Tuesday 30 April 2024

Blog Update

I'm taking a short holiday this week, visiting London once again, so there won't be any new updates before 9th / 10th May.
As well as sightseeing locations where Daleks once trundled, or Cybermen once stomped, I'll also be dropping in to the sci-fi exhibition at Gunnersbury Park Museum, so expect a post on that very soon - hopefully on the 9th.
(You'll recall that I was there last year, for a VFX talk by Mike Tucker).

With Series 14 almost upon us (none of your Disneyfied Season One nonsense here) there will be a slight rejig of the weekend posts. "Episodes" will be moving to the Saturday for the duration of the new series, freeing up the Sunday for reviews of the new instalments. 
As I've previously mentioned, I don't want to post anything until after the BBC One broadcast on the Saturday evening, even if I watch the episodes on the i-Player earlier in the day.
Be back soon.

N is for... Nardole

The Doctor first met Nardole on the Earth colony world of Mendorax Mellora, at Christmas 5343. He had been sent by his wife to fetch a medic whom she had arranged to meet here. Due to a mix-up, the Doctor thought that it was he whom Nardole sought, whilst he believed the Doctor to be the medic.
Taken to a crashed spaceship on the edge of the village where the TARDIS had materialised, the Doctor was shocked to discover that Nardole's spouse was River Song. Not only that, but he was supposed to help treat another husband - the brutal King Hydroflax. Only his head remained of him, attached to a robot body. An explosion had resulted in a precious gem being embedded in his skull, which River wished removed. She did not recognise the Doctor in his twelfth incarnation.
River actually only wanted to steal the gem, and she and the Doctor ended up taking the King's head. The semi-autonomous robot body decapitated Nardole to use as its new head. The same fate befell a third husband of River - Ramon. The robot would swap heads over time, with the unused one continuing to function within its torso. It would later come to be employed as a waiter in a restaurant beside the famous Singing Towers of Darillium.
The Doctor later saved Nardole from this fate, building a makeshift artificial body for him. 
The pair travelled together for a time, and at one point Nardole actually ruled the early Byzantine Empire.
However, River had given Nardole a role to perform before she and the Doctor parted for the final time.
He was tasked with guarding a vault in which Missy was to be incarcerated for a thousand years, after preventing her execution. The Doctor hid this vault in the basement of St Luke's University in Bristol where he took on a teaching role. Nardole joined him there, acting as his valet but also to ensure that he adhered to his vow to oversee the vault.
It was in his role as valet that he first met canteen assistant Bill Potts, whom the Doctor agreed to tutor.

Frustrated with being tied to one place and time for so long, the Doctor wanted Bill to travel with him and see the stars. Nardole disliked her for making the Doctor want to go against his vow, and attempted to stop their travels - but to no avail. He even tried to sabotage the TARDIS by removing a fluid link, but the Doctor predicted his actions.
Instead, he decided to go with them so that he could ensure that the Doctor remained safe and able to go back to his responsibilities at the university.
Their first journey was forced on them, as Bill was stalked by a sentient water-borne AI which resembled her potential girlfriend, and now wanted to travel through space with her as her co-pilot.
Over time, Bill came to learn that Nardole had led an extremely interesting life himself - often engaging in illegal activities such as smuggling and black-marketeering. It was his efforts to escape a life of crime which had led him to being employed by River Song, whom he subsequently married.
When the Doctor became blind after being exposed to the vacuum of space, outside the Chasm Forge asteroid mining station, he kept this secret from Bill but told Nardole, who naturally challenged him about the dangers of abandoning their mission to guard the vault.
However, when the Doctor and Bill became stranded on Mars in Victorian times, Nardole actually opened the vault to allow Missy to pilot the TARDIS back to the Red Planet to rescue them.
The Doctor attempted to rehabilitate his old enemy, allowing her to accompany them on their travels - much to Nardole's concern. On encountering a tribe of Picts in 2nd Century Scotland, Nardole managed to be accepted into the community as a story-teller.
Nardole's travels with the Doctor came to an end when they visited a vast colony ship trapped on the edge of a Black Hole. This originated on Mondas, and they witnessed the evolution of a new race of Cybermen. Missy also encountered a previous incarnation of herself. Nardole befriended a woman named Hazran who looked after a group of orphaned children, protecting them from encroachment by the Cybermen.
With the vault no longer needing guarding, the Doctor gave Nardole a new role - to continue to protect Hazran and the children as they moved to a new home within the vessel.
Just before his next regeneration, the artificial intelligence Testimony allowed the Doctor to see a glass avatar of Nardole, holding all his memories, for a final time, along with similar duplicates of Bill and Clara Oswald.

Played by: Matt Lucas. Appearances: The Wedding of River Song (2015) to Twice Upon A Time (2017).
  • Lucas first came to public attention when he featured in several series with surreal comics Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer, before finding fame with David Walliams in Little Britain
  • He and Walliams were huge Doctor Who fans, leading Little Britain narrator Tom Baker to declare that he was now being employed by the children who had grown up with his Doctor.
  • The actor was originally intended as guest artist on the 2015 Christmas Special only, but everyone enjoyed his presence so much that Steven Moffat brought him back the following year in The Return of Dr Mysterio. Similarly, a brief appearance in the 10th series was expanded so that he featured throughout. Lucas was living abroad and working on his autobiography at the time.
  • The Target novelisation of Twice Upon A Time claims that Nardole spent the rest of his life on the colony ship, defending everyone from annual attacks from the Cybermen. He died aged 728, after marrying six times.

N is for... Nancy

The Doctor encountered a girl named Nancy in the East End of London during the Blitz of 1941. She exploited the air-raids to feed a group of orphaned children who lived rough in the bombed-out parts of the city. As the homeowners sheltered from the bombs, she would enter their houses and allow the children to eat their interrupted meals. 
The Doctor had first met her when she warned him not to use the TARDIS telephone. A child's voice was heard on the line - despite it not being connected to anything. Later Nancy advised him to avoid contact with a small boy wearing a gas-mask, who was prevented from joining the air-raid meals.
This despite him being her younger brother, Jamie. 
The Doctor discovered that anyone who came into physical contact with Jamie was transformed to resemble him - with a gas-mask forming part of the skull, and with the same injuries which he had sustained when caught up in a bomb blast. Later, this infection became airborne. The Doctor came to realise that Jamie wasn't Nancy's brother at all, but her son. She looked younger than she was.
A crashed alien medical ship had released nanogenes into the atmosphere and these had repaired the dead boy's body, but had no concept of what a human being ought to be like. Using him as a template, they were transforming everyone to be like him.
The Doctor was able to use Nancy, as his biological parent, to reprogramme the nanogenes and they began correcting their work. 
The Doctor and Rose were able to assure Nancy that Britain would eventually defeat the Nazis. Dr Constantine from the nearby Albion Hospital agreed to look after her and her son, after losing his own family in the Blitz.

