreadful debut story and floundering with no idea how he was going to play this role, was forced to wear a Harpo Marx wig and Colin Baker's clown suit. The features are blurred out by VFX - but the process isn't well done and we can clearly see that it is Sylvester McCoy wearing a Harpo Marx wig...
The reason for the regeneration is just as bad as the execution. The Doctor appears to have simply fallen off his exercise bike after a "tremendous buffeting" (copyright Pip & Jane Baker) courtesy of the Rani.
Pertwee to Baker might be the blandest regeneration, but this is definitely the worst overall.
It looked as if McCoy would never have to undergo his own regeneration into someone else, as the series was cancelled in 1989.
However, come 1996 there was an attempted relaunch in partnership with an American TV company - and it would begin with McCoy in the role. He would get a few scenes before regenerating into his old friend Paul McGann.
The reason this time was a fatal gangland shooting. (Did I mention it was an American co-production...?). The actual "death" though is due to botched surgery as his temporary companion-to-be fails to get to grips with his alien physiology.
For the first time, proper CGI could be employed. McCoy and McGann gurn for a bit, though we also have flashes of electrical energy and the Doctor's body appearing in skeletal X-ray form.

Russell T Davies - recalling the TV Movie - elected to have his new Doctor appear fully formed in the shape of Christopher Eccleston. McGann would not be invited back (yet). 
Dialogue in Rose does suggest that the regeneration has only just happened. Either that, or the Doctor hasn't been anywhere near a mirror for a very long time. The DWM comic strip was invited to feature the regeneration, but they elected not to do so in the end.
As it is, we did finally get to see missing regenerations during the 50th Anniversary celebrations. Mini-episode Night of the Doctor showed us the demise of the Eighth Doctor - victim of a spaceship crash on the planet Karn. The Sisterhood's Elixir of Life, which we already knew could aid regeneration, was employed to turn him into John Hurt - the hitherto unknown real ninth incarnation which even the Doctor didn't talk about. Then, a few days later, we got to see the regeneration which introduced the Eccleston Doctor, as Hurt's "War Doctor" began the regeneration process. The reason was simply, like the First Doctor, that his old body had worn out.

Which brings us back to "Barcelona!". As we've said, the regeneration process has now become standardised since 2005. The Tenth Doctor will manage to control the process (after being shot by a Dalek) - using some of the process to heal his body and syphoning off the rest into a handy (geddit?) biological container. Despite him not changing, this still uses up one of his twelve regenerations.
He will finally bite the dust for the same reason as Pertwee's Doctor - radiation poisoning - and once again it will be through an act of self-sacrifice.
The Matt Smith Doctor then becomes the final incarnation, now that we factor in the War Doctor and Ten's partial regeneration. 
That's based on the Robert Holmes rule of twelve regenerations / 13 Doctors. However, The Five Doctors had seen the High Council on Gallifrey offer the Master a whole new regeneration cycle...
This was recalled by Steven Moffat, and used to give the Doctor his next incarnation, as played by Peter Capaldi. For the third time, the Doctor died of old age, and for the second time he was able to control the process in order to divert excess energy - this time to destroy the Daleks.
The Twelfth Doctor meets his end after being zapped repeatedly by Cybermen (so Mondasian Cybermen have been responsible twice now). Interestingly, we go full circle as he meets up with his first incarnation in Antarctica just as he is about to regenerate.

We then discover that all of the regeneration lore can be thrown out the window, as the Doctor isn't actually a Time Lord at all, was the person who gave the Time Lords their regeneration abilities in the first place - and is really immortal and can regenerate as often as he / she / it likes.
The Thirteenth regenerates after being zapped by an alien energy form whilst it is busy destroying another peripatetic Cyberman planet - its weapon diverted by the Master.
For the first time in a long time, the Doctor's clothes change as part of the process (mainly because RTD did not want to have the Doctor "in drag", trivialising sections of the trans community). (Tom Baker's boots somehow managed to turn into shoes for Peter Davison however - despite the rest of his outfit remaining the same).
This most recent regeneration is odd in that for the first time the Doctor has taken on the form of a previous incarnation (Ten again). He looks the same, but RTD is at pains to claim that this is a new, Fourteenth, Doctor and not Ten back again.
Another thing about this regeneration is that it takes place outside the TARDIS. War, Nine, Ten, Eleven and Twelve all changed inside the ship - with a couple of them actually blowing the thing up (despite the fact that the Doctor is now supposed to be able to control the process to a degree).

The look of regeneration may have become standardised - but there are still variations.
The 60th Anniversary will see yet another regeneration, as we know that Ncuti Gatwa will be making his full debut at Christmas 2023. Tennant is back only for three special episodes, and presumably the next regeneration will take place in the third of them (though we have been told that the two actors do overlap).
As is now the norm, our only interest will be in how the regeneration comes about - unless RTD can come up with something novel in terms of the process itself.

Monday 28 August 2023

What's Wrong With... The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Before we look at the story itself, we must address the issue of "yellow face" in these episodes. This has been an issue in the series before - e.g. the Hartnell historical adventures Marco Polo and The Crusade.
Actors of an ethnic minority background were employed in these stories, but only as background characters. All of the principal roles went to Caucasian actors - and the same thing happens here. The argument is always that the UK did not have enough leading actors from the minorities at the time. True, institutional racism had contributed towards them failing to break out on stage and on screen, but by 1977 this should not have been the case. We only have to look at The Mind of Evil in 1971 to see two Chinese actors in significant speaking roles, helping to carry the earlier instalments. The actor who we see in the background of the image above - Vincent Wong - could easily have portrayed Li H'sen Chang. He was a good enough actor to be given a significant role in one of the Bond movies (Die Another Day).

The other controversial issue, of course, is the representation of the Chinese people in the story. This goes back to one of the main source materials which Robert Holmes was using for inspiration - the Fu Manchu novels of Sax Rohmer. The first of these - The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (aka The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu) - was published in 1913, and reflected attitudes of the time. Despite comprising only a couple of streets, Limehouse's 'Chinatown' district was regarded as a den of sin. The locals were employed almost exclusively in the laundry business - and the drug trade. White women ran the risk of being abducted and sold into slavery abroad. The newspapers were full of the "Yellow Peril". The Chinese were pretty much, as an entire nation, criminals who could not be trusted. Rohmer's books are full of stereotypes - including other ethnic minorities who are generally described as intrinsically monstrous.
Talons features no sympathetic member of the Chinese community - someone from within it who is opposed to the Tong.

On to the story itself.
The geography is all wrong. The River Fleet ran down through the area between the Cities of Westminster and London. Walk along Fleet Street today and you'll notice a prominent dip / rise between the Strand and St Pauls - the old course of the vanished river. The Holborn Viaduct crosses it. What is left of the river, now part of the sewer system, comes out on the Thames close to Blackfriars Bridge.
The Palace Theatre is located firmly in Limehouse, which is much too far east for the Fleet to pass underneath it.
The Doctor's mention of the Venerable Bede sounds as if he was local, whereas the Tyneside monk never left the North East of England.