Played by: Florence Hoath. Appearances: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005).
  • An early role for Hoath was as one of the girls who photographed the Cottingley Fairies in the film Fairy Tale: A True Story. In this her father was played by Paul McGann. 
  • She featured in the 2004 ITV adaptation of the Miss Marple mystery The Body in the Library along with a number of future Doctor Who guest artists.

N is for... Namin

Human servant of Sutekh, the evil Osirian whom he believed to be one of Egypt's ancient gods. His family had served Sutekh for generations, helping prepare for his release from millennia-long captivity.
After Egyptologist Marcus Scarman had unwittingly broken into the tomb where he was held immobilised by a force-field, Namin was despatched to his country house in England to prepare for his freedom. He was given a special ring which controlled the mummy-like Osirian servo-robots.
Namin's task was to secure the house and grounds to establish a base of operations. 
When an old friend of the archaeologist - Dr Warlock - arrived demanding to know the whereabouts of Scarman, Namin attempted to kill him. He was saved by the Doctor's intervention, though badly wounded. Namin sent the robots to search the grounds and kill them.
Sutekh took over the reanimated corpse of Marcus Scarman and sent him to the house via a time tunnel, deeming him to be a more effective servant. His usefulness now at an end, his first task was to kill Namin.

Played by: Peter Mayock. Appearances: Pyramids of Mars (1975).
  • Mayock returned to Doctor Who the following year, playing Solis - the hypnotised Chancellery Guard officer who tried to kill the Doctor in The Deadly Assassin.

N is for... Naismith

Joshua Naismith was a telecommunications billionaire who used his money and influence to obtain black market alien technology. One item, taken from the defunct Torchwood organisation, was a device which he called the "Immortality Gate". Experiments had found that this could repair damaged human tissue, and Naismith sought to get it working fully so that he could make his spoilt daughter Abigail immortal.
Donna Noble felt compelled, subconsciously, to buy his autobiography - Fight The Future - for her grandfather, Wilf, as a Christmas gift.
He employed a private army at his country estate, and sent them to capture the resurrected Master, who had been brought back to life in London's Broadfell Prison just before it burned to the ground.
Brought to his home, the Master was tasked with repairing the Gate and make it fully functional.
However, the Master knew what it was capable of and ensured that it would help him rather than the businessman. Rather than heal individuals, the Gate could be used to restructure the genetic code of entire planets. He turned everyone on Earth into versions of himself - including Naismith and his daughter.
The Doctor had seen fleeting mental images of Naismith when communing with the Ood Elder, warning him of the Master's return. Wilf's book allowed him to realise where the Master had been taken, but he and Wilf were too late to stop the Master's transformation of the world's population.
After the Time Lord Rassilon had undone the Master's work, Naismith tried to flee but was captured along with Abigail and imprisoned.

Played by: David Harewood (Joshua), Tracy Ifeachor (Abigail). Appearances: The End of Time I (2009), The End of Time II (2010).
  • Harewood played Friar Tuck in the BBC's 2000's version of Robin Hood
  • He was a regular on the Supergirl TV series, as well as guesting in its stable-mates Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.
  • Ifeachor also appeared in an episode of Legends of Tomorrow. She has recently featured in Wonka.

N is for... Nagata

Commander of a military mission to the Le Verrier space-station, in orbit around the planet Neptune in the 38th Century. Communications had been cut off with the station, and Nagata's team had been sent to discover why. Following tectonic disturbances back on Earth, Indo-Japan was now a major power bloc. She hailed from a colony on Triton.
The station was found to be deserted apart from lead scientist Gagen Rassmussen, who had taken refuge in a sleep pod. In the 38th Century, people could condense their sleep in these units in order to maximise their working life.
Rassmussen was hiding from a group of creatures which now infested the station - Sandmen. It transpired that they were formed of organic matter - "sleep" from the users of the pods.
Nagata's squad were picked off one by one until only she remained, accompanied by the Doctor and Clara.
The scientist had apparently been killed by Sandmen, but this was a ruse. He was actually intent on creating more of the creatures from pod users across the entire solar system.
Nagata was taken off the station by the Doctor before it crashed into Neptune's atmosphere.

Played by: Elaine Tan. Appearances: Sleep No More (2015)
  • Tan's career took off after appearing in a National Theatre production of musical South Pacific. UK work has included EastEnders and Auf Wiedersehen Pet, whilst US work includes Boston Legal, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Hawaii Five-0.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Episode 115: A Holiday For The Doctor

After eating one of Cyril's sweets, the Doctor has collapsed in agony...
Steven and Dodo fear he has been poisoned, but it transpires that he has been struck down by a terrible toothache.
The TARDIS materialises in a stable-yard and the travellers discover that they have arrived in what they think of as the "Wild West". They are in the town of Tombstone, Arizona, and it is October 1881.
Steven and Dodo don generic cowboy and cowgirl outfits from the TARDIS stores, and give the Doctor an appropriate hat. 
As Steven plays around with his pistol, they are confronted by the town's Marshal - Wyatt Earp. 
The Doctor quickly introduces them all as being travelling players, hence the costumes of his companions - Mr Steven Regret, Miss Dodo Dupont, and he is Dr. Caligari. He explains his need for a dentist and is directed to a new practice along Main Street.
The Doctor arranges for Steven and Dodo to wait for him in the Last Chance Saloon whilst he sees the dentist.
In the saloon, a group of men are plotting a death. The three Clanton brothers - Ike, Phineas and Billy - have employed a gunslinger named Seth "Snake-Eyes" Harper to help kill the notorious John Henry "Doc" Holliday, in revenge for his killing of their sibling Reuben.
Earp and sheriff Bat Masterson are concerned by Holliday's presence in town, knowing of the feud with the Clantons. 
On hearing Steven refer to the Doctor as "Doc", the men assume him to be a friend of their enemy, and learn that he is due to meet them here shortly. They decide to set a trap, and force Steven and Dodo to perform a song for the saloon to stop them from going to warn him.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has discovered that Holliday is the new dentist in town. Offered the choice of whiskey or a rap on the head for pain relief, both of which he declines, the Doctor undergoes a tooth extraction.
Holliday and his girlfriend Kate decide to make use of the Doctor, aware that the Clantons are gunning for him.
They talk him into carrying a pistol and send him on his way to meet his friends - hoping that he will be mistaken for him.
The Doctor makes his way slowly along the street towards the saloon - oblivious of the danger that awaits him there...
Next episode: Don't Shoot The Pianist