It's a very big coincidence that the pathologist examining the Tong's victims just happens to be the very person whom the Tong's leader is searching for.
From what Litefoot says, the Time Cabinet has been in his London home for a long time. The fact that young women have only just started to disappear suggests that Greel has only been in the city for a short time. If the British were the main foreign presence in China at the time of Litefoot's parents' stay there, then surely Greel should have looked at searching London first. Why hunt all over Europe for it?
Couldn't Li H'sen Chang's hypnotic powers have been used to find out from palace staff exactly who the cabinet had been gifted to?

Another big coincidence is that the Peking Homunculus just happens to be taken back in time to... China. If Greel had some previous connection with that country it certainly isn't mentioned.
Mr Sin is a homicidal maniac, yet it doesn't kill Litefoot - despite two attacks on his home.
The dummy Mr Sin at the end of the final episode is particularly obvious.
The giant rat is another obvious misfire. As the producer himself noticed too late, it needed to be dirtied down, with wet, slicked back hair, instead of looking fluffy.
You can clearly see a 1976 newspaper in the laundry hamper at one point.

Greel has a giant laser weapon in his secondary base. Why? His plan is to get the Cabinet and leave immediately, so why would he plan for a battle within the confines of his base? If he was worried about Time Agents or other undesirables coming for him, wouldn't some more subtle booby-traps do the job more efficiently?
Why have as his main base a chamber right next to a stinking sewer, when he has that other place?
The theatre is one of the few buildings in London which has people moving around it for much of the day and night. Wouldn't somewhere only used for a few hours a day, or an abandoned place, have been more practicable for sneaking in and out of?
How does Chang get to the opium den so quickly, considering he's lost a lot of blood - and one of his legs?
The Time Cabinet is clearly not dimensionally transcendental - so how did Greel fit all that equipment into it? Even if he built a lot of it himself locally in China, it would still have taken a fair bit of 5000 AD equipment which could hardly have fitted into a space which had to accommodate himself and Mr Sin as well.

Sunday 27 August 2023

Episode 81: Checkmate

Vicki and Steven find a power cable snaking out of a stone sarcophagus. Bending low, they push through a set of doors and find themselves in a familiar futuristic control room. The Monk has a TARDIS!
In the corridor nearby, the Doctor has identified the Monk as a meddler in Time, and demands to know what he is up to here in 1066.
His companions find that the Monk has been looting treasures from various periods of Earth history. Vicki comes across his diary, which mentions a number of schemes he has been involved in - such as depositing money in a bank in 1968, then jumping forward 200 years to collect the interest.
They are then joined by the Doctor and the Monk, who outlines his present scheme. He plans to lure the Viking fleet into a trap - attacking it with the atomic bazooka which Steven had earlier found on the clifftop. With this invasion defeated before it has even begun there will be no need for King Harold to march north and fight his brother Tostig and his Viking allies - which weakened his army and contributed to their defeat at Hastings, when they had to rapidly march south again so soon after.
The long term plan is that Europe will be spared many future Anglo-French conflicts, the Industrial Revolution will occur sooner, and the human race should develop more rapidly. 
The Monk reveals other instances of his meddling with history, much to the Doctor's exasperation. 
His TARDIS is of a more advanced design, able to remain safely in deep space, and the Doctor deduces that he hails from around half a century after his own time.
A recovered Eldred sees Sven and Ulf in the monastery and runs off to warn Wulnoth. The Monk exits his TARDIS and runs into the two Vikings, but manages to convince them he is on their side. They capture the Doctor and his companions instead, tying them up and leaving them in the chapel.
The Monk has the Vikings help carry the ammunition for his bazooka to the clifftop, claiming they are magic charms which will help guide their fleet into harbour.
As they move through the woods, they are attacked by Wulnoth and the villagers. The Monk flees, whilst Sven and Ulf are brutally slain.
Edith finds the Doctor and his companions and unties them, before going to find her husband. The Doctor re-enters the Monk's TARDIS and begins working under the control console - attaching a length of string to one of the components. Ensuring he, Vicki and Steven are safely outside the sarcophagus, he pulls the string and out comes the component. 
He leads his companions away - leaving a note behind.
The Monk reaches the monastery and goes to the chapel where he finds the note. In it, the Doctor claims to have put a stop to his time-meddling, and says that he may one day come back and free him. The Monk is scathing that the Doctor could sabotage his more advanced ship - until he looks through the doors. The component which the Doctor removed was the one which controlled the internal dimensions. The interior is now the size of the exterior sarcophagus shell. He is stranded in 1066...
The Doctor, Vicki and Steven return to the TARDIS and embark on new adventures...
Next episode: Four Hundred Dawns

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Recorded: Friday 2nd July 1965 - Television Centre TC4
First broadcast: 5:40pm, Saturday 24th July 1965
Ratings: 8.3 million / AI 54
Designer: Barry Newbery
Director: Douglas Camfield

This episode marked the end of The Time Meddler, and so concludes the second year of Doctor Who. Of the four regulars who stepped out onto the Planet of Giants, only the Doctor himself remained on board the TARDIS.

The Monk is seen to be the first member of the Doctor's own race he has encountered, after Susan of course. Not only does he have a time machine, but it is specifically another TARDIS - causing us to wonder about Susan's claim to have made up the name.
Wherever it is that they both come from, the Doctor left it around 50 years before the Monk did. The Monk has a Mark IV TARDIS. The Doctor's model is unspecified. The main difference appears to be that the console is on a raised dais - one so high that it makes it look difficult for the Monk, who is hardly tall, to actually reach all of the controls...
Another difference from the Doctor's TARDIS is that the Monk's floor is black rather than white.
The Monk refers to a "camouflage unit" - what will later be known as the Chameleon Circuit. In The Chase, the Doctor had suggested that the TARDIS could not suspend itself indefinitely in space (Terry Nation presuming that it must draw its oxygen from outside). The Monk claims to have "automatic drift control" that gets round this.
The Doctor is impressed by the ship, even though he tries to belittle it - claiming that it only landed within the chapel and took on an appropriate form by accident. There's clearly an element of jealousy there.
Vicki seems to think their TARDIS can be washed away by the tide, but the Doctor tells her that this can't happen, and it should not be damaged in this way. It's odd that she hasn't realised this by now.

The dialogue is a little confusing as to whether or not the Doctor and Monk know each other. The Monk obviously recognises the Doctor as a fellow time traveller as he saw and heard the arrival of the TARDIS on the beach. The Doctor knows the Monk is a time traveller from the anachronistic items in the monastery. It is only in this episode that the Doctor seems to finally identify him specifically as a time-meddler, and asks him what he is up to this time (my emphasis). The latter suggests that they have met before, but the Doctor may simply be surmising - rightly - that this isn't the first time he has interfered with history. They have this conversation before entering the Monk's ship and hearing of his various activities.

Examples of the Monk's time-meddling include the aforementioned bank deposit / compound interest scam, plus helping to build Stonehenge using anti-gravity lifts and giving Leonardo Da Vinci ideas for powered flight. Should his plan to destroy the Viking fleet succeed, he thinks that Shakespeare might be able to mount Hamlet on television, and there could be jet liners by the early 14th Century.
It will later be seen that the Doctor has met Leonardo on at least one occasion - in which he also seems to have given the polymath some ideas. Da Vinci has never featured in the series, to date, though the Doctor has been seen to just miss him in The Masque of Mandragora and City of Death. The latter story confirms that they certainly know each other by this point.
For the final time, Dennis Spooner gets to tell the audience his ideas about time travel and interacting with Earth history. As they sit trussed up in the chapel, Steven states that he knows William the Conqueror wins the Battle of Hastings as he has read about it in the history books, but Vicki points out that history for him can be rewritten, as events haven't happened yet. If the Monk succeeded, Steven's memories of what the history books say will simply change to match the new time-line. This goes against the discussion at the end of The Reign of Terror (in our last season-ending episode), when the Doctor and his companions claimed that history would simply bend and shape itself to make sure it ran as fated. In The Aztecs, however, the Doctor had argued that history could be changed, implying terrible consequences.
The Monk seems to imply that it is someone's decree -  a rule or code - which prevents history being changed ("And who says so?" he asks), rather than some immutable cosmic force.

Some of the scene where the Doctor removes the dimensional control was ad-libbed by Hartnell. Maureen O'Brien finds it hard to keep a straight face during this sequence.
Peter Purves' "Doc... tor" joke was also an ad-lib.
The Monk staring into his shrunken TARDIS was not achieved by inlay. Peter Butterworth was filmed looking through a photographic blow-up of the TARDIS set.
As this was the end of the season, Camfield recorded a special closing scene, with the over-exposed faces of the Doctor, Vicki and Steven superimposed over a starscape - much as Henric Hirsch had ended Prisoners of the Conciergerie on a similar starscape rather than cut straight to the usual fade to black / end credits.

Whilst this story appears to be complete, there is a 12 second segment missing from this final episode. This was the actual slaying of Sven and Ulf by the villagers. This had been censored by the local TV station which had bought the story, discovered when it was returned from Nigeria. The soundtrack of the scene exists, but none of the recovered versions of the episode have the footage. The cut needn't necessarily have been made in Nigeria. Episodes sold to overseas territories could be passed on to other countries after locally decided deletions were made. The receiving broadcaster would have to transmit the story as they received it.

This was Dennis Spooner's final solo contribution to Doctor Who. He left the BBC to join Terry Nation at ITC to help him with The Baron - an action-adventure serial which was produced on film and in colour and was aimed at the lucrative international market. Nation had found himself struggling with the scripting on his own, and needed help. 
Spooner would return to Doctor Who on a couple of occasions, both involving Daleks. He would partner Nation in writing episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan, and redraft much of David Whitaker's work on The Power of the Daleks, defining and refining the character of the new Doctor.

As mentioned, Checkmate brings the successful second season of Doctor Who to a close. Unlike the first, it was a season of great change - on both sides of the camera. Of all the key players who embarked on the journey in November 1963, only one - star William Hartnell - remained to carry the series into a third year.
Three of the four regular cast had now departed, the series was onto its third story editor, and - though Verity Lambert was still producer in name - John Wiles had now taken over the day-to-day running of the programme. 
Wiles had been introduced to Hartnell during one of the rehearsals, and the two had failed to hit it off. The South African was left-leaning, opposing Apartheid and supporting other issues which might have rubbed the more conservative star up the wrong way. He also came from a serious theatre background, which Hartnell was wary of. Over the next few months, a battle of wits would develop between the two men, with Tosh often having to act as peacekeeper. Hartnell would throw tantrums or feign illness in order to get his way - unaware that he really was suffering from a degenerative illness.
Before he departed, Dennis Spooner had given Wiles and Tosh a list of all the stories to date (a piece of paper which has helped give titles to some of these). This list went up to a planned single episode story - coded DC, for "Dalek Cutaway" - which would be recorded last in the second production block, and mark Lambert's final episode. One further story, which would dominate the next season, had been commissioned by her and Spooner - to be reluctantly inherited by Wiles and Tosh.
Season 3 would would see these - and even greater experimentation - plus many more changes, both on screen and behind the scenes.
If Season 2 was the year of the three story editors, Season 3 would be the year of the three producers...

  • The ratings end the season on the up - just over half a million viewers more than the previous week. The appreciation index remains healthily above the 50 mark, up one point.
  • When The Time Meddler was repeated on Friday evenings on BBC2 in 1992 (thanks to a fan who worked at the BBC) it had an average audience of around 2.6 million.
  • There was a recording break just before the death of the Vikings, so that the actors could be replaced with dummies for the villagers to attack.
  • On Wednesday 28th July, Doctor Who was featured yet again on Late Night Line-Up. Amongst the guests were Verity Lambert and the dour Manxman Nigel Kneale - creator of the Quatermass serials. He was not a fan. He had been approached to contribute to the series, but had declined as he thought it childish - but did not allow his own children to watch it. Over the years other script editors would approach him and he always refused their advances, stating that he did not like a series which he thought often stole his ideas.
  • If his notebook is taken literally then the Monk's banking scam would mean that he collected the interest around 2168 - which just happens to be in the middle of the Dalek invasion of Earth. Question is - why would a time traveller want money? Has he done this just for the fun of it?
  • It was around this point that writer Brian Hayles first approached the series with a submission. This was "Doctor Who and the Nazis". However, Spooner had decided that no recent historical period would be allowed in the series. The war was still too recent in peoples' memories, whilst other historical periods were too well known to the audience and might lead to criticisms from viewers if not accurate enough. Future script editor Robert Holmes hated historical stories as he was annoyed at school children lecturing him on any inaccuracies.
  • In September 1965 the BBC began broadcasting the serial Hereward the Wake, and one newspaper critic claimed that it might be hard to take seriously after having seen the Doctor visit the Anglo-Saxon period.

Saturday 26 August 2023

Countdown to 60: Dalek Conquers And Destroys

The Cybermen might have suffered the worst at the hands of successive writers and script editors, but the Daleks were not immune to dilution of threat.
The big problem was the introduction in 1975 of their creator, Davros. It was obvious to Terry Nation and to Eric Saward that this character was far more interesting than his creations. They could be rather monosyllabic, and difficult to write dramatic dialogue for.
One Davros arrived, the daleks were pushed into the background of their own stories.
Before Genesis of the Daleks, the Daleks had been empire-builders - invading planets (including Earth - twice) as well as creating dastardly weapons like the Time Destructor. They had their own command structure - a Black Supreme to begin with, followed by an Emperor and then other leaders such as the Gold Dalek seen in the Pertwee era.