Written by: Donald Cotton
Recorded: Friday 15th April 1966 - Television Centre Studio TC4
First broadcast: 5:50pm, Saturday 30th April 1966
Ratings: 6.5 million / AI 45
Designer: Barry Newbery
Director: Rex Tucker
Guest cast: John Alderson (Wyatt Earp), Anthony Jacobs (Doc Holliday), Sheena Marshe (Kate), Shane Rimmer (Seth Harper), David Graham (Charlie the Barman), William Hurndall (Ike Clanton), Maurice Good (Phineas Clanton), David Cole (Billy Clanton), Richard Beale (Bat Masterson)

Bet you didn't know that The Gunfighters, as this story is generally known, is the worst Doctor Who story ever...
That's what "received wisdom" stated throughout the 1970's and well into the '80's. This goes back to what we discussed under the last episode - the opinions of a small group of influential fans, recalling what they had seen on broadcast. 
Principal of these individuals, in that he acted as "historian" for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, was Jeremy Bentham. He was employed to provide factual content for the new Doctor Who Weekly and its Monthly successor, and later acted as a consultant on the first significant non-fiction treatise on the series - Peter Haining's Doctor Who: A Celebration, which was released to tie in with the 20th Anniversary.
Bentham rated The Celestial Toymaker highly, and hated The Gunfighters. The first was brilliant - a lost masterpiece - whilst the latter was utter rubbish, with no redeeming features.
 DWW / DWM would go on to perpetuate the myth that the Wild West story achieved the lowest ever ratings, and was directly responsible for Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis dropping the Historicals.

Originally known as "The Gun-Fighters", the choice to do a Western story had been Donald Cotton's - written for his old pal Donald Tosh as a follow-up to his Trojan War-set The Myth Makers.
For research, Cotton contacted an old cabaret friend - Tony Snell - who was touring the States, once the decision had been made to focus on one particular incident in Western history - the celebrated Gunfight at the OK Corral. In the end, Snell's research was set aside as it was decided to concentrate more on what a British TV audience thought a Western should look like.
The genre had been hugely popular in cinema and on TV since the 1950's in the UK, so people had preconceived ideas of what they should look and sound like.
A similar process was followed by designer Barry Newbery, when he discovered that period houses in Tombstone in the 1880's resembled those which could still be seen in London's East End. 
Authenticity was set aside in favour of the look and feel of TV series like Rawhide and The Virginian.

In a nutshell, the Tombstone event revolved around a feud between the Clanton family and "Doc" Holliday. The Clantons were known cattle thieves, and Holliday was a notorious gambler and gunslinger who had killed one of the Clantons. 
There were only two Clanton brothers involved in the Gunfight - Ike and Billy - and they joined forces with Billy Claiborne and the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom. Seth Harper was created for the story to replace these other characters. Kate Fisher and Warren Earp were also fictitious. Holliday's girlfriend was Kate Elder, known as "Long Nose" Kate.
Other people who did exist weren't necessarily involved in the Gunfight. Bat Masterson wasn't present in Tombstone at the time.
Virgil Earp was Marshal, whilst Wyatt and Morgan were simply special policemen, so roles have been rejigged along with personnel.
Wyatt owned a saloon - the Oriental - and whilst Holliday was a dentist, he never opened a practice in Tombstone.
We'll return to the actual events of 26th October, 1881, and compare them with Cotton's version, once we get to the fourth instalment.

Rex Tucker had been Doctor Who's first ever producer - a role foisted on him in 1963 which he never really wanted. His vision for the show would have seen a younger actor take on the role of the Doctor, made up to appear much older. Hugh David - star of Knight Errant and future Doctor Who director - had been his first choice.
Even after he had been allowed to move on, replaced by Verity Lambert, he continued to be associated with the show in that he was earmarked to direct one of the opening stories of the first season.
Even this he had been reluctant about, seeing the series as somewhat beneath his talents.
He managed to avoid this engagement due to the delays in launching the series, but by late 1965 John Wiles had been able to talk him into directing a story for him.
(Ironically, the only reason Tucker is known even slightly today is because of his connection with the series).
Around the time that the final script had been accepted, retitled as "The Gunslingers", both Wiles and Tosh quit the series. Lloyd and Davis were unhappy to inherit the Historicals in general - and "The Gunslingers" in particular. Both men wanted the series to move towards purely science-fiction stories, which they thought the audience preferred, and considered that period-style dramas were handled much better elsewhere within the Corporation.

On joining as director, Tucker arranged to view the 1957 movie of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, directed by Preston Sturges.
Having serious reservations about the idea of making a British Western, the director - with Lloyd's blessing - decided to accentuate the humour. It was Tucker who decided that the song - The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon - should be made more prominent. It would comment on the action throughout the serial. A similar song, sung by Frankie Laine, had ran through the Sturges film.
The composer was Tristram Cary, a friend of the director who had been earmarked to provide the Doctor Who theme music back when he had been nominal producer.
To sing it, Tucker decided to give it to his own daughter Jane. However, the ballad was written in the wrong key for her, so it went to actress Lynda Baron instead - but only after Sheena Marshe had a go. Jane Tucker would instead get to feature as a crowd artist on the programme. (Later, she would become known to a generation of children as one third of Rod, Jane and Freddy from Rainbow).
Most of the song was written by Cotton, but Tucker added other verses as the script developed.
Gerry Davis found the script requiring rewrites, but Cotton was proving difficult to get hold of.