Their dialogue might have weakened after their first appearance, in which they can be really quite chatty with each other: 
"A few questions will reduce the mystery".
"Mark her movements carefully. If there are more Thal people living in the jungle she will try to make contact with them".
"Will they let themselves starve to death? No, I feel preserving our prisoners was a good idea" / "And an arrangement to bring the Thals inside our city an even better one".
"Because the lapse of time, the relaxation of sleep, the provision of food, all these things will give them a false sense of security".

Admittedly, after their first couple of episodes they begin to sound more like the later Daleks, simply issuing orders or threats.
The Daleks only feature for about 14 minutes of Genesis' 6 episode running time. Prior to this, they had a habit of only turning up at the cliff-hanger of their first episode - ideally in some unusual manner - but they then dominated the remaining episodes. Whilst the odd one (the very odd one) committed suicide, it generally took a very big explosion to finally get rid of them - unlike the Cybermen who had a rapidly expanding list of really rather pathetic weaknesses. Daleks weren't allergic to anything - except the Doctor.
Once Davros appeared, the Daleks started to transform into his 'heavies'. Whilst they play a reasonably substantial role in the first half of Destiny and most of Resurrection, they hardly feature at all in Revelation of the Daleks until the grey ones turn up in the last few minutes.
In 1988, helping to mark the 25th Anniversary, Ben Aaronovitch endeavoured to make the Daleks once again the focus of their own story. We didn't even notice the arrival of Davros, disguised as he was as a giant roll-on deodorant. With a second Dalek civil conflict, the creator finally played second fiddle to the creations. No doubt, had the series not been cancelled, future Dalek stories would have placed the focus back on them again, as in the Hartnell to Pertwee years.

When it came to reviving the series in 1996 the Daleks were going to feature prominently, even undergoing a radical redesign to give them spider-like legs. In the end, all we got was Daleks off screen, sounding like they'd been sucking helium, in an underwhelming TV movie.
In 2003 it was announced that the series would be coming back as an in-house BBC production, and it would be a series - not just a one-off pilot / special.
Everyone automatically assumed that the Daleks would feature, and indeed writer Rob Shearman was adapting elements of an audio of his for one episode. The person who had commissioned the series assumed that the Daleks would feature in the opening episode, but Russell T Davies refused to countenance this - arguing that they should be held back until the mid-point just in case the series did not take off, and needed a relaunch. Even a successful series needs a mid-point "flagpole" episode, to prevent interest flagging.

Not only would the Daleks be appearing part way through the series, RTD had a plan to feature them in the finale. He decided that their first appearance should feature just a single Dalek - showing how powerful and deadly they could be before unleashing a whole army of them in the finale.
As such, Shearman had to think of ways to make the Daleks scary again. They had to be a credible threat. RTD could tell us that they were powerful enough to go to war with the Time Lords - to the extent that the only way to beat them was to destroy both sides - but we really had to see why this should be.
Shearman simply looked at the Dalek form, and considered each element in turn. Remembrance of the Daleks had featured a VFX of a victim being shown in skeletal / X-ray form when exterminated, so new CGI effects could produce a more effective version of this. The sucker was generally derided as a sink plunger - so it became capable of crushing skulls, as well as interacting with control panels.
The "bumps" became explosives, which could presumably be used against opponents as well as performing self-destruct duties.
The middle-section of the Dalek could now rotate, allowing it to shoot in any direction without having to spin its whole casing around.
The whole "can't go up stairs" thing may have been put to bed in Remembrance - but the general public hadn't seen that, and the old joke persisted. It was therefore important that the Dalek be seen to hover so that it could travel anywhere.

These Daleks couldn't be easily destroyed either. They now had bullet-melting personal force-fields.
Added to this was the redesign, which sensibly opted not to make any major changes to the overall shape. Instead, the changes were in the surface detailing. As Daleks were fighting a war, they would be more armoured in appearance. (Ray Cusick wasn't happy with this, as he felt the surface details, such as the big rivets, looked what they were - man-made, when they ought to have been Dalek-made).
On top of all of this, the Dalek could now regenerate in a sense - absorbing DNA from a time-traveller to repair their casing and re-energise themselves.
One thing which hadn't changed from the classic series was the Dalek obsession with racial purity - and this would be this lone Dalek's downfall. In absorbing Rose's DNA it took on other human baggage, which it couldn't cope with. (But if this is one of the Emperor's Daleks, then it has human DNA in its make-up anyway - so shouldn't have been that affected by Rose surely?).
The episode didn't need to show the actual Dalek mutant. I actually hoped they wouldn't - reinstating some of the mystery of the early days which might have caught the imagination of younger viewers. Just what was inside that thing? Alas, this wasn't to be. If they were going to show it, at least give us something impressive - and this they did.

The return of the Daleks, at least in this first series, nearly never happened. The BBC rubbed the powerful Nation estate up the wrong way by assuming that the Daleks could be used without their approval. Shearman started on an alternative script - which he jokingly called "Absence of the Daleks" - featuring a Sphere (later to be recycled as the Toclafane) which RTD had devised in case the Daleks couldn't be used. He needn't have worried. Doctor Who can do without the Daleks - but the Daleks can't do without Doctor Who. The estate simply wouldn't have been doing its job by denying the use of the Daleks, as it would have lead to a massive loss of potential income.

The Daleks were back, courtesy of just a single member of the race. They were cunning, ruthless killers once again, and no longer figures of fun (no matter how hard Nation had tried to avoid this happening).
In a way, the first appearance of the Dalek sent the message that this was no longer the cheap, childish show that the general public often thought it to be - more than the first five episodes had done. 
Had Rose and the other early episodes not already successfully grabbed the public's attention, Dalek would certainly have achieved the relaunch which RTD hoped it would do if needed.

Friday 25 August 2023

Inspirations: Planet of the Dead

In 2008, whilst still at the height of his popularity as the Doctor, David Tennant announced that he was leaving the programme. He chose the evening of an awards ceremony, and was filmed whilst at Stratford-Upon-Avon, during an interval in the RSC production of Hamlet in which he had taken the leading role. 
It had earlier been decided that 2009 was to be a "gap year" for Doctor Who, to allow Tennant to join the RSC. Instead of a full series, fans would be offered a limited number of one-off Specials through the year. These would now culminate in Tennant's swan-song. Not only was he leaving, Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner had also decided to move on. Producer Phil Collinson had already departed for Coronation Street.
RTD opted to co-write the Specials to help reduce his workload (Torchwood: Children of Earth having just been commissioned) and one of the writers chosen to help out was Gareth Roberts. He was one of the Virgin New Adventure authors, and for the second series in 2006 had been responsible for the on-line / mobile phone "Minisodes" which preceded each instalment.
These were discontinued when it was found that everyone was accessing them through their computer rather than on their mobiles, as had originally been intended.
For Series 3, Roberts was invited to contribute the celebrity historical The Shakespeare Code. The writer had studied and written seriously about Elizabethan literature. He had contributed a DWM Ninth Doctor comic strip based on the era, featuring the Bard's rival Robert Greene.
For Series 4 he was given another celebrity historical concerning another writer whom he admired - Agatha Christie. Roberts had also been a key contributor to The Sarah Jane Adventures - having created the Trickster and Graske characters.