Peter Purves is on record as claiming that he felt that Tucker really didn't care much for the regular cast, giving preference to the actors whom he had cast himself.
Tucker attempted to cast Canadian Donald Sutherland in a role (possibly Billy Clanton), but he was unavailable. David Burke (the first of the Granada TV Dr Watsons) was considered for either a Clanton or an Earp, whilst Alan Tilvern (Forester in Planet of Giants) was a possible Seth Harper.
Ewen Solon, Philip Madoc and Derek Newark were also under consideration for roles.
Of those who were cast, Shane Rimmer was Canadian, and well used to American accents from his lengthy association with Gerry Anderson puppet series.
John Alderson had actually featured in Western movies and TV series in the USA, as well as series such as The Man From UNCLE.
He and Rimmer were the only cast members comfortable with the accents - as can be heard in the finished serial.

Pre-filming took place at Ealing between 28th - 31st March, 1966. None of these scenes could feature the Doctor as William Hartnell was on a two-week holiday at the time.
Scenes filmed included use of firearms, stunt falls, and shots of the main street, with horses - primarily for the first and fourth episodes.
Purves had a bad time on the story. As well as his feelings about the director, he hated the song and was unsettled with his imminent departure, after Lloyd had made it clear he did not rate him much as an actor. This knock to his confidence would contribute to his year of unemployment following the next story.
Lane, however, really enjoyed the story due to its humour, and Tucker claimed that he got on very well with Hartnell for the same reason, and also because he was more comfortable with more experienced directors.
As Billy Hartnell, the star's earliest acting career had been in comedic roles, and he always upped his performance when he got to demonstrate his comedic skills.

Due to double-booking that week, the production moved from its regular space of Riverside Studio 1 to Television Centre's studio TC4.
Tucker avoided a TARDIS materialisation in studio be relying on sound effects only.
Hartnell ad-libbed the mispronunciations of Wyatt's surname. 
The Doctor claims to be teetotal in this episode, despite him having been seen to drink alcohol in previous stories. He also appears to have a gun collection in the TARDIS, which does not fit at all with his usual expressions of distaste for violence. (However, he did once seem impressed with a Sensorite weapon, describing it as a handy little thing, and he has often given mixed messages on this subject).
It's just possible that he's referring to the gun as part of the overall cowboy outfit and this is part of the collection he's referring to - a collection of costumes. The gear worn by Steven and Dodo are not realistic period outfits, only "stage" versions.
There were a total of seven recording breaks planned for the evening - the first two allowing for the costume change for Purves and Lane, and for dismantling the stable-yard set and getting rid of the TARDIS prop.
Camera angles hid the fact that Lane was not playing the piano. Pianist Tom McCall played the music on another instrument just off camera.
No guns were fired in studio, with sound effects only being used.

  • The ratings do see a fall from The Celestial Toymaker, but are higher than two of the episodes of The Ark and three of The Massacre - so we can already see that talk of this story having the poorest viewing figures is unfair. 
  • It should also be noted that we were moving into the better weather at the end of April, which always saw viewing figures dip. Competition in some ITV regions included Thunderbirds, The Addams Family, Lost in Space, and "proper" Western series Bonanza. Only London offered weak competition.
  • In an interview with the Daily Mirror, just before this opening episode aired, William Hartnell claimed that the idea for a Western had actually been his.
  • It was originally intended that Steven would play the piano and Dodo would sing the Ballad, but it was found that Lane couldn't sing a note whilst Purves had performed on the stage of the London Palladium.
  • The Doctor names himself after the villainous lead in German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920).
  • The Doctor is told that Tombstone does not have a theatre. This is incorrect, however, as the town had the Schieffelin Hall, which opened four months before the Gunfight.
  • Anthony Jacobs arranged for his young son Matthew to visit the set. He would one day write the final script for 1996's Doctor Who - The Movie.
  • It was actor Maurice Good who decided to give his character a stutter. Good had quite a sci-fi / horror CV, appearing in the film version of Quatermass and the Pit, The Skull, Trog, and They Came From Beyond Space.
  • Lynda Baron would finally get to feature in the show in her own right in 1983's Enlightenment, returning in 2011's Closing Time.
  • She found the song very difficult to master, and they actually ran out of time recording it due to the number of retakes.
  • David Graham was best known for Dalek voices but, like Rimmer, had also essayed many American accents in Anderson productions.
  • Richard Beale had recently voiced the invisible Refusians in The Ark and was another old friend of the director's. John Alderson, who normally resided in Hollywood, stayed with him during production of this story. Beale will be back in The Green Death as the Ecology Minister, after having voiced the Macra.
  • The BBC staff magazine Ariel covering April / May featured the Ealing filming.
  • Radio Times opted to include an image from the concluding part of the story when it introduced the new story. (From this week onwards, Innes Lloyd required RT to print cast lists in order of appearance, rather than by seniority / prominence as before).

Thursday 25 April 2024

Inspirations: The Girl Who Waited

Tom MacRae was a protégé of Russell T Davies, commissioned by him to write the story which reintroduced the Cybermen in 2006.
He almost came to write a second story for the 4th Series - a haunted house plot in which the Doctor encountered people making a Most Haunted style show (something which Supernatural did years before).
His second contribution finally comes here, when he came up with a timey-wimey storyline provisionally titled "The Visitors' Room". It later became "The Visiting Hour" and then "Kindness".
The final title was a nod back to young Amelia Pond in The Eleventh Hour.
The idea of Amy being trapped in an environment in which time ran at a different speed was there from the outset. Apparently the first 20 pages of script never changed between the first draft and the broadcast version.

One thing which did have to be taken into account was that this would Series 6's Doctor-lite episode. Matt Smith was off making Closing Time, spending only a day on the TARDIS set.
The way this is managed is rather poor - a disease that somehow only affects beings with two hearts.
Smith's unavailability at least allowed MacRae to concentrate on Amy and Rory, and it dropped some of the sci-fi elements and extraneous characters to concentrate on them - making it a bit of a romance.
As well as being the Doctor-lite story, it was also to be a cheap one. This is why we mostly have plain white rooms,  and location filming at the Cardiff Bay Millennium Centre - used many times before, most notably in New Earth.

The Handbots were originally envisaged as cloaked figures, with only their outstretched hands visible.
The "deadly touch" idea was inspired by Terror of the Vervoids, as Macrae recalled the Vervoids issuing toxic spines from their hands.
An early draft saw a hand chopped off a Handbot continue to move around by itself - inspired by Thing from The Addams Family. Moffat stored this image away for future use (see Flatline).
Unfortunately, Series 6 had already featured a well-intentioned medical artificial intelligence posing a threat - the Siren in the pirates story.
Thought was given to hiring an older actress to play the older Amy, but Karen Gillan fought to be allowed to play both roles. Neil Gorton had shown he could do effective aged make-up (such as Tennant sports in The Family of Blood and The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords).
Facially, it's fine, but physically she doesn't really convince as an older woman.
Next time: The Horns of Nimon meets Crossroads...

Tuesday 23 April 2024

What's Wrong With... Full Circle

1) Adric...

2) Matthew Waterhouse's performance...

Why are the Time Lords only now summoning Romana back home? They didn't even send her on the Kay to Time mission.
The TARDIS passes through a CVE and ends up in E-Space. We're told this is a smaller dimension than N-Space - so what are the odds that there's a planet at exactly the same co-ordinates here as Gallifrey has in ours? 
Is E-Space big enough to even have a 10-0-11-00 by 02 from a Galactic Zero Centre?
CVE's have been keeping the universe ticking over for a while - so why don't the Time Lords know about this, and hence the widely-travelled Doctor?
The TARDIS has visited Gallifrey twice in recent years, and each time landed smack in the middle of the Capitol - once in the very centre of the Panopticon. So why does it materialise in the outer wastes this time, and why does this not seem to bother the Doctor and Romana?
Turns out they aren't on Gallifrey at all - but the scanner is showing what the outside is supposed to look like... 
What is the point of the image translator? Surely you want to see exactly what's outside the ship - not what might be there. It's never been mentioned before or since - and no wonder.

The evolutionary process makes no sense at all - despite this being what the story is all about. For a start, it isn't properly evolution anyway. It's more of a mutation, if the Marshmen rely on being bitten by spider toxin to metamorphose.
How many times has the process gone full circle? It can only have happened the once as there's no way the exact same set of circumstances could replicate themselves over and over again. But the story seems to imply that this has been going on for generations.
If it has just happened the once, then how could the Starliner people have forgotten absolutely everything from the last time?
If the humanoids lock themselves in the Starliner every Mistfall, then how can they be wiped out by the Marshmen in order to be replaced? Who lets them in each time? 
There really ought to be two societies of humanoids - the one who stayed in the Starliner and the "evolved" Marshmen outside.
Just because the Marshmen turn into humanoids, it doesn't necessarily follow that they would adopt the motivations and mind-set of the people they've replaced. They've killed them - not sat down and had lessons on being Terradonians from them.
Where did the initial instinct to go to the Starliner come from in the first place?
The closer you look into it, the more it falls apart.

Why does Romana turn into a Marsh-person when bitten, when the venom is supposed to have the opposite effect? Why pick up a fruit to throw at the spiders when she's just seen them hatch out of the them?
Could you have have operated the Starliner after the rapid demonstration the Doctor gives at the conclusion? I'd at least wanted to have taken notes.
The vessel is a weird shape. It doesn't have to be streamlined to travel through the vacuum of space, but surely it ought to have been better designed for escaping a planet's atmosphere.

Going back to the top, Adric is actually a good idea for a character - a young male who is a bit "Artful Dodger". The problem is that the idea simply isn't translated onto the screen. It's not as if the character deteriorates over time - he simply never gets off the ground.
Waterhouse is simply too inexperienced for such a prominent role as Doctor Who companion.
The actor playing Varsh would have been so much better - even Bernard Padden (Tylos) who we know went up for the role.
It beggars belief that he was regarded as the best candidate at the auditions. One might expect it from JNT, but not from Barry Letts or Christopher Hamilton Bidmead, who had both been actors themselves (and Letts certainly knew how to cast effectively).

Sunday 21 April 2024

Episode 114: The Final Test

Steven and Dodo have met their next opponent - the mischievous schoolboy Cyril.
They will play a dice game with him, similar to "Snakes & Ladders", in which they must traverse numbered platforms. The TARDIS sits on No.14, and the winner will be whoever lands on that square first. Players can miss a turn, roll a second time if they get a 6, but also be made to go back to the start if they are standing on a square when another player lands on it. This means that Dodo and Steven could conceivably act against each other by accident.
An additional hazard is that the game is to be played over an electrified floor. Stepping off the squares will be lethal.
The Toymaker notes that the Doctor is about to complete his game, and so allows him his voice once again.
The dice game gets underway, and Cyril commences his practical jokes to distract his opponents. Noting how gullible she is, the schoolboy targets Dodo. Steven is too firmly set against him.
Dodo is the luckier player, whilst Steven keeps losing turns or being sent back to the start. One of Cyril's ploys is to use red ink to pretend he has hurt his foot - luring Dodo off of her square. He also spreads slippery powder on another square.
The Doctor refuses to speak to the Toymaker initially, annoyed as he is with him trying to put him off his game.
Cyril throws the winning dice score but is in such a rush to gain Square No.14 that he forgets about his slippery powder. He slides off onto the floor and is electrocuted - reduced to a burnt doll.
Steven and Dodo must play out the game properly, and luckily she rolls the winning dice throw.
The TARDIS is gained.
The Doctor has only one more move to make before he finishes his game. He refuses to make it, and goes to join his companions. They enter the ship but find that it has been immobilised.
The Doctor storms out and demands that they be permitted to leave, but the Toymaker points out that his game has not been completed.
The Doctor re-enters the TARDIS and confers with his companions, explaining how they cannot depart yet. They are stuck here until the Trilogic Game is actually completed. 
If he goes outside to make the final move, however, he will be caught up in the instantaneous obliteration of the Toyroom.
Recalling the earlier actions of the Toymaker, he commands the final counter to move automatically. Nothing happens.
A frustrated Steven asks if they are just going to talk their way out of their predicament.
Inspired, the Doctor impersonates the Toymaker's voice to make the final move, then has Steven operate the dematerialisation sequence. The evil being can only look on in horror as the last counter moves into place and his domain is destroyed.
The Doctor points out that in order to move the counters as his opponent had done, he had to use his voice. Steven had given him the idea when he spoke about talking their way out of the situation.
The Doctor knows that their foe is immortal and will simply create a new realm whenever he wishes, but for now he has been defeated.
Dodo continues to feel sorry for the characters they encountered. She recalls the sweets Cyril gave her and is going to dispose of them when the Doctor stops her - fancying one himself. As he pops it into his mouth, however, he suddenly cries out in agony...
Next episode: A Holiday For The Doctor