Tennant's availability caused some problems with the Specials. At first there was only to be The Next Doctor, then a second Special at the end of 2009, with a third falling at Easter 2010 which would have been the regeneration story, leading directly into Steven Moffat's first series. It was thought that there would be no time for a fourth Special. Were one to be made, it was considered briefly to film it in two sections, 8 months apart. RTD was opposed to this as he worried about continuity over such a lengthy gap.
He then thought about moving the second Special forward to Hallowe'en 2009, with the third now landing at Christmas.
Once a fourth Special had finally been confirmed, it would have to be written and recorded quite quickly, in order that it could be broadcast over the Easter weekend of 2009. 
Davies originally envisioned a space opera, with the TARDIS materialising in space in the the middle of a battle. This was mainly so that the Mill could get on with making CGI segments before the story had actually been finalised, to save time.

Initial discussions with RTD were leading to the use of Roberts' NA creations called the Chelonians. They had first featured in The Highest Science, and returned in Zamper and The Well-Mannered War. Chelonians were turtle-like bipeds who revelled in warfare. However, they were honour-bound not to attack anyone unprovoked. They therefore went round trying to encourage peaceable races into buying weapons, to give them an excuse for waging war against them. Though ruthless warmongers, there was a comedic element to them.
RTD liked aliens which were based on an Earth animal / human form, so Turtle People would have appealed. The series had previously featured Rhino People, Cat People and Pig People.
In the end the story featured the Tritovores, which are fly-headed beings. 
Their look was inspired by The Fly - the 1958 sci-fi film, which had been remade in 1986.

Another early idea had been for a Star Trek crossover. This would have involved the most recent spin-off - ST:Enterprise - but that series was cancelled after only four years (ST:TNG, ST:DS9 and ST:Voyager had all run to seven seasons). 
Thoughts then went to a Star Trek spoof, with the TARDIS materialising aboard a Starship called Endeavour
The editor of DWM pointed out that this Special would be the 200th Doctor Who story, so the London bus which eventually featured became the No.200 service. Had they gone down the Star Trek spoof route, the ship would have been the Endeavour 200.

Once a desert setting had been agreed upon, RTD thought that it would be a great landscape against which to have a confrontation between the Doctor and the Master, who it was planned would return for the Tenth Doctor's departure.
Roberts had included the image of a London tube train in a desert in his first Chelonian novel. This inspired the inclusion of another iconic mode of London transport - the red double-decker bus.
Unfortunately Roberts went off and wrote a script which diverged wildly from the original space opera idea. The Doctor and his temporary companion - a space pilot - quickly went off to a luxury hotel, in which guests were being abducted and implanted with alien eggs (to tie in with the Easter theme). 
RTD did not like this new direction and so brought forward some ideas from a story he was developing with Phil Ford, another SJA contributor.

With the temporary companion no longer going to be a space pilot, another person was needed. This turned out to be a thief named Hermione. Roberts had been developing another person called Rebecca, who was a tour guide on an open-top London bus.
Hermione eventually became the aristocratic Lady Christina. She was partly based on DC's Black Canary, as well as being inspired by the stylish heist movies Topkapi (1964) and Charade (1963).
RTD blew hot and cold on this character, at one point preferring an ordinary housewife named Eileen who was on the bus. This would later become Angela.

Someone at BBC Wales did their sums and worked out that filming in North Africa or the Middle East was feasible. The alternative would have been to fake it in a sandpit or on a number of beaches in Wales or South West England, where the weather would have posed problems. As it was, the production was seriously affected by weather in Dubai, when it was hit by a day long sandstorm.
(The image of the Swarm approaching on the horizon had been inspired by a sandstorm sequence in the 1999 adventure movie The Mummy).
Two buses were bought - one for studio at home and one to be shipped to Dubai. This famously got smashed up at the docks, so RTD had to write in extra dialogue to cover this damage, and the surviving bus had to be adapted and used more.
The foreign location was controversial, due to the Arab state's human rights record - especially its stance on homosexuality.
Back in London, Roberts had included UNIT, including the character of Captain Magambo whom he had liked in Turn Left.
This also allowed for the creation of a new Scientific Adviser - a role that might attract a decent guest star. It also allowed for various fan-pleasing references to some of the Doctor's adventures from the classic era of the show. The Captain's straight-forwardness would contrast nicely with Malcolm's comic eccentricity.

The final elements added to the story were the ones relating to the overall story arc of the Tenth Doctor's demise. The character of Carmen was given some mild paranormal abilities, allowing her to foresee his imminent fate - mentioning that his song would soon be ending (as the Ood had previously claimed) and the cryptic message "He will knock four times...".
The Easter broadcast was acknowledged only briefly by having the Doctor sitting on the bus eating a chocolate Easter egg, a piece of which he offers to Lady Christina. He also mentions having been in Judea at the time of the Biblical events.
Next time: Water, water, everywhere...

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Story 273: Empress of Mars

In which the Doctor, Bill and Nardole learn that NASA have discovered a message on Mars. Written across the surface, using boulders, is "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN". They take to the TARDIS and travel to the planet as it was in 1881 when the message first appeared, materialising in an underground tunnel where they find a breathable atmosphere. Bill plunges down a hole in the ground and the Doctor sends Nardole back to the ship to fetch some rope. Once inside, the TARDIS suddenly dematerialises on its own. He is unable to control it, so the Doctor and Bill are trapped on Mars until he can sort it out.
The Doctor is confronted by an Ice Warrior, whilst Bill encounters a British soldier named Catchlove in the gallery below.
The Doctor meets another soldier - an officer named Godsacre - who reveals that the Ice Warrior is a friend, who his men have named "Friday", after the Robinson Crusoe character. The Warrior has a distinctive scar down his helmet.
The TARDIS has arrived back at St Luke's University. Unable to operate it himself, Nardole reluctantly approaches the Vault to seek help from Missy.

The Doctor and Bill are reunited in a cavern in which the British soldiers have established their camp. Friday acts as a servant to them. At dinner, Colonel Godsacre and Captain Catchlove reveal that they had been on a mission in South Africa where they had come across a crashed spaceship and its injured pilot - Friday. The Ice Warrior had convinced them that it could give them access to great mineral wealth if they helped it repair its ship. They could come with him to Mars, claiming the planet for their Empress and take what precious metals and gems they wanted.
They were now methodically mining the tunnels beneath the surface in search of the wealth which Friday had promised. To aid them, they are using some of his technology in the form of a huge sonic cannon which they have nicknamed the "Gargantua".
Despite being the senior officer, the Doctor notes that Catchlove does not treat Godsacre with the customary respect due a superior, but Godsacre does not react. 
The gun's operators - Sergeant Major Peach and privates Jackdaw and Vincey - succeed in breaching a rock wall and find a huge chamber beyond. It appears to be a burial vault. Large crystal sarcophagi line the walls and in the centre is a funeral bier on which lies a golden statue of a female Ice Queen.