Written by: Brian Hayles
Recorded: Friday 8th April 1966 - Riverside Studio 1
First broadcast: 5:50pm, Saturday 23rd April 1966
Ratings: 7.8 million / AI 43
Designer: John Wood
Director: Bill Sellars

Production on The Final Test began with the Ealing filming of the Trilogic Game's automatic movements, and the final shots of the invisible Doctor (hand-doubled by Albert Ward).
The last move - 1023 - saw the counter slowly rise up into the air on a piece of wire.
Neither Campbell Singer nor Carmen Silvera were required for this episode, so only Michael Gough and Peter Stephens joined the regular cast. 
William Hartnell returned from holiday, and only featured in the second half of the instalment.
The set comprised 14 triangular podia, mirroring the Trilogic Game board, with the TARDIS prop sitting on the final one. The walls were metallic blue and silver, as with previous areas of the Toyroom.
The two giant toy robots were present. One had the Game tally displayed on it, whilst the other held a TV monitor on which the Toymaker could appear, filmed on another part of the set.
The other significant prop was the revolving score column - an illuminated pillar which gave the dice scores and other instructions such as "Miss A Turn".

The squares were to have flashed  when Cyril was destroyed - off camera - according to the script, but this effect was not seen in the finished episode.
Cyril's demise saw Stephens move out of camera shot as a flash charge was detonated. The camera then cut to a shot of a burnt doll - the same one which the Toymaker had been seen to remove from the dolls house - lying smoking beside a podium.
As the action moved closer to Square No.14, a recording break allowed some of the other prop squares to be removed, to allow the cameras to move forward.
There's a clever shot where we see the Toymaker on the robot's chest monitor, then suddenly appear right next to Steven. No recording break was necessary.
The Toymaker was being recorded by one camera for the monitor, with a second camera taking in the robot and Steven as a wide shot. Gough was standing just out of shot but close to Purves, with a third camera pointing at him. A rapid cut from the second camera to the third made it look like the distant Toymaker had miraculously appeared right next to Steven.
The destruction of the Toyroom was achieved simply through the use of stock footage.
The closing credits played over a close-up of the TARDIS console, which remained on screen for a longer period than usual. Ordinarily, the fade to black came in quite quickly.

After recording, Peter Purves retained the Trilogic Game prop as a souvenir. However, on leaving the series he found himself out of work for more than a year. Thinking the game to be bad luck, he threw it away. He was then offered a role in Z-Cars, and his long-running stint as Blue Peter presenter followed soon after.
William Hartnell had been issued with two new contracts - one covering episodes one and four of The Celestial Toymaker, and another for the next 16 weeks, covering the last three stories of Season 3, plus another story to be held over for the start of Season 4.
The efforts of John Wiles and Donald Tosh to replace him in this story fell by the wayside. Both Gerry Davis and Innes Lloyd found ways to manage his increasingly frustrating behaviour.
Both Wiles and Tosh complained bitterly about the changes which Davis had made to the story since they handed it on, thinking a cleverly sinister script had been reduced to pantomime, but Brian Hayles actually thanked the new Story Editor for his contribution.

For many years, The Celestial Toymaker was regarded as the great lost masterpiece of the Hartnell era. It had a huge reputation within fandom, mainly thanks to the nascent Doctor Who Appreciation Society. One of the original members was Jeremy Bentham, who acted as the society's historian. 
When Marvel Comics decided to produce a weekly Doctor Who publication, editor Dez Skinn looked to the DWAS to help with the non-fiction aspect of the comic. What Bentham liked, Doctor Who Weekly liked - and what he disliked, it disliked. His opinion became the "official" position.
At this stage, full access had yet to be gained to the BBC archives, or to the actual episodes themselves, so much of what was written about the programme came purely from the memories of those who had watched the episodes on their initial transmission.
Doctor Who Weekly and its monthly successor carried inaccurate information about the series for many, many years - well into the mid 1980's:
The Edge if Destruction was written purely because the sets for Marco Polo weren't ready, The Seeds of Doom was filmed at Mick Jagger's Stargroves home, a clip of the Second Doctor from The Macra Terror was viewed by the Time Lords in The Three Doctors, and many more.
Along with these misremembrances - or plain old fashioned mistakes - were somewhat clouded and biased opinions. 
Perhaps it was its surreal nature, combined with its perversion of childhood games and toys, that gave this story its dizzyingly high reputation...

But then people got to see The Final Test, when it was released in June 1991 on The Hartnell Years VHS. It rapidly became clear that the story comprised little but silly, childish games, with no real threat.
The Toyroom characters are far from sinister, and the dangers all seem very low-key. The games were too simplistic for adults, and complicated for children as the rules weren't properly explained and the lacklustre direction didn't help.
 It was not the surreal masterpiece that fandom had long claimed it to be.
Those who had been championing it began to keep quiet about it - revising and reversing their once outspokenly positive view of it.
The novelisation, widely believed to be primarily the work of Alison Bingeman, was also a massive disappointment. The audio release simply reinforced the realisation that this was not terribly good.
Perhaps the imagery of the missing episodes might have done something to raise their reputation once more, but the new animation doesn't look like it is going to help with this as they've chosen to totally reimagine the story (see Trivia below).
The story still has its champions, but they are no longer in the majority.

  • The ratings see a significant drop to below 8 million, and the appreciation figure continues to slide, to a new second lowest score.
  • This episode was the subject of a BBC Audience Research Report, which found that almost as many people had watched the rural soap Weaver's Wynd (15%) as had watched Doctor Who (15.6%). 
  • A third of the respondents disliked the episode, stating that the conclusion lacked excitement.
  • The general view was that people didn't like excursions into outright fantasy - "fantasy gone mad" as one put it.
  • The one positive from most reviews was Michael Gough's powerful performance.
  • Junior Points of View on 29th April featured a letter from a young viewer pointing out that the Trilogic Game was actually very simple to play, having taken only 25 minutes to complete it. Another correspondent complained that the Doctor should have been a lot more clever than to accept one of Cyril's sweets as it was almost certainly poisonous.
  • Some newspapers picked up on the on-screen announcement about the complaint from the Frank Richards estate, regarding the similarity of Cyril to Billy Bunter.
  • The Final Test was discovered in the archives of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and returned to the BBC in 1984. It was missing the "Next Episode..." caption.
  • This was Bill Sellars only Doctor Who story. He went on to have a hugely successful career as a producer - including period country vet drama All Creatures Great And Small.
  • The story is due to be released in animated form on 10th June 2024 in the UK, with a remastered version of this surviving instalment. The animation style has met with a considerable amount of disapproval, with many unhappy that it fails to respect the original production. The counter argument is that this cartoonish CG style compliments the surreal nature of the story, and may attract newer fans to the classic stories.
  • The Toymaker never returned to the series during its "classic" era. He came close to doing so, however, in 1986. Ex-producer Graham Williams was commissioned to write a story which would launch the 23rd Season. It would feature the Toymaker, operating out of a lair beneath Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and involved a lethal computer game which unleashed electronic monsters. Titled "The Nightmare Fair", it had its director - Matthew Robinson - allocated and the funfair had agreed the filming when the series was suddenly thrown into hiatus. The story was novelised, and later produced as both a full cast audio adventure and an audiobook.
  • The Toymaker has also appeared in comic strips in Doctor Who Monthly, in Missing Adventures novels, and in original audios from BF, in which he was voiced by actor David Bailie, who had portrayed Dask in The Robots of Death:

Saturday 20 April 2024

Story 289: Orphan 55

In which Graham wins a luxury holiday at the exclusive Tranquility Spa resort. The winning ticket automatically teleports them to the location, where they are greeted by staff member Hyph3n. She informs them that they are booked to stay for two weeks, but can be transported back to where they came from at any time. Graham is all for relaxing, whilst the Doctor wishes to explore.
Yaz meets an elderly couple named Benni and Vilma. He intends to propose to her, but is interrupted by Yaz's arrival.
In the control centre of the complex, owner Kane is concerned about an intruder. She sends a couple of  fully armed guards off to deal with this.
Ryan is infected by a "hopper virus", contracted from a vending machine. The Doctor helps him expel it from his body, and he meets a fellow sufferer named Bella. She claims to be a hotel critic.
They see the armed guards and decided to investigate - as does the Doctor, who follows Hyph3n into the control centre, where she meets Kane.

It transpires that the virus has infected most of the resort's systems, including teleports. Graham sets off to find a technician to fix them, and meets Nevi and his son Sylas. It is obvious that the boy is more technically skilled than his father.
One of the guards is attacked and killed by a large, savage bipedal creature.
Ryan and Bella encounter another of the creatures in the sauna area, and the Doctor has everyone gather in the control centre, which can be sealed off.
Benni, however, goes back to fetch his hat and does not return.
The Doctor discovers that the resort is completely protected by a holographic shield - but the virus is breaking this down. 
Beyond is a wasteland, where oxygen is scarce, as this is an "orphan" planet - Orphan 55. These are worlds which are unable to sustain life, and have been sold off cheaply to people like Kane who can set up an artificial environment.
Orphan 55 is not devoid of life however, for it is home to a race of savage creatures known as Dregs. They attempt to break into the resort, and the virus has allowed them to gain access. As the shield deteriorates, the oxygen will escape and the Dregs will overrun the resort, killing everyone.

It becomes clear that Benni has been taken by them, but not killed for some reason. A rescue mission is organised, which everyone will participate in. They have portable breathing apparatus, but it will only last a short time.
It soon becomes clear that the Dregs are not unintelligent. They have taken Benni specifically to lure the others into the wasteland.
The vehicle they are travelling in is disabled, and Benni is killed. Hyph3n also perishes.
Kane leads everyone to a tunnel which will take them back into the resort.
Here, the Doctor and her companions are shocked to see a Metro sign in Russian. Orphan 55 is actually the Earth of the far future. The Doctor makes a psychic link with a dormant Dreg, and learns that the planet was destroyed by warfare and a collapsing eco-system.
Vilma sacrifices herself to enable the others to get into the resort. It has been revealed that Bella is really Kane's estranged daughter, and she had come here to destroy the resort with a powerful bomb in revenge for her mother abandoning her.
Reconciled in the face of the danger they face, Kane and Bella hold back the Dregs whilst Sylas helps the Doctor and his father repair the teleport.
They are transported away as the bomb detonates.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor explains that Orphan 55 is just one of many possible futures for the earth - one which will come to pass if the human race fails to look after it properly...

Orphan 55 was written by Ed Hime, and was first broadcast on Sunday 12th January 2020. Hime had previously contributed the lacklustre It Takes You Away for the previous season.
Having been arrested at a climate change protest in 2019, the writer made no secret of his intention to feature ecological issues in his script and indeed the BBC had claimed that green issues like plastics in the oceans would be covered by the series when it returned. The plastics issue would appear later in the run, but this was Hime's turn.
Rather than let the theme develop out of the story, getting the message across through allegory, Chris Chibnall allows the writer to throw subtlety out of the window and go for a sledgehammer approach. 
The last few minutes of the episode comprise the Doctor hectoring her companions - and through them we the viewers - about the state of the planet. It transcends the all too familiar preachiness of this era and sees the Doctor berate everyone, as though it was their fault, personally. Nothing constructive - just a rant. We're told we must look after the Earth better. 5-year-olds watching would have known that already. Talk about stating the obvious...

The lecture might have been more tolerable had it come within a story that was original and entertaining. This is neither. The whole "this alien planet is actually the Earth!!!" business has been handled in near identical fashion by Doctor Who before - when Peri sees the Underground signage for Marble Arch in The Mysterious Planet. There, the reveal was couched in an intriguing story involving the Doctor's trial and the mystery of the Earth being transported halfway across the galaxy.
It was also written Robert Holmes, who was infinitely superior at his craft than the writer of the drivel currently under consideration.
Holmes made no bones about borrowing from popular films and books, and back then he was leaning heavily on the original Planet of the Apes film, with its awesome reveal of the trashed Statue of Liberty in the closing moments. Himes' problem is that Holmes got there first, and did it better.
The episode suffers equally from poor performances - Julia Foster's Vilma standing out especially. She is simply irritating, spending much of the episode shouting "Benni!" over and over again.
Characterisation overall is cardboard. Plotting makes no sense. Would you really allow a vulnerable old lady and a child to participate in a dangerous rescue mission into hostile territory?
The whole hopper virus business is childish nonsense.