The bier is covered in precious jewels. Jackdaw drugs Peach's drink, knocking him out. He has decided to raid the jewels for himself. As he removes the stones, a change comes over the statue. The gold decoration falls away to reveal an actual Ice Warrior body - and it is not dead. Queen Iraxxa is in suspended animation. She awakes and kills Jackdaw. Friday then appears. He has planned her resurrection - and the rest of his people - all along, exploiting the greed of the soldiers to get him back to Mars. In each of the sarcophagi is a dormant Ice Warrior, and Iraxxa activates the reanimation machinery.
On discovering what has happened, the Doctor attempts to make peace - telling the Queen that she should accept the help of the humans. However, one of the soldiers panics and opens fire, so Iraxxa declares war.
Catchlove wants to use the Gargantua against the Warriors, but Godsacre agrees with the Doctor on making peace. The Captain reveals to the rest of the men that their Colonel is really a coward. He always wears a neckerchief, which hides the fact that he survived a botched hanging for desertion. He is locked up in a cell with the Doctor and Bill as Catchlove takes over.

The Ice Warriors attack the soldiers by burrowing up through the ground behind their defences. Peach is killed, and Catchlove flees by throwing Vincey into their path to aid his escape. The young man perishes. Despite his loyalty to his Queen, Friday has come to respect the Doctor and it frees him and the others from the cell. Bill attempts to negotiate with Iraxxa giving the Doctor time to come up with a plan. He takes control of the Gargantua and threatens to destroy the ice Warrior hive unless a peaceful solution is found. Catchlove dons a spacesuit and hold the Queen hostage, intent on stealing the spaceship which they have been building on the surface to get back home. Godsacre shoots him dead, then offers himself to Iraxxa. He will submit to execution if his men are allowed to go free. The Queen admires this act, and finally agrees that the humans are worthy of making peace with.
Mars is dying, so the Ice Warriors must relocate. The Doctor sends out a message for help, which is answered by an inhabitant of Alpha Centauri, who welcomes the Martians to the Galactic Federation. Godsacre and his surviving men will leave with them. Before they go, they leave the message on the surface that will later be found by NASA.
The TARDIS suddenly reappears, and the Doctor is shocked to find Missy at the controls...

Empress of Mars was written by Mark Gatiss, and was first broadcast on Saturday 10th June 2017.
Gatiss had previously reintroduced the Ice Warriors in Series 7 with Cold War, and had always intended to revisit the aliens at some point. He had successfully added a lot to their mythology via references in some of his earlier stories, though his decision to show that they wore armour and were really badly CGI'd Gollum-like creatures underneath did not go down quite so well. 
What Gatiss had not planned was that his next Ice Warrior story would feature in Series 10. The original plan for this year had been to produce a sequel to Series 9's Sleep No More. This would have been set on contemporary Earth, with businessmen devising the same sort of technology which Rassmussen would create in the far future. Unfortunately Sleep No More had been panned by fans and critics, and there was no appetite for more of the same. 
Knowing that he was likely to be departing from the series alongside Steven Moffat, Gatiss therefore reverted to his Plan B. He had always wanted to write a story that featured a mash-up of his favoured Victorian period with the Martians. Back in 2013 he had had to fight to bring them back, as Moffat thought them boring - too slow moving and lacking expression.
Moffat agreed to a second Ice Warrior story only if Gatiss could come up with something new, and this included the notion of a female Queen figure.

An obvious inspiration for this story is the third Ice Warrior appearance - The Curse of Peladon. It can be seen as a form of prequel to the Peladon stories, showing how the Martians came to be part of the Federation in the first place. As a bonus for long-term fans, we have a cameo by Alpha Centauri - possibly the same one who will be encountered by the Third Doctor. It is once again voiced by Ysanne Churchman who worked on the earlier pair of stories.
It may even be that the human soldiers will be the descendants of the people of Peladon, or at least be one of the reasons for Earth being such a prominent member of the Federation - one of their number being given the senior assessment role, despite Centauri's low opinion of the planet.
Another inspiration, beyond earlier Doctor Who stories, is the 1964 film Zulu, which starred Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. This provided the Victorian redcoat soldier detail, as well as inspiring some of the foot soldier characters.
NASA finding a message from Victorian explorers on another world was inspired by H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon - where modern astronauts find a Union Jack flag and other evidence of a previously unknown Victorian expedition. Gatiss played the inventor Cavor in a BBC 4 adaptation of the book, which had previously been filmed by Ray Harryhausen in the same year Zulu was released.

The guest cast is headed by Anthony Calf, playing Colonel Godsacre. He had featured in the series before - back in 1982 when he had played the squire's son, Charles, in the opening section of The Visitation.
Catchlove - who was inspired by the bullying Flashman character from Tom Brown's Schooldays - is played by Ferdinand Kingsley, who is the son of actor Ben Kingsley. He was concurrently appearing in the Victoria series on ITV, which starred Jenna Coleman as the young monarch.
Iraxxa is performed by Adele Lynch. 
Jackdaw is Ian Beattie, who had appeared alongside Gatiss in Game of Thrones
Sgt. Major Peach is played by Glenn Speers. 
Bayo Gbadamosi plays Vincey. The programme came in for some criticism for the casting of a black actor as a Victorian soldier, but Gatiss was able to provide evidence that this was no anachronism.
Richard Ashton plays the Ice Warrior Friday. With a change of mask he played some of the other Ice Warriors, along with regular monster performer Jamie Hill.
We also have a brief cliff-hanging cameo from Michelle Gomez, as the Missy story arc is set up for the conclusion of the series.

Overall, a much more enjoyable Ice Warrior story than the derivative Cold War. We finally see the Warriors on Mars, and learn something more of their culture. The nods to past stories are an added bonus.
Things you might like to know:
  • At one point it had been thought that Winston Churchill might feature in this story, as actor Ian McNeice had contacted Gatiss to ask if he could make a return to the series. The Victorian setting put paid to this.
  • The setting also precluded Gatiss reusing his Grand Marshal Skaldak character.
  • Another idea had been for the story to be set on Peladon, as Gatiss was inspired by the current Brexit referendum in the UK (the entry of the UK into the EU having been an inspiration for the first Peladon story).
  • This is the third Ice Warrior story to feature one of their number having crashed their spaceship on Earth. They really are such dreadful pilots that you have to wonder how they ever came to have an Empire...
  • The soldiers' portrait of Queen Victoria is an image of the royal as portrayed by Pauline Collins in Tooth and Claw.
  • Until William Russell (97) reprised the character of Ian Chesterton in 2022, Ysanne Churchman had been the oldest actor to appear in the revived series, at 92. There is a 43 year gap between appearances for Alpha Centauri - another record broken only by the Great Intelligence (45 years).
  • Anthony Calf had also appeared on a Big Finish audio in 2007. It was an Ice Warrior story.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Countdown to 60: Second Coming

Doctor Who, as a series in continual production, ended in December 1989. The BBC elected not to actually tell anyone about this - preferring to simply drag out some "planned return", in the hope that fans would give up and go away. They clearly failed to understand those fans - learning nothing from the 1985 hiatus controversy.
The series continued in comic form in the pages of DWM, and soon they were joined by a range of original novels from Virgin Publishing - the New Adventures. Conventions continued to take place several times a year.
After five years, rumours strengthened that the series was finally making a comeback, courtesy of a production partnership with the Americans. One American in particular was mentioned - Steven Spielberg.