Design issues are apparent in simply plonking fake looking green wigs on the heads of Nevi and Sylas, and making Hyph3n look like a woman wearing a teddy bear outfit, made for a church panto, with a painted face.
The Dregs are really wasted. A very good design, but we don't get to see much of them, and shots of multiple creatures really highlight their CGI nature.
As well as Foster (who is actually a very good actor, so we very much have the director to blame for her performance) we have Laura Fraser (The Loch, Traces and Breaking Bad) as Kane; Gia Re as Bella and Col Farrell as Benni.
James Buckley of The In-Betweeners (on a perpetual time-loop on E4) plays Nevi, a truly thankless part. Sylas is Lewin Lloyd. Hyph3n is portrayed by Amy Booth-Steel. Apparently the character is supposed to be a space-squirrel.
The principal Dreg is Spencer Wilding, who had previously played the Minotaur in The God Complex, the Wooden King in the 2011 Christmas Special, and Ice Warrior Skaldak in Cold War. He took on the iconic role of Darth Vader in Rogue One - A Star Wars Story.

Overall: dreadful. 
Unoriginal plot. Unrealistic, cardboard characters and some awful performances (one of which stands out a mile). The costume designer clearly wasn't given any money for this. Deservedly bottom of every season poll. The 60th Anniversary polling by DWM had it the lowest ranked story of the entire Chibnall era. 
Things you may wish to know:
  • Location filming took place in Tenerife, as it allowed for both the volcanic landscape of the wasteland and the holiday resort.
  • An early draft was titled "Safari" and involved a hunting expedition on an alien planet.
  • Vilma's "Benni!" rapidly became an internet meme, so annoying is it.
  • Another possible inspiration from the series itself is The Curse of Fenric. In that we learned that a polluted future Earth had produced the Haemovores.
  • Torchwood's similarly savage Weevils were theorised as potential degraded humanity of the far future.
  • To end on a positive, a couple of images of the Dreg costume from the Worlds of Wonder exhibition:

Thursday 18 April 2024

M is for... Mykros

Mykros was a member of the ruling council of the planet Karfel, under their chairman the Maylin. This council merely acted as figureheads, as the real power lay with the reclusive Borad.
Mykros and fellow council member Vena - daughter of Maylin Renis - secretly supported efforts to return democracy to the planet. The young man attempted to discuss his concerns with Renis, but they were overheard by the Borad. He killed the Maylin and ordered Mykros' capture. He was to be thrown into the Timelash - a crude time tunnel from which no-one ever returned.
Trying to save him, Vena stole new Maylin Tekker's seal of office and fell into the Timelash with it. Tekker forced the newly arrived Doctor to pursue her in the TARDIS and retrieve it, as it was a vital component of the Borad's technology. 
Mykros was held prisoner for a time, but the Doctor soon him helped lead a revolt.
Once the Borad had been defeated, Mykros helped prevent a war with the neighbouring Bandrills, and assumed the role of Maylin himself.

Played by: Eric Deacon. Appearances: Timelash (1985). 
  • Eric appeared in the Peter Greenaway film A Zed and Two Noughts the same year as his Doctor Who story. In this he starred alongside his brother Brian, portraying twins. (Brian starred in children's Aztec drama The Feathered Serpent alongside Patrick Troughton).

M is for... Myers, Miss

A member of the Fleshkind, who were engaged in a centuries-long war with the Metalkind in a distant galaxy. Her people developed a biological weapon in the form of a child. However, this was taken away from them and deposited on the doorstep of Sarah Jane Smith where it rapidly grew into a young girl. Sarah named her "Sky", as she had appeared just as if she had fallen from the sky. 
The child was traced to Earth and Miss Myers arrived to retrieve her. She gained mental control over a power station worker, as part of the plan to energise and activate the weapon. A member of the Metalkind arrived at the same time, determined to prevent the Fleshkind from using Sky against them.
The girl's destructive powers were neutralised, then the Metalkind captured Myers and teleported her off the planet.

Played by: Christine Stephen-Daly. Appearances: SJA 5.1 Sky (2011).
  • Stephen-Daly was a regular on long-running medical soap Casualty.
  • Another sci-fi role was as Lt Teeg in Farscape.

M is for... Mutos

Genetically maimed outcasts from both sides of the thousand year Thal-Kaled war on the planet Skaro. They were descendants of the victims of the chemical, biological and radioactive weapons used in the first decades of the wars - their genetic mutation being passed down the line. New Mutos were created as the conflict progressed. 
They were forced to scavenge in the wasteland between the Thal and Kaled cities, and regarded anyone not like them - "Norms" - as their enemies. The troops of the opposing armies used them as slave labour and killed those who could not be exploited - but resented wasting ammunition to do so.
One of their number - a man named Sevrin - saved Sarah Jane Smith when she became separated from the Doctor and Harry. A fellow Muto named Gerrill had wanted to kill her.
Sevrin and Sarah were captured by Thal soldiers and set to work loading a missile with toxic explosives. There were several other Mutos forcibly engaged in this.
After the war was brought to a close, with the Daleks ascendant, Sevrin helped some of his people join forces with the combined Thal-Kaled survivors.

Played by: Stephen Yardley (Sevrin), Jeremy Chandler (Gerrill). Appearances: Genesis of the Daleks (1975).
  • Yardley returned to the series to play Arak in Vengeance on Varos.

M is for... Mutes

Black-clad servants of the Shadow, who was himself servant to the Black Guardian. They had skeletal features and wore monk-like hooded robes. As the name suggests, they never spoke, and appeared not to have any mouth. 
The Doctor and Romana encountered them on the Shadow's planet - an artificial construction in a fixed orbit between the twin planets of Atrios and Zeos. They travelled between these worlds via a secret transmat system. They abducted Princess Astra on one of their raids.
They were all wiped out when the Atrian Marshal launched a missile attack on Zeos, which was diverted to the Shadow's domain.

Appearances: The Armageddon Factor (1978).
  • Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin named these creatures after "mutants", but the design team took them literally and made them mouthless.
  • BBC paperwork referred to actor Stephen Calcutt as "Super Mute", so presumably he's the one in the Doctor / Drax shrinking sequence.