The very mention of Americans had already got fans worried - we want your money, but don't like your casting ideas and think your writing's inferior. (We've seen those Star Trek spin-offs - the ones that are rubbish until Season 4).
Then it was rumoured that the new series was going to be a reboot, and that Spielberg was only interested in remaking certain stories, like The Web Planet or The Web of Fear.
But first there was "The Dark Dimension". The BBC were actually going to produce another 90 minute special, this time for the 30th Anniversary. Unfortunately, no-one knew how to add up and the finances were a mess, and so the project collapsed. Doctors 3,5,6 and 7 didn't like the scripts anyway, as 4 got all the best bits - forgetting that 4 was the one fans most wanted to see (and not them).

Eventually, we got a single 90 minute made-for-television movie. It was so bad, no-one even knows what it's called. Paul McGann was good, however, but he was destined for a future on audio only, and in the odd cameo every ten years. An up-and-coming writer named Russell T Davies joked that the Eighth Doctor didn't actually count, in the final episode of his break-out drama Queer as Folk.
The Eighth Doctor took over the book range and the comic strip, and other books were now coming out featuring all of the first seven Doctors.
Big Finish were producing audios that featured only Doctors 5 - 8, as they were the only ones who were (a) interested in reprising their role, and (b) not dead. The choice of companions caused problems for continuity as only some of them wanted to come back / needed the work. (The Fifth Doctor had to have lots of stories with Nyssa on her own, or with Peri on her own, and they even shoved an entirely new extra companion in between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani - despite the whole impact of the regeneration being that the Doctor is sacrificing his life for someone he doesn't even know... They may love stories, but they know sod all about drama).

The 40th Anniversary now loomed, and news arrived that a new series was in the pipeline - an animated one starring Richard E Grant as the Doctor. However, no sooner had this been trumpeted it was already obsolete. That Russell T Davies was bringing back the real McCoy (but without the Sylvester McCoy) sometime in 2005. News dripped out over time - 45 minute episodes, mostly self-contained, so no cliff-hangers. A story starring David Beckham as his Madame Tussauds waxwork, leading an Auton attack on Downing Street. David Jason / Helen Mirren as the Master. Daleks on / Daleks off / Daleks on again... We were all happy to hear that Christopher Eccleston was going to play the Doctor, less sure about a pop star as the companion. Jimmy Vee kept getting photographed in costume, as he was forever outside having a fag.
Heady days.
Any worries that may have lingered were then dispelled when we got to see our first proper look at what was to come. A trailer was broadcast, which featured that sequence of the spaceship flying over Tower Bridge, along with some clips from the earlier episodes. 
RTD was a fine writer, and we now knew that the look of the show was going to be great. 
We could all relax, and accept the Ninth Doctor's offer of a trip of a lifetime...

Monday 21 August 2023

M is for... Maxil

Commander of the Chancellery Guard - the internal security forces of the Time Lords of Gallifrey. Maxil was a ruthless and single-minded individual, who rigidly followed the orders of his superior, the Castellan.
Maxil was in command when an attempt was made by an entity from the universe of anti-matter to cross over into this one using the Doctor's body. Such a transference would be unstable and potentially catastrophic, so President Borusa decreed that the Doctor be brought back to Gallifrey and executed - his body atomised to prevent the entity exploiting it. Maxil hunted down the Doctor after his TARDIS arrived, and was then tasked with overseeing the execution. He planted a listening device in the console room, but the Doctor had guessed he would do this and so made sure to talk with his companion Nyssa and friend Damon away from that room. The Castellan clearly didn't think much of his commander, as he ought to have foreseen this.
The anti-matter entity proved to be Omega, in league with a member of the High Council - Hedin - and he ensured that the execution did not take place. Maxil was then asked to investigate the process, which included trying to identify the Time Lord traitor. He was not present, however, when the Castellan discovered Hedin's guilt, and that Omega had succeeded in taking over the Matrix.
He had either been replaced - or had regenerated - when the Doctor next visited Gallifrey. If the latter, then he had been corrupted by President Borusa in his final incarnation - helping to first frame then eliminate the Castellan.

Played by: Colin Baker. Appearances: Arc of Infinity (1983).
  • Baker was recommended for the role by AFM Lynn Richards, after she had seen him playing Bayban the Butcher in the Blake's 7 episode "City at the Edge of the World".
  • He was famous for playing the villainous Paul Merroney in the drama series The Brothers.
  • At the time, he moaned to his agent that he was now unlikely to ever be cast as the Doctor. The agent responded by asking whatever made him think the BBC would ever consider him in the first place...
  • Maxil tends to carry his plumed helmet, or not have it at all, as the feather made him too tall to fit through the doors. Baker nicknamed the headpiece "Esmerelda". 
  • A bit of an attention-seeker, JNT had to remind him that this was Doctor Who and not "The Maxil Show"...
  • Also considered for the role as Maxil was future James Bond Pierce Brosnan.
  • So, could the Guard Commander in The Five Doctors be Maxil? He's not named on screen, but there's nothing to say that he can't be a regenerated version.
  • And what has happened to Andred? He's no longer Guard Commander in the Capitol, though he may have been transferred to another Time Lord city - but that would mean demotion. Possibly marrying an alien - especially an alien like Leela - may have meant him being frozen out of his role. His and Leela's absence in this story might even mean that they have dropped out moved into Outer Gallifrey.

M is for... Mawdryn

A scientist who, along with a group of colleagues, stole Time Lord technology in order to extend their lifespans. The Metamorphic Symbiosis Generator induced instead a perpetual mutation. Mawdryn's people shunned them and they were exiled in a spaceship. This was programmed to travel from planet to planet, in the hope that one day they might find a cure for their predicament. Every 50 years or so, when the ship came into orbit around a new world, one of the scientists would use a transmat pod to travel down to it to see if the technology existed. The others remained in a state of hibernation on the ship.
Mawdryn was the scientist who used the transmat pod to travel down to Earth in 1977, but the process caused a further mutation which left left him horribly disfigured. He was found by Tegan and Nyssa, companions of the Fifth Doctor. He had used the transmat himself, but a temporal distortion from the pod had caused him to arrive on Earth in a later time zone - that of 1983. On arriving, he had met the Brigadier - now retired from UNIT and teaching at a public school. In 1977, Tegan and Nyssa also encountered the Brigadier - newly arrived at the school.
They thought that Mawdryn was the Doctor, regenerated once again, and he went along with their confusion so that they would take him back to the spaceship in the TARDIS.
Having discovered that the Doctor was a Time Lord, Mawdryn wanted him to sacrifice his remaining regenerations to cure him and his colleagues of their mutation - one future life for each of them.
To force him to help, the mutation had infected Tegan and Nyssa. They aged when the TARDIS moved forward in time, and regressed to childhood when it went back in time.
The entire situation was being manipulated from behind the scenes by the Black Guardian, who wanted to see the Doctor reduced to mortal form. He had also employed a schoolboy named Turlough to kill him.
Both versions of the Brigadier had been brought to the spaceship by accident, and the Guardian ordered Turlough to prevent them meeting, but the boy failed to do so. They physically encountered each other just as the Generator was activated. Instead of the Doctor losing his regenerations, the temporal differential was shorted out and the resulting energy killed Mawdryn and his fellow scientists.
Shortly after the TARDIS departed, with Turlough now on board, the spaceship self-destructed.

Played by: David Collings. Appearances: Mawdryn Undead (1983).
  • Third and final appearance by Collings in the series. He had previously played Vorus in Revenge of the Cybermen, and Poul in Robots of Death.
  • In his novelisation of this story, Peter Grimwade names Mawdryn's race as Kastrons.
  • "Mawdryn" is Welsh for "Mother", but Grimwade made the character name from marw (dead) and dyn (man).
  • On audio Collings portrayed an alternative version of the Doctor.
  • A regular performer with the BBC radio drama group, one of his best known TV appearances was as Silver in the cult series Sapphire & Steel. He also features in the final episode of Blake's 7.
  • His voice work also included the English dubbing of the Japanese fantasy series Monkey.
  • A film role of note is Bob Cratchit, in the 1970 movie adaptation of the stage musical Scrooge.

M is for... Matthews, Rev Ernest

The Reverend Ernest Matthews, of Merton College, Oxford, was a staunch opponent of Darwinism. He had entered into a lengthy correspondence with a reclusive man named Josiah Samuel Smith, who was a proponent of the evolutionary theories. In 1883 Smith invited Matthews to his Perivale home - Gabriel Chase - so they could debate in person. However, Smith was an alien - himself the product of an evolutionary process - and the invite was really a trap. The technology of a dormant alien creature known as Light was used to de-evolve Matthews, turning him into an ape.

Played by: John Nettleton. Appearances: Ghost Light (1989). 
  • A prolific character actor, Nettleton - who passed away in July 2023 - was best known for his recurring role as head of the Civil Service, Sir Arnold, in comedy series Yes, Minister and its follow-up Yes, Prime Minister.

M is for... Matheson, Rex

CIA agent Rex Matheson was involved in what ought to have been a fatal car accident one night, when a metal pole passed through his heart. At the Emergency Room he discovered that he was not the only person to have had a miraculous escape. Across the globe, people had suddenly stopped dying. The event became known as "Miracle Day".
Investigating, he discovered references to an organisation called "Torchwood", and so travelled to Wales to find its surviving members. His visit to the remote home of Gwen Cooper coincided with an attack on her and her family by some unknown agency. Captain Jack Harkness turned up and helped save them. He and Gwen were then arrested by Rex and extradited to the US, but attacks on the Torchwood team continued when Jack was poisoned on the flight by one of Rex's own colleagues.
Already immortal, Jack had been rendered mortal by the Miracle Day phenomenon. With other members of the CIA implicated in the plot, including his own superior, Rex was forced to go rogue and become a temporary member of Torchwood, along with colleague Esther Drummond and a doctor named Vera Suarez.
Together they uncovered the "Categories of Life" programme, which saw some of the dying being cremated alive due to the drain on medical resources which the event was causing. At the same time, certain big pharmaceutical companies were exploiting it. It later transpired that they were behind the event. Rex leaked a video of the Category camps to the world media.
A trio of Italian-American families had obtained samples of Jack's blood back in the 1930's, and had fed it into a natural phenomenon deep beneath the Earth's surface, which they called "the Blessing". This was generating the biological field that was keeping everyone from dying.
Rex helped Jack and Gwen break into the LA HQ of Phi-Corps to find evidence that they had known of the Miracle Day in advance - and rescued them when they were captured. After arguing with Esther and Gwen for keeping in touch with family - putting them at risk - he visited his own estranged father.
After revealing publicly his boss's involvement with the Three Families, Rex and Esther were able to resume their CIA roles.
It was realised that a second infusion of Jack's blood into the Blessing would reverse the process. An attack was planned, with the team striking both ends simultaneously in Buenos Aires and Shanghai. Rex smuggled Jack's blood into the Argentine location within his own body, having taken a blood transfusion from him. He killed one of the Family leaders moments after the Miracle ended, with the Blessing collapsing. Esther had been killed and, at her funeral, a CIA member who had been secretly helping the Families for years shot and killed Rex - only for him not to die. His exposure to Jack's blood had rendered him immortal.

Played by: Mekhi Phifer. Appearances: Torchwood Series 4: Miracle Day (2011).
  • Phifer first came to prominence working alongside Alex Kingston on medical drama ER.

M is for... Masters

Senior Civil Servant from the Ministry of Technology, who had special responsibility for an experimental power generation facility in Derbyshire. He was an old friend of its director - Dr Lawrence. When the project ran into difficulties, including unexplained power losses and nervous breakdowns amongst the staff, culminating in a mysterious fatal accident in the nearby cave system, UNIT had been called in to help investigate. With chief of security Major Baker claiming that foreign saboteurs were at work in the caves, and UNIT's scientific adviser claiming it to be the work of intelligent reptile creatures, Masters felt obliged to step in and oversee things himself.
Interested only in the huge budget and public opinion, Masters' choice was to close the project down. His visit coincided with the release from captivity of Major Baker, who had been infected with a virulent disease by his captors - the Silurians. They regarded the Earth as rightfully theirs, and wished to reclaim it from the ape descendants who had overrun it whilst they hibernated.
Masters returned to London before the disease could be identified. He infected many people on his train and at Marylebone station before dying from it himself.

Played by: Geoffrey Palmer. Appearances: The Silurians (1970).
  • The first of three appearances by Palmer in the series, the others being The Mutants (1972) and Voyage of the Damned (2007). His character is killed off before the end in every one of his stories.
  • His son Charles is a director who has worked on the revived series - Smith and Jones, The Shakespeare Code and Human Nature / Family of Blood in Series 3, and Oxygen and Eaters of Light in Series 10.